The 19th Century saw the flowering of Protestant Christian Missions. Protestant missionary societies were formed in England (1799 & 1804); America (1810 & 1814); Switzerland (1815); Denmark (1821); France (1822); Germany (1824); Sweden (1835); and Norway (1842). The United States sent as many missionaries as the rest combined. Women missionaries were not only sent for the first time, but outnumbered men by the end of the century.
These missionaries believed in the Great Commission: to preach the Gospel to the entire world. They also founded thousands of schools and hospitals around the planet. Perhaps the greatest success of Protestant missionaries occurred in New Zealand where 99 percent of the native Maoris were converted to the Christian Faith by 1854.
All over the world Christian missionaries achieved spectacular success, despite the disease and violence they faced. Missionaries were held in high-esteem by the vast majority of people around the world. Biographies of them were big sellers in the 19th Century. After all, they were giving up their very lives for no personal gain. Christian missionaries only wanted to serve the Lord, help people, and save souls. By the dawn of the 20th Century, it looked like the whole world would one day be of the Christian Faith.
William Carey (1761-1834) is known as the "Father of Modern Missions." He was born into a poor Anglican family in rural England. His dream was to become a professional gardener, but God had other plans. A skin disease prevented Carey from working out in the sun. At age 14 he became an apprentice shoemaker where he worked alongside a devout Christian, John Warr, who gradually won him over.
William Carey only had an elementary education but proved to be quite intelligent. He taught himself five languages as a youth and eventually came to know dozens more. Carey studied the Bible in Greek and Latin, as well as history, science, and the classics. He became a Baptist preacher, and God put it on his heart to form a missionary society to spread the Gospel around the world. In 1792, he published the groundbreaking missionary manifesto An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.
William Carey helped found the Baptist Missionary Society and answered his Call to go to India in 1793, where he would remain without any furlough until his death 41 years later. Carey evangelized, planted churches, and translated the Bible into six languages; he also built schools and hospitals.
William Carey founded the first Christian college in Asia; wrote a Bengali-English dictionary; started the first printing press, paper mill, and steam engine in India; and founded the Agricultural and Horticultural Society of India.
Samuel John Mills
The founding father of American foreign missions was Samuel John Mills (1783-1818), the son of a Connecticut Congregational pastor. Mills had a conversion experience at 18, submitted his will to God, and fulfilled his purpose with intense energy.
Samuel John Mills's vision was to "communicate the Gospel of salvation to the poor heathen." He and four friends at Williams College gathered to pray for revival when a sudden thunderstorm drove them to seek shelter under a haystack. The "Haystack Group" would become the Society of Brethren, dedicated to take the Gospel to India. Decades later this group morphed into the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, which recruited thousands of young missionaries.
Meanwhile Mills prompted the Assembly of Congregational Churches to form the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, and prompted the formation of the American Bible Society. Mills himself preached the Gospel to people living on the American Frontier; organized missions to Native Americans; worked to help the poor in urban areas such as New York City; and campaigned against slavery.
Lott Carey (1780-1828) was the first black missionary to Africa. He and his family sailed to Liberia in 1821, where Carey would found and pastor a church that is still there today, Providence Baptist Church of Liberia. Carey also established schools and eventually became the governor of Liberia.
Lott Carey had been born a slave on a Virginia plantation to an intact family of which he was the only child. While his parents worked, his grandmother reared him and taught him the history of his people. She impressed on him that those in Africa sorely needed to hear about Jesus.
As a young man, Carey taught himself to read so he could read the Bible. He was educated by a local white Baptist, William Crane, and went to work at the Shockoe Tobacco Warehouse. By the age of 33 Carey, now a young widower, had saved enough of his wages to purchase freedom for himself and his two children for $850.
In 1815, Carey and William Crane organized the Richmond African Missionary Society. Lott Carey said: "I long to preach to the poor Africans the way of life and salvation. . . . among savage men and savage wild beasts on the coast of Africa."
Adoniram Judson (1788-1850) was a brilliant, handsome young man. At age nineteen, he graduated as valedictorian of the Baptist college, Brown University. It is at the insistence of Adoniram Judson that the Baptist Foreign Mission Society was formed, which would go on to send missionaries to 76 countries. The first to go were Judson and his wife Ann.
Adoniram Judson went to Burma, where he was to work for nearly forty years. Judson studied the Burmese language, preached in Burmese, translated the entire Bible into that language, and compiled a Burmese-English dictionary. He eventually founded 63 churches and won 7,000 converts in Burma.
Adoniram Judson endured much hardship during his mission. He was put in prison because he had white skin. There he was manacled, beaten, and tortured for 17 months. Judson wrote about the overwhelming stench of the prison from dead and decaying rats, human excrement, blood, sweat, rotten food, vomit, and disease. His feet were raw from long forced-marches in the blistering sun. Judson was endlessly bitten by mosquitoes. He never forgot the sounds of the prison: the bamboo instruments of torture; the frenzied screams of the tortured; the sneering laughter of the torturers.
Adoniram Judson suffered from malaria; his wife and two infant daughters died in Burma. Still, he carried on with his mission until his death in 1850. Today the two million Christians in Myanmar (formerly Burma) are the result of the ministry of Adoniram Judson.
Allen Gardiner (1794-1851) joined the British Royal Navy as a youngster. As he traveled the world, his Godly mother continually prayed that he would come to the Lord. After his mother died, Gardiner went to church while at port in Tahiti. His thoughts turned to the many people he had met during his naval adventures who had never heard about Jesus Christ. He decided to dedicate his life to taking the Christian message to those who had not yet heard it.
Allen Gardiner established the first mission station to the Zulu tribe of Africa, and converted the Zulu king to the Christian faith. Gardiner next turned his attention to the Indians of South America. He and his family spent fifteen years in Chile and Argentina after founding the Patagonian Missionary Society.
In 1850, Gardiner and six of his friends landed on the island of Tierra Del Fuego—"The Land of Fire." The Gospel was not well received there, and natives drove them back to their small boat on the beach, where they survived for ten months before they starved to death. There are tens of thousands of Christians in Chile and Argentina as a direct result of the life of Allen Gardiner.
Christian Missionaries to Africa
Africa received more attention than any other place from Christian missionaries. As English Evangelical leader Thomas Buxton said: "It is the Bible and the plough that must regenerate Africa."
Christian missionaries were appalled at the rampant practice of infanticide and other heinous habits of the African people. Africans were commonly pitied as "a degraded, heathen people." A Reverend Gollmer wrote: "I look upon it as God's intervention for the good of Africa." Malaria killed off many early missionaries, as did the natives themselves.
For the most part, the missionaries were well received. Many Africans wanted a new and less primitive religion, especially one not connected to the murderous cults of tyrannical tribal chiefs.
Some African chiefs embraced the Christian Faith. King Mutesa of Baganda said this was because, unlike Muslims, "I have not heard a white man tell a lie." Mutesa may have had the largest number of wives in world history and executed people upon a whim every single day. Christians set out to reform him, but he died and his son, Mwanga, took over. Mwanga murdered the Anglican bishop, James Hannington, and demanded that all Christian boys, sons of missionaries, let him sodomize them. They refused and he killed 32 of them—including three that he roasted alive.
In Madagascar, native converts to the Christian Faith were violently persecuted by Queen Ranavalona from 1835 to 1860. Even though hundreds were thrown off cliffs, scalded to death or burned alive, the numbers of converts increased 400 percent during these years, reaching 40 percent of the native population.
There are two million evangelical Christians in the African country of Zambia today. This is largely the result of the work done over thirty year's time by the missionary couple Francois and Christina Coillard. Francois had asked the Paris Evangelical Society to send him somewhere no one had been sent before with the Gospel. The Zambezi River was his assignment.
Mally Moe was a Norwegian immigrant to the United States. She went to Swaziland, Africa, as a missionary in 1892. Mally Moe remained in Africa, serving the Lord and winning Africans to Christ, until her death in 1953—over sixty years.
Titus Coan (1801-1881) was a convert from a Charles Grandison Finney revival who became a missionary to Hawaii for 46 years. He learned the native languages and preached the Gospel in them to the natives.
Titus Coan walked around the island, preaching in several villages a day. Crowds gathered and many Hawaiians wept as they came to understand that Christ had paid the penalty for their sins on the cross.
Titus Coan even converted the high priest of the Puna volcano and his sister, the high priestess. The high priest was a drunken idolater, adulterer, and murderer before his conversion. He became a soldier for Christ the rest of his life who brought many islanders to the Lord.
Coan settled in Hilo and islanders moved there by the thousands just to be near him. By 1853, fifty-six thousand Hawaiians had become Christians—80 percent of the entire population.
Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) was the pioneer missionary to inland China, where spent 51 years of his life. Taylor was from Yorkshire, England. He experienced a dramatic spiritual conversion at age 17, and felt his life's purpose was to evangelize in China. Taylor went there in 1854, and soon married another missionary. In 1865, he founded the interdenominational Overseas Missionary Fellowship (China Inland Mission).
Hudson Taylor's father James owned a pharmacy. While his wife was pregnant with Hudson, James prayed, "dear God, if you should give us a son, grant that he may work for you in China."
There were 350 Christians in China when Hudson Taylor arrived there to spread the Good News. By 1934, there were 500,000 Chinese Christians; by 1953 they numbered two million; today there are hundreds of millions of Christians in China.
John Clough (1838-1910) was born in western New York and reared in Iowa. Ordained as a Baptist minister in 1864, he and his wife sailed to southern India the following year as missionaries. Clough concentrated on the outcastes of society. For this, he endured ridicule and even attempts on his life by those of the higher castes. Within five years, the church he built had 1500 members.
1876-1878 were years of horrible famine in India, compounded by an epidemic of cholera. John Clough worked nearly around the clock to obtain food, supplies, and health care for all of the people who lived in his vicinity. He got a government contract to build four miles of the Buckingham Canal so that he could employ the starving people at good wages.
After the famine and epidemic were over and things returned to normal, Clough held a three week revival during which 9,000 people were baptized. By the end of 1878, his church had 12,000 congregants.
John Clough would go on to work for three more decades among the outcastes of India. By the time he died, his congregation numbered 60,000 souls.
Lottie Moon (1840-1912) was from an aristocratic Virginia plantation family of dedicated Baptists. As an adult, this giant of a woman stood only four feet three inches tall.
Lottie Moon was the most educated woman in the American South. She spoke six languages fluently and earned a master's degree in education. Her sister was the first female doctor in Virginia.
Lottie Moon grew up in the church but was a skeptic as a young woman; she didn't think she needed faith since she was an intellectual. In 1858, Moon went to the Charlottesville Baptist Church to hear the great evangelist, Dr. John Broadus. She later wrote that she attended only to scoff at the message but instead found herself moved to commit her life to Christ.
Lottie Moon became the first unmarried female missionary to China in 1873. She opened a school for girls in Shantung Province. The focus of her ministry eventually became to evangelize the poorest of the Chinese people. Lottie worked among the poor peasants of China for 39 years, tirelessly advocating for their needs. She planted over thirty Chinese churches.
In 1888, Moon persuaded the Southern Baptist Convention to take an annual missions offering for China on Christmas Eve. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goes on today, with more than $1.5B being collected for the poor thus far.
In 1912, despite her best efforts, famine caused thousands of people to starve to death in Shantung Province. Lottie Moon gave away all of her own food the last few months of her life. She only weighted fifty pounds when she died of starvation—she refused to eat while others went hungry.
Samuel Billings Capen
Samuel Billings Capen was born poor in Boston. He eventually made a fortune and turned his sights toward missionary work. Capen sought to Christianize and educate primitive men and plant Christian homes in areas of the world where civilization was a mere rumor.
Samuel Billings Capen preached that the Christian Faith and good business practices were complementary. He believed that commerce without Christ is a curse. Capen spoke of "that kind of conscientiousness which performs the smallest details well; that faithfulness which sweeps under the mat and into the corners; that which lays a poor carpet ten miles out of Boston as thoroughly as a better carpet on Beacon Street."
Samuel Billings Capen noted that "When our missionaries arrived in Hawaii in 1820, the people were only one stage above brute." Capen wrote "When a heathen man becomes a child of God and is changed within . . . he wants the Christian dress and the Christian home and the Christian plow and all the other things which distinguish Christian civilization from the narrow and degrading life of the heathen."
American Foreign Missions
The American missionary movement of the 19th Century would provide the pattern by which developed foreign aid, the Peace Corps, and numerous Non Governmental Organizations in the 20th Century. The main difference is that the postmodern version—just like the welfare state—is missing the Gospel.
American missionaries took the Gospel to the farthest corners of the globe. Not only that, they also established schools with millions of donations from American citizens, as well as colleges, hospitals, and churches. In the 19th Century, Americans gave well over forty million dollars to foreign missions—back when money was money.
After the incredible advances in American medical technology and medicine, more and more Christian hospitals were built by medical missionaries in parts of the world in which hospitals were unheard of. More and more Christian doctors and nurses volunteered as missionaries as the 19th Century wore on.
Countless heroic deeds were done by these brave and compassionate Christian people. Methodist missionary Mary Reed contracted leprosy in India in 1884, but lived to a ripe old age running a leper asylum at the foothills of the Himalayas. Doctor Gordon Seagrave, a Baptist missionary, gave forty years of his life to the hospital he built in the jungle, earning the name "The Burma Surgeon."
Methodist minister John Franklin Goucher founded 120 vernacular primary schools in India; established the first Christian school in Korea; and founded missionary colleges in Japan and China—spending his entire fortune on these projects.
Cyrus Hamlin, son of a Maine farmer, opened a school near Constantinople in 1840, which he then led for twenty years. Hamlin brought the Gospel to the people there but also taught them how to use the spade and plow. His mission was to teach "the whole organization of civilized life" so that the people would benefit by "transition from heathenism to civilization; from utter and hopeless indolence to industry; from a beastly life to a Christian manhood."
Cyrus Hamlin found a financial backer in the wealthy New York merchant Christopher Robert. They opened Robert College in 1863, which would go on to train a multitude of Middle Eastern leaders, including one Prime Minister and a Nobel Prize winner. It is still there today, the oldest American school in the world outside the United States.
By the start of the 20th Century, the single largest supporter of American missionary work was the devout Baptist John D. Rockefeller. He never announced his gifts publicly, but it is now known that his donations to Baptist (and Congregational) missions were in the millions of dollars.
There was a sense that American missionaries had a responsibility to raise up the benighted and ignorant dark millions on the planet by bringing them into the bright circle of Christian truth. The American Christian republic was already recognized as the greatest success among all human endeavors in the history of the world. Should what we have learned not be shared? Yes! That was our mission. Why was America an astounding success? Undoubtedly because it was Protestant. Those who fail in the world do so because of moral unworthiness.
The Boxer Rebellion
In 1898, the young emperor of China, Huang-hsu, was overthrown by a secret society opposed to his Christian moral and social reforms. The society called itself "Righteous and Harmonious Fists." Westerners called it the "Boxers."
The Boxers were pagans who began to perform black magic and human sacrifice. They issued an edict that all foreigners in China should be killed, including women and children, to exterminate Christianity. Officials who refused to carry out these orders had their bodies cut in half. 188 missionaries and their children were killed during the Boxer Rebellion.
Catholic missionaries were virtually non-existent in the early 19th Century. By 1815, only 270 operated in the whole world. The French changed that, under the guidance of Charles Lavigerie. His instructions to Catholic missionaries were to "Love the poor pagans. Be kind to them. Heal their wounds. They will give you their affection first; then their confidence; then their souls."
Catholicism proved to be more attractive to Africans in the 19th Century, since Protestants were against images and to an illiterate people images are very important. The Catholics set up scores of orphanages in Africa.
In 1885, The Evangelical minister Josiah Strong wrote: "It seems to me that God, with infinite wisdom and skill, is here training the Anglo-Saxon race for an hour sure to come in the world's future . . . In 1700 this race numbered less than 6,000,000 souls. In 1800, Anglo-Saxons (I use the term somewhat broadly to include all English-speaking peoples) had increased to about 20,500,000, and now, they number more than 120,000,000. . . . this race of unequalled energy . . . the might of wealth behind it—the representative, let us hope, of the largest liberty, the purest Christianity, the highest civilization . . . will impress its institutions upon mankind . . ."
The discovery of tropical medicine had by this time made it possible for missionaries to be present in strength in the harshest climates. The New Testament had been translated into all the main languages of the world. 45,000 missionaries were at work. So it was believed that the Anglo-Saxons would succeed in bringing the vision of Christ—a universal faith—to all mankind. This did not mean the whole world would convert, but that the whole world would receive the Good News—the rest was up to the Holy Spirit.
In 1910, the first World Missionary Conference was held in Edinburgh. It was boycotted by Catholics and the Greek Orthodox Church—but everyone else was there. This marks the apex of Protestant missionary work and the beginning of the Protestant ecumenical movement.
My primary sources for this article include The One Year Book of Christian History by E. Michael and Sharon Rusten; and A History of Christianity by Paul Johnson.