Who: The main subject of this biography is Alexander MacKay, English pioneer missionary to Uganda, but we also hear about Henry Stanley, Robert Ashe, Bishop James Hannington, the Uganda Martyrs, and many others.
The author, Sophia Lyon Fahs, was born to Presbyterian missionaries in China. This is her only missionary biography.
Where: The Kingdom of Buganda, the predecessor to today’s Uganda.
When: 1849-1890. (Published 1907.)
Overview: Alexander MacKay was a practical pioneer missionary to Uganda. His missions group required a litany of practical skills to survive and thrive in Uganda: road-building, carpentry, farming, and teaching, to name a few.
He was invited by the Ugandan king, Muteesa I, and was able to stay longer than many of the other missionaries he worked with, though it was only 12 years. He suffered much at the hands of the vacillating kings of Uganda, who one day said that the religion of Christ was the best, and the next executed missionaries for fear of an outside invasion. The kings also pandered for many years to Arab traders, who conspired against the missionaries, traded in guns and slaves, and sought to promote Islam. The missionaries seemed especially successful, though, in their literacy programs, which were a great service to Ugandans. Despite persecution and martyrdom, the story is by and large a triumph of modern missions.
This book was written for a younger audience, so the story is quite easy to follow.
Meat: The reason this book gets five stars is its scope. The book is almost a condensed history of Ugandan missions. Rather than merely celebrating the work of one man, the author shares the stories of others which both preceded and followed that of MacKay. Before MacKay came, Henry Stanley—the same Stanley that found Livingstone—was told by Uganda’s king to send missionaries to share the Christian message in full with him. In passing, we hear the story of Bishop Hannington, and the Uganda Martyrs, who were executed by King Mwanga II between 1885 and 1887. Finally, we catch a glimpse of the stage of the tremendous church growth in Uganda in 1900.
Bones: This book might simplify or skim over some of the stories; we cannot assume, for example, that all of Uganda’s churches are healthy, or that it has no need of missionaries today.