Author: John Chisholm Lambert (died 1917) was a Scottish minister most famous for his missionary adventure stories. He also worked on several Bible dictionaries.
The Romance of Missionary Heroism (1907) is an illustrated compilation of chapter-long missionary stories. These stories were also printed in four smaller volumes, divided by region into Asia, Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific. Most chapters summarize the biography of a British missionary from the nineteenth century, which has been called the “Great Century” for Protestant missions. It does not cover the biggest names like David Livingstone or Hudson Taylor, but it summarizes the lives of many who were well known in Lambert’s day, but are forgotten in ours.
The book focuses on the difficulties many of them faced in travelling new territory for the cause of Christ. As such, it does not grapple much with the relational tasks of evangelism or church planting. In spite of this, some readers may find it a worthwhile read. Personally, I was underwhelmed.
The Romance of Missionary Heroism is a fun ramble but is lacking in the true spirit of pioneer missions. It focuses on the messenger at the expense of the message. Flexibility and endurance allowed the subjects of these vignettes to advance the cause of Christ, but we glorify the vessel and forget what it holds.
Many of these workers were integral to the cause of pioneer missions in the lands in which they worked: who, having read their stories, can forget souls like James Gilmour, Jacob Chamberlain, John Paton, Mary and James Calvert? Such short chapters merely whet the appetite for book-length treatments.
Other portraits, like that of Captain Allen Gardiner, are stirring but quite tragic; a few, like those of Annie Taylor, or A. B. Lloyd, are downright tiresome. Chapter XII, and the biography it’s drawn from, are among the most deplorable examples of white superiority complex that I’ve seen among missions books, and this coming from the twentieth century.
Ultimately, the cultural context that’s on display to some extent is a spirit of triumphalism. Sobhi Malek points out in his book Islamic Exodus (ch. 4), “a spirit of triumphalism appeals to many people and attracts them to Islam”—not Christianity. In reading the Bible, Muslims find it offensive that Yahweh “raises the poor from the dust” (Ps. 113:7). Theologian John Goldingay, in a book of reflections on living with his wife’s disability—points out that “the resurrection stories are non-triumphalist and not especially joyful.” (Walk On, p. 145)
It’s certainly interesting to learn stories of adventures missionaries went through, but, for that matter, one might as well read the life of Captain Cook, or, better yet, Treasure Island, if it is adventure you thrist for. I am hesitant to say whose stories have more value for a young boy to read—John Chisholm Lambert’s or Robert Louis Stevenson’s.
The Romance of Missionary Heroism would be a decent starting point for someone with no knowledge of nineteenth-century missions to explore new stories and find longer biographies of the ministers mentioned here. They are listed below; I’ve also included links to biographies I have published. Especially recommended are those of Gilmour, Chamberlain, the Calverts, Selwyn, and Paton.
- James Gilmour (Mongolia)
James Gilmour of Mongolia; Among the Mongols; More about the Mongols; The Far East (A. Little)
- Jacob Chamberlain (Telugu states, South India)
In the Tiger Jungle; The Cobra’s Den
- Joseph Neesima (Japan)
Life and Letters of Joseph Hardy Neesima; A Maker of New Japan
- George Leslie MacKay (Taiwan)
From Far Formosa
- Annie R. Taylor (Tibet)
Pioneering in Tibet
- A. MacDonald Westwater (North China)
[Here Lambert’s research is original.]
- Alexander MacKay (Uganda)
MacKay of Uganda; The Story of MacKay of Uganda; Two Kings of Uganda
- James Hannington (Uganda)
James Hannington; Lion-Hearted; Through Masai Land; Last Journals of Bishop Hannington
- Robert Laws (Malawi)
Daybreak in Livingstonia; Narrative of an Expedition to the Zambesi; Among the Wild Ngoni; The Life of Robert Laws of Livingstonia
- François Coillard (Zambia)
On the Threshold of Central Africa
- Fred S. Arnot (Congo River region)
Garangeanze, or Seven Years’ Pioneer Mission Work in Central Africa
- A. B. Lloyd (Uganda)
In Dwarf Land and Cannibal Country
- John Horden (Ontario)
Hudson Bay (Ballantyne); Forty-two Years Amongst the Indians and Eskimo; John Horden, Missionary Bishop
- James Evans (Manitoba)
The Apostle of the North; Hudson Bay (Ballantyne)
- James and Mary Riggs (U.S. Great Plains)
Mary and I: Forty Years with the Sioux
- William Henry Brett (the Guyanas)
Mission Work in Guiana
- Allen F. Gardiner (Patagonia)
Captain Allen Gardiner of Patagonia
- Allen W. Gardiner (Patagonia)
The Story of Commander Allen Gardiner; The First Fruits of the South American Mission
- George Augustus Selwyn; John Coleridge Patteson (South Pacific islands)
Memoir of the life and episcopate of George Augustus Selwyn; George Augustus Selwyn
The Life of John Coleridge Patteson (Yonge); Bishop Patteson
- James Chalmers (New Guinea)
Adventures in New Guinea; Pioneering in New Guinea; James Chalmers; Tamate
- Jozef De Veuster (Hawai’i)
Father Damien, Apostle of the Lepers of Molokai
- James Calvert (Fiji)
Cannibals and Saints; At Home in Fiji; Dawn in Fiji; The Story of Fiji; Mary Calvert
- John Gibson Paton (Vanuatu)
Autobiography of John G. Paton; The Story of John G. Paton
- The American Mission to Hawaii (Hawai’i)
Fire Fountains: The Kingdom of Hawaii
Read: If you want to read The Romance of Missionary Heroism, you can get the PDF for free, or you can listen to the audiobook on LibriVox.