Tag Archives: Early 19th century missions

Review: The Star in the East

Rating: ★★★★★

Author: Claudius Buchanan (1766-1815) was a minister and missionary in the Church of England. He went to India as a chaplain in 1797, and afterward became very influential in organizing native (i.e., not English) education and translation of Scriptures. He also held great influence in the Mar Thoma church (Kerala, India) and was a key supporter of the first Malayali Bible translation.

Overview:  This little book is a sermon preached in 1809 in Bristol, for the Society for Missions to Africa and Asia, when the author had just returned from India. Buchanan was an inspiration to Adoniram Judson as well as a witness to some fascinating and forgotten history, which is summarized below as an inspiration to the cause of Christian missions.

Meat:

Buchanan’s sermon recounts historical facts which he sees as providential in advancing the cause of Christian missions. Below are the points that he mentions:

  • Danish and German missionaries had arrived in Tamil Nadu (i.e. the Tranquebar colony in south India) in 1706, and their work had brought great results. (Buchanan lived in India for many years and knew firsthand the quality of the church there.)

What then was the effect of giving them the Bible? It was the same as that which followed the giving of the Bible to us. . . . God blessed his own word to the conversion of the heart, and men began to worship him in sincerity and truth. (loc. 367)

  • The spread of the British Empire was providential in the spread of Christianity.
  • The translation of Scriptures into Eastern languages was also providential. Buchanan refers to Henry Martyn and his associates pointedly; Buchanan himself also supported several translation projects.
  • Buchanan promulgated to the West the existence of the “Syrian Christians” in India—the Mar Thoma church, called Syrian because of their use of the Syriac language in liturgy:

We may contemplate the history of this people, existing so long in that dark region, as a type of the inextinguishable Light of Christ’s religion; and, in this sense, it may be truly said, “We have seen his Star in the East.” (loc. 336)

  • Buchanan refers to the strange and interesting tale of an associate of Henry Martyn, an Arab baptized as Nathaniel Sabat, who later left the faith. Robert Murray McCheyne, another important Scottish preacher, has a (not so inspirational!) pamphlet on him and the strange tale of his apostasy and death (Sabat the Arabian, the Apostate (1854)). Buchanan describes “Sabat” and his “vernacular writings” thus:

His first work is entitled Happy News for Arabia [نعمة بشارةٍ للعربي]; written in the Nabuttee [Nabataean?], or common dialect of the country. It contains an eloquent and argumentative elucidation of the truth of the Gospel, with copious authorities admitted by the Mahometans [i.e., Muslims] themselves, and particularly by the Wahabians [Wahhabis].

Note: It doesn’t appear that any of these writings are extant.

Buchanan mentions all these are more as evidences that the time has come to once again announce Christ in the East, as the wise men once did.

In his conclusion, Buchanan also mentions British opponents of missions, saying that “in the future history of our country, it will scarcely be believed that in the present age, an attempt should have been made to prevent the diffusion of the blessed principles of the Christian religion.” (loc. 448) The author then compares naysayers to the pessimistic spies of Israel, who did not believe they should enter the promised land (loc. 469).

In the mean time, while men hold different opinions on the subject here, the great work goes on in the East. . . . And on this point I judge it right to notice a remarkable mistake, which appears to have existed on both sides of the question. It seems to have been assumed on the one side, and conceded on the other, that we have it in our power to prevent the progress of Christianity in India. (loc. 492)

New Edition on the Karen Revival!

In 1981, Don Richardson’s book Eternity in Their Hearts put into a systematic form the theology of missions that he had earlier expressed in his biography, The Peace Child (1974). Both books were considered revolutionary in the study of missions. But a major contributing factor in Richardson’s work is the story of missions in present-day Myanmar (previously the Kingdom of Burma)—and especially the story of the Judsons, the Boardmans, and the Wades among the Karen peoples of Burma.

The story of the Karen revival is detailed in a few obscure books of the mid-19th century, and Mrs. Macleod Wylie’s The Gospel in Burma is probably the most famous of those.  Wylie details how the Karen peoples—now seven million people speaking 13 different languages—had believed that a man would come from far away to bring them the truth about an ancient book that they had lost. They already had traditional concepts of the Creation and the Fall of Man.

This book deals mainly with primary sources like letters and journals, giving firsthand accounts of work among the Karen, the Burmese, the Mon people (then known as Talaings), and other people groups in the Kingdom of Burma.

Interestingly, a chapter is devoted to Arracan (Rakhine), today famous as the violence-torn region from which hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have been displaced.

This book is the most complete overview of early missions in Burma, and will continue to hold an important place for those interested in missions in South and Southeast Asia.

The new paperback edition of The Gospel in Burma is available for $19.99, and the Kindle edition is only $5.99.

Review: Captain Allen Gardiner of Patagonia

Rating: ★★★★

Who: Captain Allen Gardiner (1794-1851) was a British Navy officer, explorer, and pioneer missionary to several indigenous people groups. He spent some time among the Zulus in South Africa, founding a mission station there. When the mission was no longer viable, he turned to the indigenous peoples of Tierra del Fuego.

Captain Gardiner is best known for the tragic end he met with his mission crew in Tierra del Fuego, but his exploits before that time were numerous and interesting.

The author, Jesse Page, authored a number of interesting and readable missionary biographies around the beginning of the 20th century.

Overview: Adventure stories captivated Allen Gardiner as a child, and his mother once found him sleeping on bare floor boards, “to accustom himself to roughing it some day” (loc. 205). In adulthood, he entered the Navy and travelled all over the world. He had a hairbreadth escape from death off the coast of Peru, in which he had to swim to shore.

Gardiner came to true faith after being impressed by missions work among the indigenous people of Tahiti. The transformation taking place there led him to reconsider his life, and eventually use his sailing skills for pioneer missions work.

His first few years of mission work (1834 to 1838) were spent among the Zulu of South Africa, and he published a narrative of this time. He founded a mission a Port Natal, which later became Durban. He left South Africa because of political turmoil and tribal issues.

His appeals for funding to the Church Missionary Society, the Wesleyan Missionary Society, and the London Missionary Society were all rejected. As a result, Captain Gardiner founded the Patagonian Mission in 1844, which later became the South American Mission. Although American missionaries are extremely active now in Latin America, it was then a neglected field, as Jesse Page takes pains to show.

The situation slowly increased in desperation until one by one his crew died of starvation over the course of a two-month period. The missions work, however, continued, and Allen Gardiner’s son also worked in missions in Patagonia.

Meat: The most impressive aspect of Gardiner’s life is his fortitude against material obstacles. He survived a number of treacherous voyages and shipwrecks. His missions lacked funding and were hedged in by political obstacles. In South Africa he dealt with tribal conflicts; in Tierra del Fuego he dealt with theft and treachery; finally, his crew of eight were stranded, but held out hope until the bitter end.

Bones: This book is concise and interesting but doesn’t provide any information about Gardiner’s pioneering strategy.

The author also seems to treat indigenous peoples as one unit, with one simplistic language, following the stereotypes of the time period. But we now know these stereotypes to be false, and their languages and customs to be more complex than a brief tour can justify.

Quotes: The most interesting passage from the book is undoubtedly the poem that Captain Gardiner penned while slowly dying on Picton Island:

“A moral desert, dark and drear;
But faith descries the harvest near,
Nor heeds the toil—nor dreads the foe,
Content, where duty calls, to go. …
The troubled sea, the desert air,
The furnace depth, the lion’s lair,
Alike are safe, when Christ is there.” (loc. 78)

The author’s words about South American missions are also prophetic:

“Some day the Church will wake up to its responsibility in this matter, and an impetus of zeal, something like that which created the China Inland Mission, will send forth the labourers by hundreds into this field, which is white with opportunity and need.” (loc. 1688)

Review: Memoir of Mrs. Stallybrass

Rating: ★★★

Who: A memoir of Sarah Stallybrass, wife of Edward Stallybrass and British Congregational missionary to Siberia. Sarah taught (Mongolian) Buryat children while Edward worked on the translation of the Bible into Mongolian with a few colleagues.

When: 1789-1832.

Overview: This memoir is composed mostly of Sarah’s letters and journal entries, many of which focus on the trials that she went through and her lessons in submission to the Lord’s will in hard times. We follow the Stallybrasses as they sail through the Baltic Sea to St. Petersburg, where they trained in Russian, then thousands of miles overland across Russia to the far reaches of Siberia. After receiving the blessing of the Russian Emperor Alexander I, the Stallybrasses settled at Novoselenginsk near Lake Baikal. They later resettled even further out in Siberia. Sarah struggled with many medical problems, but toiled in raising her children and educating young Buryat children. Four months after they had resettled on the Khodon River with five children, their house burned down in the Siberian winter.

Meat: This biography focuses on Stallybrass’ personal thoughts and walk with the Lord during her travels to Siberia, and her stay there. Under the shadow of health issues and the toil of raising a family in one of the remotest parts of the earth, she maintained her life of prayer and her walk of faith.

Bones: Sarah Stallybrass quotes a wealth of hymns and draws on the richness of Christian tradition; but her view of Providence is one-sided, and makes no mention of spiritual warfare. For example, if we acknowledge that Jesus was sovereign over the weather, and commanded a storm to be calm, we should also admit that other forces had imposed upon this weather before Jesus commanded it.

Quotes: “The danger lies in confounding our success with the success of the great object we professedly regard.” (Joseph Fletcher, p. viii)

“If I have learnt anything more in the past year than in former ones, it has been that happiness dwells not in the throng; my happiest moments I find to be those spent in the [prayer] closet.” (p. 24)

“The Christian must not expect a cessation of his trials till he rests in the bosom of his God. The life of the Son of God was one of sufferings, from the manger to the grave.” (p. 64)