Five Missionary Biographies that Impacted My Life

I have never met the apostle Paul face to face but I feel like I know him through his writings. I am gripped by his missionary heart. In Acts 20:24, he exhorted the Ephesian elders, “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”  Through missionary biographies I have been inspired by the examples of those who “have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles” (3 John 7).  The following five missionary biographies, three books and two audio messages have given me clarity on the task of a goer and inspired me to live with the same passion and sacrifice that they exemplified.

In college, I was first introduced to pioneer missions (outside of the book of Acts!) when I read Peace Child, by Don Richardson. This is a remarkable story of the sacrifices and challenges of making Jesus known among an unreached people  group who were cannibals in the jungles of New Guinea and became followers of Christ. The Richardsons spent years learning the culture of the Sawi people so that they could proclaim the gospel clearly. A page turner!  

What are the passions and commitments that drive a missionary to give their life for the gospel? As a new Christian, I read Jim Elliot’s own personal journals and was riveted by Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testimony of Jim Elliot, by Elisabeth Elliot.  Jim Elliot famously wrote, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”  Jim Elliot set his mind on the eternal reward of honoring God among an unreached people group in the jungles of Ecuador. He and four fellow missionaries gave their lives for the gospel when they were martyred at the hands of Huaorani Indians. 

On a couple of road trips, I listened to John Piper challenge me from the lives of two pioneer missionaries. Piper preached on the cost and commitment that is sustained by a passion for the glory of  Christ in the Life of Adoniram Judson: The Cost of Bringing Christ to Burma and the Life of John G. Paton Courage in the Cause of Missions.  Adoniram Judson, one of the first missionaries sent from America, suffered greatly to bring the gospel to the country of Burma. He endured the death of multiple wives, children and physical abuse. John Paton was fearless in proclaiming Christ in the New Hebrides Islands because he was certain of  Jesus’ promise “I am with you always to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).  Adoniram Judson and John Paton both found that Jesus was worth every sacrifice!

Hudson Taylor, missionary to China and founder of China Inland Mission, was one of the greatest missions mobilizers in the history of the church. In his lifetime, he mobilized over 800 people from England to serve as missionaries in China. His passion for God’s glory and his love for Chinese people are clearly demonstrated in The Autobiography of Hudson Taylor: Missionary to China (Illustrated)He lived a life dependent on God the Father through prayer in all things.

These heroes from the past are all part of a “great cloud of witnesses” who have gone before.  From their examples, we take courage, in the words of William Carey, “to expect great things from God and attempt great things for God.”


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