Over the last two weeks, I’ve seen all kinds of posts recommending book lists for people to consider during our global shut-in. I even wrote one last week suggesting you use this time to sharpen your Bible study skills. But the one thing I’ve not seen recommended yet are missionary biographies. I’m honestly surprised by this omission.
Why read missionary biographies?
Simply put, missionary biographies are good for your soul. As Christians, we are encouraged by stories of faithfulness in others. They are a testimony, a witness, not just to those with whom they are sharing the gospel, but also to us as well. We see in them and their lives the truth of the gospel. In them, we find both comfort and challenge.
The lives of missionaries comfort us because we see that Christ is worth it. Christ is worth the sacrifice, that others may know the unsurpassing glory of the Son of God is more valuable than any other human endeavor. How could these missionaries know and feel this way? Because they themselves have been transformed by the marvelous grace of the gospel. What first worked on them now works out of them and through them to others. We can take comfort in the gospel knowing that our hope and peace is found on the other side of that cross.
The lives of missionaries also challenge us. They demonstrate, perhaps more clearly than we sometimes care to see, the distinction between that which is wood, hay, and stubble and that which is pure gold refined by fire (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). They said the gospel is worth it, and when confronted with that reality, we must ask ourselves if we agree.
Uncertainty is something we’re all facing right now, perhaps more than most of us have ever encountered. The missionaries you find in the pages of these biographies were no strangers to uncertainty or sacrifice.
I pray that you will be comforted and challenged by their witness.
This first set is a short collection of missionary biographies that are book-length treatments of one missionary. Of course, these are more in-depth reads and give you the chance to zoom in on one missionary and their story. Some are classics, and others are more recent contributions.
This first book is perhaps the quintessentially classic missionary biography. It is primarily autobiographical, with notes from Jonathan Edwards. Brainerd was a missionary to the Native Americans during the 1700s.
Written by Timothy George, this biography details the life of the “Father of Modern Missions.” Carey and his accomplishments were instrumental in beginning the modern missions movement. It is in large part to him that we owe our renewed focus on the Great Commission in evangelicalism.
Jim Elliot’s story is not that far removed from the present. In the middle of the last century, the Elliot family was part of a missionary team to the jungles of Ecuador. Written by his wife, Elisabeth Elliot, this biography recounts the story of sacrifice and grace that they found in their obedience to the Great Commission. It is well worth the read.
Adoniram Judson’s life is a monumental testimony to the grace of God even in the midst of sacrifice. Courtney Alexander first published this work in 1956, but it remains a classic missionary biography.
If you prefer reading a compilation, I’ve included three of those as well. Unlike the above works, these provide chapter-length treatments that highlight a missionary’s story but allow you to survey a number of different testimonies. If you’re new to missionary biographies, then you may want to start here.
This is my go-to compilation for people entering the world of missionary biographies. Dr. Danny Akin is the president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and has developed a practice over the years of sharing an annual chapel message that details the life of a missionary as an extended illustration for his message. This book is the fruit of that practice, weaving together missionary biographies with devotional material.
Like Dr. Akin, John Piper has done extensive research and writing on the lives of many missionaries and Christian ministers throughout history. This particular work highlights the lives of William Tyndale, Adoniram Judson, and John Paton. It’s an excellent read in Piper’s signature style.
Bonus Splurge - 21 Servants of Sovereign Joy: Faithful, Flawed, and Fruitful
Also by John Piper, this hardcover book is the complete collection of Piper’s The Swans Are Not Silent series, of which the above book is volume 5. This work includes more than just missionaries, highlighting 21 different servants of Christ throughout history. If you want the complete package, this is probably the one to read!