April 11, 2012 by Jason Hood
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the first overseas missionaries from the United States. To mark the occasion I’m reading Courtney Anderson’s To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson, a missionary classic that tells the story of the men and women who set sail for Asia in 1812. It’s a remarkable story, Anderson writes very well and doesn’t really veer into hagiography, and I’ve read few books with as much insight on missionary thought and practice.
It would be impossible to do the work or Judson’s life justice in a post (although a good start is John Piper’s telling of the story). But here are a few notes:
The Judsons’ rigor and passion are impressive; they are brilliant, hard-working, and more than a little headstrong. They go to the mission field despite massive opposition from friends and families. Their task requires an abundance of both stubbornness and patience.
As for preparation:
A liberal arts education turns out to be a decent preparation for radical missionary service. The usefulness of smoking pipes and cigars: they cover up the stench of prison. There’s the necessity of slaughtering self-conceit (being a missionary doesn’t exempt one from this most basic of Christian tasks). And there’s the need for a sense of humor, in particular Judson’s “keen sense of the ridiculous” served him and others well (292). At times Judson comes across as an early 19th century hipster who could have written for The Simpson’s.
Finally I note this: we need to place brilliant theological minds on the frontier mission field, and not just in teaching posts at seminaries and colleges and wealthy American congregations (the professions many preferred for Judson).
I’ll follow up soon with a minor complaint about Anderson’s book, but I highly recommend it.