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The Value of Missionary Biographies

When I look at pictures of my wife and I when we first met, I have to laugh. My hair was long. I had an earring in one ear. I wore a leather jacket. I had a mustache. I took a bunch heat from my buddies when I shaved my mustache. It was a fashion-sin to be a non-mustache guy. It was the 80’s. When you’re in the middle of doing or wearing something cool, it never enters your mind that you might be riding some faddish wave. You have no idea that the tide is going out.

Sometimes we treat the gospel like a fad, like Jesus is too cool for school. Fads fade into history; they dissolve.

On the other hand, Jesus made history. He changed history. Jesus invites you into history.

In our recent podcast series and blogposts, we’ve been talking about your calling as a missionary. We identified Three Principles for Determining if God is Calling You to Be a Missionary and we discussed Seven Indicators that God May Be Calling You to Global Missions. We looked at the first few verses in Acts 13 that tell the story of Paul’s calling into missions. Later in that chapter, Paul recites history to his audience to give them a sense of the bigger story that they were apart of. God was doing something in the lives of Paul’s listeners that was not a passing fad. It was predicted in centuries past, was being fulfilled in the present, and would direct the course of their lives into a Christ-centered future.

This story you are now in is not shallow, new, or short. A sense of history fastens you to a timeline on the larger arc of Jesus’ epic narrative. What you will do with your life and in the lives of those around you is not meant to dissolve into history.

In our recent podcast, we discussed the seven indicators that you are called from the article mentioned above. These indicators are necessary because your calling is not a fad either, and that is something you and your church community need to establish. The indicator I want to discuss in the remainder of this article is number three in the Seven Indicators article, “Called people have an unquenchable thirst for anything missions-related,” particularly, the desire to read missionary biographies. If this isn’t a desire you currently have, I want to introduce you to the idea and, hopefully, stir up your appetite. Personally, when God started stirring my heart to go into the mission field, I couldn’t put missionary biographies down. Even though my current role has me living in the States serving in missions support, I still love to read stories of our missionary heritage that reach back to the First Century Church and beyond. What follows is a list of biography resources I hope you’ll refer to often.

» From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya
This is a personal go to favorite of mine. It’s a missions textbook that chronicles missions stories beginning from the first through twentieth centuries. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn in this book.

» David Livingstone: Africa’s Trailblazer (Christian Heroes: Then & Now)
This biography reads like an Indiana Jones story.

» Complete Surrender: A biography of Eric Liddell
Eric Liddell is the main character in Chariots of Fire. This is a great book.

» To the Golden Shore The Life of Adoniram
This is the story of Ann and Adoniram Judson who were among some of the first missionaries to be sent out from North America.

» God’s Smuggler
The biography of Brother Andrew is a true faith-builder. His mission was to smuggle Bible across Cold War borders in communist countries on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

» A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael
Written by Elisabeth Elliot about one of India’s most loved missionaries.

» Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret
No list of missionaries is complete without the mention of Hudson Taylor.

» Through Gates of Splendor
Written about her husband, Jim Elliot, author Elisabeth Elliot tells the story of her husbands work in Ecuador. This is a world famous story.

» Hudson Taylor, Men and Women of Faith Series
Another Hudson Taylor biography.

» Gladys Aylward
This is another faith-builder. She overcame incredible obstacles to reach people with the message and love of Jesus.

» Christian Heroes: Then & Now–Adoniram Judson, Bound For Burma
Adoniram Judson was one of the first missionaries to Burma.

» The Journals of Jim Elliot
More about Jim Elliot’s work in Ecuador. Airplanes, exploration, unreached people. This book has it all.

For further biography exploration, this website is a fantastic portal to many more resources about missionaries and missions history.

Some final thoughts about biographies. God has been doing something in human history since the Garden of Eden. Your Bible is an awesome resource, obviously, to learn that history. Since the time of the early church, God has been working through believers to carry out the Great Commission. We owe our Christianity to the work of Christians and missionaries that have come before us. We have a tremendous amount to learn from them. Dig in.

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