M. S. Thirumalai
The Beautiful Feet
The Word of God blesses the feet of those who bring good news of salvation, and certainly the feet of the missionaries are precious and beautiful!
How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!” Isaiah 52:7
Look, there on the mountains,
the feet of one who brings good news,
who proclaims peace!
Celebrate your festivals, O Judah,
and fulfill your vows.
No more will the wicked invade you;
they will be completely destroyed. Nahum 1:15
And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Rom 10:15
The Role of Missionary Biographies
In the past, several Church Fathers wrote on the life and times of martyrs and evangelists. Several of these writings, however, focused on the magical powers of the relics. Leadership characteristics were not readily focused upon.
Evangelical modern missionary biographies focus more on the formation of missionary commitment, dedication and determination of the missionaries, the anointing they received and how through this anointing they were able to suffer elegantly for the glory of God. The life story of the missionaries is told with a view to motivate others who may read these biographies.
Through the reading of these biographies readers get a vision of what missions is all about and how missionaries dedicated their lives for the glory of God in lands that originally looked strange to the missionaries. Obedience to the call they received from the Holy Spirit is highlighted in these biographies. Young persons of impressionable age are encouraged to get themselves in missionary work. These biographies often underplay the miraculous and/or the magical and focus more on the exercise of faith. In general, missionary biographies are usually very appreciative of the missionary’s life portrayed in the biography. Sometimes the deficiencies in the character and works of the missionary are not adequately dealt with to bring the humanness of the missionary.
Historical Narratives and Analysis
On the other hand, those who wrote the history of missions focused on the life, life styles, methods of evangelism, the socio-economic times during which the missionary worked in his or her field, cultural challenges faced by the missionaries on the field, how their preparation was adequate or inadequate, their follies, their achievements, and over and above all these, their successes and failures caused by their character and personality. Stephen Neil’s History of Christianity in India is a good example, wherein Neil often analyzes the character and personality of the missionaries and how their personality helped or hampered the growth of the Church in India. Neil is, of course, very fair and generous even when he brings out the inadequacies of the missionaries under discussion.
We Need Both these Approaches
It is true that none of the reports on the life of missionaries can be placed exclusively under one category or the other. But it remains true that without a proper reading and understanding of the missionaries who have gone before us and worked in harder times, difficult political and economic conditions and cultures with very little means to communicate with the outside world, our training is incomplete.
Aspects that We Need to Learn About
First of all, we lose the perspective of how humans are motivated to dedicate their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ. Secondly, we wouldn’t know how these missionaries trained themselves not only on the field but even before they left their home for the field. Hardy individual determination and individualism of the missionaries mark the growth of the Body of Christ around the world. Most importantly, we learn about the leadership styles and related issues such as team work, submission to authority in spite of differences with the supervisors, and about how these servants of God overcame their personal deprivation and grief.
Monuments to Celebrate and Lessons to Learn!
As educational and technical training institutions, introduction of trades, introduction of writing systems, development of native literatures, elimination of evil and superstitious practices and setting up models of justice and righteousness amidst not so impartial traditional systems of justice, etc., will continue to be remembered as great achievements of missionaries in many regions of the world. Historians will be greatly impressed by such contributions. However, their personal leadership styles can be understood only through their personal lives and their interactions with their co-workers. And missionaries have been great leaders even as they considered themselves to be the servants of God.
Include Missionary Biographies as Part of Christian Leadership Courses!
Any study and emulation of Christian leadership must include the study of missionary biographies as basic reading. Selection of biographies may be done in two dimensions, among other others: biographies of regional missionaries whose leadership influenced the spread of the Gospel in these regions; biographies of universally influential missionaries. For example, study of the biography of William Carey is both regional (South Asia) and universal. On the other hand, study of the biography of Bartholomeus Ziegenbalg largely falls under the category of regional importance, South Asia. The biography of Amy Carmichael is both regional and universal, especially considering the fact that the issues she dealt with continue to be a burning social problem around the world. Both regional and universal categories offer lessons in Christian leadership.
As a large number of missionaries have been women, it is important that we offer a sufficient number and variety of biographies of women missionaries, and study their roles in forming and developing Christian leadership.
A typology of leadership can be easily worked out based on the lives of modern missionaries.
M. S. Thirumalai