Friday, 3 February 2012

On a Missionary Trail

Last Saturday I took Anya and Ronan into town.  We visited the speciality sweet shop and then they got a milkshake.  After that I found a second hand bookstore.  This shop is worth a visit.  It is an upstairs room crammed with books.  In desperation I prayed that God would help me find something worthwhile.  Well, I certainly found a great book.

On a Missionary Trail is a book about two men who were sent out by the London Missionary Society on a trip to visit their mission stations.  Their trip lasted eight years and is a remarkable adventure.  The author Tom Hiney is not an evangelical Christian but he is impressed by the missionaries of this organisation.

One of the first thoughts is the bravery of pioneer missionaries of that day.  Many died of malaria and typhoid.  A small group were sent to Tonga where four were murdered, one abandoned his faith and the rest were chased by locals, and had to live hand to mouth in a cave.  Many people set off knowing that there was a great chance that they would die for their faith.

Another thing that struck me was that the accusation of the missionaries simply being a puppet of colonialism is not quiet true.  For example the East India Company resisted the presence of missionaries, similarly settlers in southern Africa resented them for the fact that they were reaching out to the local population and calling black people their brothers, and in the Guyana the slave traders wanted them banned.  The evangelicals at that time were known for humanitarian causes such as the anti-slavery movement.

Hiney also mentions the fact that many people claim that the evangelicals have been accused of being destroyers of native cultures.  He points out that the idea of unspoiled natives living uninterfered with in paradise lands is naive.  In India William Carey opposed the practice of Suttee (the burying alive of widows on the funeral fire of their deceased husbands), many cultures practiced infanticide (indeed one pastoral concern was assuring people who had become Christians that they had been forgiven for killing their babies) and then of course there were cultures with cannibalism.  Not that Hiney presents a negative picture of all cultures or their practices.  Not being an evangelical his solution for some religions would be their reformation rather than their conversion.  Of course as evangelicals we want to bring the unique life-changing message that will inevitably alter some aspects of existing culture.  Nevertheless we don't need to destroy aspects of that culture that are not in opposition to gospel truth.  Hiney says that the London Missionary Society tried to accomadate local cultures.

We have an all-age service this week.  So the congregation is going to be told of the journey of John Tyerman and George Bennet.  While I disagree with some of the comments made about Christianity by Tom Hiney On a Missionary Trail is a great read.

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