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Christian History Home > 2006 > Issue 90 > Lord, Send Us

Lord, Send Us
A Kaleidoscope of evangelists
Sarah Johnson and Eileen Moffett | posted 4/01/2006 12:00AM

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Betsey Stockton (1798-1865)

Single-minded schoolteacher

During the winter of 1815, a revival on the Princeton college campus spilled over into the life of a young, intelligent female servant in the household of Ashbel Green, the college president. Betsey Stockton was baptized a year later. As her Christian faith matured, she longed to offer herself as a missionary. But what hope had she, an unmarried black woman, to reach such a goal?

Betsey Stockton's mother had been a slave of Robert Stockton, one of Princeton's distinguished citizens. As a small child, Betsey was sent to the home of Robert Stockton's daughter, the wife of Ashbel Green. "By me and my wife," he later wrote, "she was never intended to be held as a slave." She was treated in their household kindly as a servant girl for whom they had a growing affection, included in family prayers, and "home-schooled" by Dr. Green.

Shortly after Betsey's conversion, Charles Stewart, a Princeton seminary student and friend of the Green family, announced his plan to join a team of missionary pioneers to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). This lit a spark of hope in Betsey's mind. Could she not go with them? She had skills as a nurse and was trained by that time as a teacher. But American Protestants were not yet ready to send a single woman overseas without a protector.

Dr. Green intervened with a strong letter of recommendation to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, both for Charles Stewart and "for my Betty." The ABCFM's solution was to commission Betsey as part of the Stewart family—"neither as an equal nor as a servant, but as a humble Christian friend." With this ambiguous but trail-blazing appointment, Betsey Stockton became the first (documented) single woman missionary ever sent by a North American mission agency beyond the borders of the United States. During her two years in Hawaii, Betsey's most notable contribution was as a teacher. Other missionaries had already established the first schools on the islands, attended primarily by the upper classes. Betsey, the former slave, was the first to organize a school for the disadvantaged—particularly farmers' families.

In 1825 Mrs. Stewart's failing health caused the Stewarts to return home, and Betsey went with them. But to the end of her life, this pioneer missionary woman retained an active interest in the welfare of all people, establishing schools for Native American and black children and serving as a Sabbath school teacher for 25 years, inspiring others to go into ministry at home and overseas.

—E. M.

Samuel J. Mills (1783-1818)

Unsung hero of American missions

The father of the American foreign missionary movement never served as an overseas missionary. He was not a brilliant orator or scholar. Today, many people do not know his name.

But in the first decade of the American missions movement, few people proved more important than Samuel J. Mills. Indeed, Mills was responsible for the event that birthed the enterprise. In 1806, Mills organized four fellow students at Williams College into a prayer group. One rainy day the group got caught in a rainstorm and took refuge under a haystack—and the American overseas missions movement was born.

Mills's interest in missions started in childhood. His father was a Congregational minister; his mother, an admirer of John Eliot and David Brainerd, early American missionaries to the Native Americans. Samuel learned the importance of "disinterested benevolence"—doing good for others without caring about personal cost—from his father and heard stories about heroic evangelists from his mother. By the time he went to Williams College, Mills was eager to devote his life to God's service.

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