Larger than life

Missionary memoirs and biographies (often full of illustrations like the one to the left) gained huge popularity during the 19th century, inspiring young people to become missionaries and motivating Christians at home to pray for and give money to the missions cause. One biography of Adoniram Judson, published in 1853 by Francis Wayland, sold 26,000 copies in the first year alone. The most famous biography of Ann Judson appeared in a new edition almost every year from 1830 to 1856. Unitarian Lydia Maria Child described it as "a book so universally known that it scarcely need be mentioned." To the present, there have been at least 56 biographies of Adoniram published and at least 16 of Ann, including biographies for children. Though over the years the facts grew more and more embellished, the stories surrounding the Judsons' lives became as much a part of the landscape of American missions as the Judsons' own accomplishments.

Being like Brainerd

He made only a handful of converts in five years of evangelizing among the Native Americans. He died of tuberculosis at age 29. But for 19th-century Christians, David Brainerd (1718-1747) was the ideal missionary and a model of "disinterested benevolence," the sacrificing of self for the sake of others. Jonathan Edwards's 1749 biography, The Life and Diary of David Brainerd, became a spiritual classic motivating countless young Americans to become missionaries themselves. Levi Parsons, a missionary in Palestine, wrote, "Much refreshed this day by perusing the life of Brainerd. How completely devoted to God, how ardent his affections. What thirst after holiness, what love for souls. His life was short but brilliant and useful. … Counting pain and distress and every bodily ...

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