While we were working on this issue, our art director Rai Whitlock showed me a catalog that had what catalogs normally do not have: an editor's note. Silly catalog! I told the glossy pages. Editor's notes are for real magazines. And don't you know that no one ever reads the editor's note anyway? Then I saw the photograph of the person who wrote it: Robert Redford. Okay, I take it back. If you're Robert Redford, you can write an editor's note for a grocery list, if it pleases you. Now that I think back, I don't remember the company's name or what they were selling, but I do remember Robert Redford's smile and his lyrical utterances about the coming of spring.

We are a culture enamored with celebrity. A movie star endorses a product on TV, and suddenly millions of viewers realize they need bath soap. A pop icon writes a children's book, and suddenly normally sane parents are rushing to buy the maternal masterpieces of Madonna. As any charitable organization knows, the way to garner popular support for your cause is to feature a famous spokesperson.

Adoniram and Ann Judson were movie stars before there was cinema. They were pro athletes when the "Super Bowl" was a family-size serving dish on a 19th-century kitchen table. As Ruth Tucker writes, they were the first "American Idols." These two attractive young people from small-town New England became the poster children of a cause that soon swept through the nation: the cause of missions. It's hard for us to imagine today that missionaries could have such an effect. But, as William Hutchison argued in his book Errand to the World, the fact was that these pioneers symbolized something vital to America's identity since the days of the Puritans—a new beginning, an adventure ...

Subscriber Access OnlyYou have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Already a CT subscriber?
or your full digital access.