Ebookwormy1's Reviews > On the Missionary Trail: A Journey through Polynesia, Asia, and Africa with the London Missionary Society

On the Missionary Trail by Tom Hiney
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Jun 13, 2008

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bookshelves: non-fiction, biography, world-global, world-asia-plus-pacrim, world-africa, 1-character-forming
Read in January, 2008

This book was excellent, and I wouldn't mind reading it through again. Tom Hiney documents the London Missionary Society deputation's travels around the world in the early 19th century. The historical account and experiences are fascinating. But Hiney adds his own brilliance by tying the events into what was known - and wasn't- at the time, giving the reader a realistic feel for the amazing endeavor undertaken.

He does this by relating facts that help the reader to put the action into perspective ("the year before Jane Austen was born", "meanwhile, William Wilburforce..", "the interests of the West Indies Company were markedly different as recorded..", "at the same time they were doing X, so and so was doing Y on the other side of the planet..", and "Captain Cook had explored this area, just X years before.."), as well as by relating the motivations of Europeans and how they were impacting the rest of the globe (be it views toward the missionary movement, wars (their antecedents and precedents), and local societal evolutions underway.

I wish I had read this book when I was serving in full-time ministry with a parachurch organization. The challenges remain so similar!
* How do you get the Gospel into a culture without tainting it with your culture?
* In that day, it was separating the message from the English messenger, we were struggling with separating the Gospel from the American messenger.
* What is the difference between missions where the work really sticks and missions where it fizzles?
* What is the appropriate relationship between missionary and the leadership of the culture?
* Is a conversion of leaders approach more successful than a conversion of the every man?
* What role does translation play in mission success, and at what point should the monetary investment in translation take place?
* How do missions become sustainable?
* What is the proper balance between meeting physical needs (food, shelter, hospital, schools, etc.) and spiritual needs (church, Bible teaching, translation of the Bible, etc.)?

Hiney also clears up long standing fallacies. He documents English colonial resistance to missionary endeavors (in this period). Far from imposing Christendom on the far cultures of the world, most Englishmen (particularly those in native lands) were opposed to the colonial movement, and some missionaries lost their lives to colonial resistance. In addition, he documents the attempts by missionaries (far beyond those of most merchants and military settlers) to integrate into the culture by learning the language, wearing the dress and adopting the culture. Further, many missionaries taught local leaders how to better interact with Europeans to preserve their best interests and either maintain or prepare for independence (very far reaching ideas for the time).

I am unsure from reading the text of Hiney's religious beliefs and there are certainly sections where he expresses theological perspectives with which I disagree, but I found his accounting to be helpful and fair. He doesn't minimize or neglect failures on the field. In fact, while reading this book, I was assigned to memorize the following passage: 1 Pet 5:2-4 "Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, not under compulsion, but willingly as God would have you. Not for shameful gain, but eagerly. Not domineering over those in your charge, but being an example to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory." I was struck by how this account relates the stories of missionaries in each of the categories mentioned, good and bad.

Reading the notes as I went was enlightening. While the narrative leaves missionaries visited behind, Hiney documents in the notes outcomes of individuals and expeditions that were not known until years later. Highly recommended.
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