God has used the lives of saints—both men and women—throughout history to take the message of salvation through the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. The accounts of these men and women that have been recorded are immense sources of joy and encouragement for believers today. Outside the Bible, biographies of saints—especially missionaries—from history provide Christians today with the most motivation, inspiration, and even strategy for evangelism and missions. Missions in the 21st century is greatly impacted by the biographies, journals, and other writings of those missionaries from the previous twenty centuries.
Ruth Tucker has taught missiology and church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Calvin Theological Seminary. She is the author of numerous books including Another Gospel, Daughters of the Church, and most recently, Parade of Faith.
A Unique Biography of Missions
From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya is an award-winning biographical history that sketches the history of Christian missions, but it is accomplished in a unique way. Tucker gives biographical information about Christian missionaries from the earliest Christians all the way into the 20th century. This book, therefore, describes and details not only the major movements of Christian missions, but it also more specifically describes the work and lives of the individuals who were used by God to make his name known among the nations. Well-known missionaries are documented alongside some unsung heroes of the expansion of the kingdom. And while this volume is a large collection of historical biographies, it is a highly readable work that flows much like a story–a grand story embedded in the eternal story of God’s salvation of sinners.
Popular missionaries such as David Brainerd, the Moravians, William Carey, Adoniram and Ann Judson, David Livingstone, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, CT Studd, Jim Eliot, John and Betty Stam, Brother Andrew and many others are all discussed in brevity, but with sufficient detail.
In this book there are countless accounts of many men and women who have extended the grace of God and by doing so, exalted the glory of God in their God-given desire to see those who had not heard of Christ, come to know him. There were a few individuals that jumped off the page as I read. I will mention one lesser-known (at least to me) missionary to whet your appetite for the rest of the book. The account of Vibia Perpetua stood out and struck a chord in my heart and soul.
Vibia Perpetua (pp. 32-34)
Namely, the passion and unwavering submission and loyalty of Perpetua to Jesus led me to greatly examine my own life, faith, and also to ask myself a few vital questions as I view my current ministry and possible future ministries. The story of Vibia Perpetua was previously unknown to me, but it is a story that deserves to be told and re-told. Her life is marked by her devotion to Jesus and her desire to follow him at all costs.
Living as a Christian in the midst of severe and harsh Roman persecution of Christians in the early 3rd century AD would put the faith of Perpetua to the test and she has provided us with a model of what obedience to Christ looks like when suffering and persecution comes against us. I immediately thought of and even turned to Matthew 10 after reading her account and martyrdom. Perpetua was arrested for her faith, denied the pleas of her father to renounce her faith, was led to be tortured by a bear, a leopard, and a wild boar, renounced her family rather than her Savior, and was beheaded in shame all due to a God-man whom she had given her full allegiance.
I was most challenged by one statement that Vibia Perpetua made after her father gave one last desperate effort to get her daughter to renounce Christ and be freed and saved from her persecutors. “Then the father laid her child upon her neck and he…said, ‘Be merciful to us, daughter, and live with us!’” She responded while throwing her child to the side with words that gripped my soul, “Be gone from me, enemies of God, for I know you not!” This is not some stranger that she uttered these very strong words to. No, this was her own father who deeply loved her. Indeed, the love of her father is the reason that he is pleading so ardently with her to renounce this Jesus she is so passionately following.
Living in the relatively safe West, I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like to be placed in a position to choose Jesus or my dad. I have a very strong and good relationship with my father and if my allegiance to Christ came into conflict with my relationship with him, I know that I must have the courage and resolve of Perpetua to renounce my father, if necessary, instead of renouncing my God and Savior King.
It is very easy and a dangerous tendency when living in safety and comfort to become lukewarm and complacent in obedience to Jesus. Living in hostile environments would eliminate nominal Christianity very quickly. No one would nominally adhere to someone if being associated with him means you will be imprisoned or killed. I was greatly challenged through reading the account of Perpetua to ponder whether I would show similar unwavering faith in Jesus and trust in the unshakeable hope I have in him.
In fact, from reading this, I am resolved to remind myself daily of the gospel of Jesus and the certainty of the hope I have in him. As I consider the possibility that God could call me to preach his gospel among an unreached people group in the Middle East, for example, I pray that I would be given the grace to have an unwavering and solid faith in my suffering Savior and Lord who is worthy of absolute allegiance and obedience even through suffering. May I, like Perpetua, be prepared to suffer well for the sake of Christ and the advance of his gospel and kingdom. To her death, Perpetua desired to exalt God and his glory and I pray my last words and pleas would be similar to hers:
“Give out the Word to the brothers and sisters, stand fast in the faith, love one another, and don’t let our suffering be a stumbling block to you.”