5 Resources for Missions History Buffs

History is anything but boring. Studying history not only tells us exciting, shocking, and fascinating real-life stories, but through these stories, we are both encouraged and warned by the tales of those who have gone before us in this life.

Missions history is no different. Our past is replete with stories of missionaries who have sacrificed everything for the sake of the gospel. The apostle Paul had a successful ministry, but he, too, had interpersonal conflict. Adoniram Judson faced extreme hardship and waited years before he saw his first convert. But he persevered. Missionaries such as Darlene Diebler Rose and Eric Liddell, because of their commitment to continue ministering in East Asia during World War II, both ended up in Japanese internment camps.

Missions history is full of cautionary tales too. Stories of coerced conversions, colonialism, and bad missions strategies warn us not to repeat history. But they also remind us to be humble—any one of us is capable of making the same mistakes.

When we study missions history, we see that God has always used imperfect people to accomplish his purpose: his glory among the nations. We are reminded that the gospel is truly worth every sacrifice we may have to make for it. In conjunction with our Missions History Podcast, we surveyed people who have extensively studied missions history and asked them to suggest a resource for readers who might be interested in learning more for themselves.

David J. Brady
Pastor of Christ Community Church, Mount Airy, North Carolina
Co-host IMB Missions History Podcast

Edward L. Smither (Lexham Press, 2019)

Christian Mission: A Concise Global History is a much-needed world history about Christian missions (primarily evangelical missions). Smither accomplishes an amazing feat in presenting two thousand years of Christian mission in two hundred pages. You will meet the major people, places, and themes of Christian missions. Smither offers clear definitions of terms and presents the most salient features of various people and movements in a concise manner. The footnotes at the bottom of each page facilitate further research into topics that interest the reader. Smither uniquely presents the missionary contributions of the monastic movement of the Middle Ages and also opens our eyes to the great Christian missionary reversal happening in our times. Nations that once received missionaries are now entering full force into sending missionaries. I highly recommend this book!


Anna D.
PhD Student, Applied Theology
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

Keith Harper, ed. (Mercer University Press, 2002)

Send the Light: Lottie Moon’s Letters and Other Writings is a compilation of Lottie Moon’s letters and articles edited by Keith Harper. We often talk about Lottie Moon’s life and work, but reading her own words is refreshing, encouraging, and challenging. “Oh! that my words could be as a trumpet call,” Moon cried, “stirring the hearts of my brethren and sisters to pray, to labor, to give themselves to this people.” This collection breaks her letters and articles into four major sections depending on the recipient or audience. Lottie Moon’s writings recount the beauty and hardship of international missions in the late 1800s and early 1900s and call for increased funds and laborers for the mission field. Though some of her language is antiquated and even brash for modern ears, her letters are a window into the life of a woman who continues to capture the hearts of a denomination.


Dr. Nathan Finn
Provost and Dean of University Faculty
North Greenville University

Courtney Anderson (Judson Press, 1987)

I have a deep appreciation for the genre of missionary biography because the best examples provide encouragement not only to missionaries, but to all believers who are committed to the Great Commission. I fell in love with To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson the first time I read it, and it remains my all-time favorite Christian biography of any sort. It tells the story of missionary pioneer Adoniram Judson and his three remarkable wives in a way that highlights their faithfulness, yet it is also realistic about their struggles. It is inspirational but not hagiographical. I have recommended the book to hundreds of students over the years, and more than one has told me that reading To the Golden Shore played a role in shaping their own calling to global missions.


Dr. Karen Bullock
Professor of Christian Heritage
Director of PhD Program, B. H. Carroll Theological Institute

Ruth A. Tucker (Zondervan Academic, 2004)

From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, written by Ruth A. Tucker, is still my favorite mission history book simply because Tucker weaves the fascinating stories like no other. She tells the story of Christian missions through the lives of missionaries across the centuries, right up to the present. The men and women from this timeline step from the pages, in all of their honesty, and share their real struggles, arduous ministries, and even their frailties. Her captivating narrative style makes them almost live again. Both the first and the second editions are splendid. The second edition covers all of the two thousand years of mission history, like the first, but has been updated to contain a special focus on the modern period, including chapters focused on the Muslim world, Majority World missions, and a comparison of missions in Korea and Japan. It also contains indexes where readers can easily locate particular missionaries, stories, or incidents. Design graphics, photographs, and maps also help to make this an amazing book.


Dr. Edward Smither
Dean, Professor of Intercultural Studies
PhD Program Director, Columbia International University

Will Brooks (Wipf and Stock, 2018)

Christian mission is a God-initiated encounter. However, God’s people in the story of mission are still human: flawed and faithful, broken and heroic. Love Lost for the Cause of Christ: Three Missionaries and Their Sacrifices for the Great Commission is a narrative of well-known missionary “heroes”: Henry Martyn, Lottie Moon, and Hudson Taylor. Will Brooks captures some of their humanity by probing into their love lives, particularly love sacrificed for the call of mission. This book is a well-researched, readable resource for single Christians with thoughts about mission, and also for others in a relationship wondering if their call is compatible with that of their fiancé or potential spouse.