Author Archives: Pioneer Library

About Pioneer Library

Go where no one else will go. Do what no one else will do.

New Biographies!

We have published two new paperbacks about pioneer missionaries!

Samuel Zwemer’s Biography

Apostle to Islam: A Biography of Samuel Zwemer by J. Christy Wilson is the authorized biography of Samuel Marinus Zwemer. J. Christy Wilson not only was a missionary in the Muslim world for 22 years, but he succeeded Zwemer as chair of Princeton’s Institute of Theology.

If you are interested in reading about pioneer missions in the Middle East, I would look no further than this book. Zwemer was connected everywhere. He started in pioneer missions in Iraq, Bahrain, and Egypt; he set up missions conferences specifically for reaching Muslims in India, China, and Indonesia; he taught theology and missions at Princeton, and wrote nearly fifty books while doing all this. No wonder Zwemer’s close colleague called him “a steam engine in breeches!”

Zwemer’s Lucknow conference in 1911 is considered a major turning point in missions to the Muslim world.

Ludwig Krapf’s Biography

The Life of Ludwig Krapf: The Missionary Explorer of East Africa by Paul E. Kretzmann

(Johann) Ludwig Krapf was trained for missions in Basel, Switerland. He was first-class linguist, studying Semitic languages like Hebrew, Arabic, and Ethiopic in addition to European languages. When he went to East Africa in 1827, he found these skills to be in no small demand. He published research, dictionaries, and Bible portions in no less than seven East African languages with his colleagues, including a Bible translation in Swahili. Although he tragically suffered the loss of his family on the mission field, he did not lose his indomitable and courageous spirit. It was then that he famously wrote that, since the church conquers over the graves of its workers, then the evangelization of Africa was at hand.

Paul E. Kretzmann, author of the Popular Commentary of the Bible, honed this biography from hundreds of pages of Krapf’s journals and his past biographers to create an accessible and page-turning story with a broad appeal.

Review: Dr. Grenfell’s Parish

Rating: ★★★

Who: Sir Wilfred Grenfell was an Oxford-trained physician who founded a medical mission to help the deep-sea fishermen of Newfoundland and Labrador. He established hospitals and rural medical stations, later gaining international status because of his pioneer work. He wrote many books about his work, and was knighted in 1927.

The author, Norman Duncan, was a famed novelist. Most of his books involve pioneer preachers in Canada and the northern United States.

When: Grenfell was active in his mission from 1892 to 1936. This pamphlet was published in 1905.

Where: Newfoundland and Labrador, the frigid northeastern coast of Canada.

Overview: Norman Duncan gives a brief but useful overlook of the setting of Wilfred Grenfell’s famous pioneer medical mission. Duncan is a novelist and writes with all the flare of a novelist of the period. He describes the danger and abject poverty of the fishermen of eastern Canada, as well as their spunk, optimism, and hardihood. Duncan peppers these pages with many strange and hilarious anecdotes of the place.

Meat: Grenfell’s work was innovative, charitable, and fraught with danger. (For danger, see Adrift on a Ice-pan.) He met the medical needs of many thousands of fishermen and their families, navigating treacherous waters in the summer—without radar or GPS of course—and reaching remote villages by dogsled in the winter. Duncan points out that his work was neither ignorant of his patients’ souls, nor neglectful of their bodies. Grenfell is a great example of medical work and evangelical work done at the same time and for the same purpose: to do the will of the Father in whatever we put our hands to. As the Salvation Army motto says, “with heart to God and hand to man.”

Bones: Readers seeking a missionary biography will have to look further, since this little book doesn’t tell much about Grenfell himself. It only gives a brief look at who he is and what he does, focusing rather on the scene of his work. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating introduction to Grenfell’s work, which is no longer well known.

(For further reference, Grenfell published an autobiography (A Labrador Doctor) in 1919, with the help of his wife Anne. Genevieve Fox also published a biography (Sir Wilfred Grenfell) after his passing.)

Quotes: “He is of that type, then extraordinary but now familiar, which finds no delight where there is no difficulty.” (ch. 5)

“In the spring of 1892 he set sail from Great Yarmouth Harbour for Labrador in a ninety-ton schooner. Since then, in the face of hardship, peril, and prejudice, he has, with a light heart and strong purpose, healed the sick, preached the Word, clothed the naked, fed the starving, given shelter to them that had no roof, championed the wronged—in all, devotedly fought evil, poverty, oppression, and disease; for he is bitterly intolerant of those things. And—’It’s been jolly good fun!’ says he.” (ch. 5)

Related: Vikings of Today, The Harvest of the Sea, A Labrador Doctor: The Autobiography of Wilfred Thomason Grenfell, Forty Years for Labrador, The Romance of Labrador

Herbert Lockyer’s Books

Herbert Lockyer was an astoundingly prolific writer and a thorough student of the Bible. A few years ago I stumbled on two Herbert Lockyer pamphlets while digging through the top shelf of an antique store. After I made both available for Kindle, I began to discover how many pamphlets and sermon collections Herbert Lockyer has to his name. The list turns out to be well over a hundred!

I’ve republished eight full-length books of his writings, listed below. My favorite works by him are in this collection of sermons, which is exclusively published by Pioneer Library.

The Christ of Christmas
The Gospel in the Pentateuch
A Lump of Clay & Other Sermons (exclusively from Pioneer Library)
Roses in December and Other Sermons
Sorrows and Stars 
The Swan Song of Paul: Studies in Second Timothy
When God Died 
When Revival Comes (previously titled The Mulberry Trees)

Click “continue” to see the full list of his publications.

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Review: Heroic Bishop (Arab World Pioneers Book 4)

Rating: ★★★★

Who: Thomas Valpy French, missionary bishop in Lahore (present-day Pakistan). He lived a long life and pioneered in a wide region in ministerial education and preaching.

Eugene Stock, a member of the (Anglican) Church Missionary Society who wrote many volumes of missions history, narrates the story.

Overview: Bishop French pioneered the Anglican bishopric of Lahore in present-day Pakistan. He helped establish a cathedral and a theological school there, in which he taught in several languages. Amazingly, in his eighties, French chose to pave a way to Oman, where he interacted with James Cantine and Samuel Zwemer. He died trying to secure passage into the interior of Arabia, which today we know as Saudi Arabia. Stock’s retelling of French’s life story is concise and inspirational.

Meat: Missionary biographies almost always impress us with the uniqueness of God’s calling and preparation in the individual life. What’s impressive about Bishop French’s life is his evangelistic zeal and his pioneer passion.

Bones: The author leaves the reader to wonder at French’s linguistic prowess—however, Zwemer points out in his own autobiography, that French’s literary Arabic was very difficult for native Arabs to understand. Christian biographies of the period (the early 20th century) tend to be brief and overwhelmingly positive, skimming over any details that might put a damper on the theme.

Meet the Moravians

Two Moravians didn’t volunteer to be slaves for the Gospel—three did. But none of them actually became slaves.

You may have heard a story passed on in many sermons about two Moravians. A former slave comes to the Moravians and tells them that his people are longing to hear the Gospel—but no one has access to them except for slaves. “Fine,” respond the undaunted Moravians. “We will sell ourselves into slavery.”

Then we fade into a shot of the two Moravians on the deck of a slave barge, headed to the West Indies, shouting at their weeping families, “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of his suffering!” And that is the last that their flesh and blood ever heard from them.

——

This story has taken on legendary proportions in the modern evangelical church, probably because of Paris Reidhead’s erstwhile viral sermon, “Ten Shekels and a Shirt,” and its reincarnation as the “Revival Hymn.”⁠1 But of the two scenes that pass before your mind’s eye, only one of them is true.

Fortunately for the two Moravians, the second scene is either somewhat mythical, or it is someone else’s story. The two Moravians did go to the Caribbean island of St. Thomas as missionaries, and they did preach the gospel to many slaves, but they did not become slaves themselves. Here it is worthwhile to unpack the full story of these remarkable men. I think you will agree with me that the truth of this story is just as inspiring as the legend—or more so.

Revival

The story starts with a widespread revival in the Moravian community, dated to August 13, 1727.⁠⁠2 There was a great stirring among the immigrants who had sought asylum in Count Zinzendorf’s estate, and many spoke about the claims of Christ in unknown lands.

According to Hutton’s account, many Moravians were longing to spread the Gospel abroad during the years that followed, but without any precedent, they were unsure how to move forward. On February 11, 1728, several of them made a covenant that they would go overseas once the way forward was made clear. No Protestant church was sending its own missionaries at that time, although the Danish government had supported a few in its colonies.⁠⁠3

In 1731, that changed. Antony Ulrich, a former slave from the Danish colony of St. Thomas, visited Copenhagen. He told the Danish king that the residents of the island and its slaves were primed to respond to the Gospel. He especially pleaded on behalf of his family members.

On July 24, 1731, Count Zinzendorf shared Antony’s story with his Moravian brothers. The shocking Macedonian call was passed on from ear to ear among the Moravians. A few were quietly contemplating the possibility of going to St. Thomas, but no one spoke up publicly or immediately.

Volunteers

In time, Johann Leonard Dober brought the matter up with his friend, Tobias Leupold, and they wrote a letter to Zinzendorf, declaring their intent to go. Zinzendorf shared the news of the letter with the congregation, but did not disclose their names.

Antony Ulrich, the Caribbean freedman, was still in Europe, and he followed up with Zinzendorf around this time (in present-day Germany). He spoke to the Moravians in Dutch. When Zinzendorf asked Ulrich about sending two men right away, Ulrich—mistakenly—told him that they could only come as slaves.

Both Leonard Dober and Tobias Leupold repeated without hesitation their willingness to go to St. Thomas, even as slaves. Dober wrote the congregation as he had earlier written their leader. It was a heroic declaration of sacrifice that shocked and stirred the Moravian settlement, and inspired many others to consider a commitment to preach abroad. In the end, though, such a sacrifice of freedom was both inadmissible and unnecessary.

Changed Plans

Eventually, the church decided that only Dober should go.⁠⁠4 Dober then chose another Moravian named David Nitschman to accompany him. Just like Tobias Leupold, whom he replaced, Nitschman fully expected to become a slave for the Gospel. Thus, at that point, three men had publicly and enthusiastically declared that they would be enslaved in exchange for the opportunity to preach to the unreachable.

Hutton describes the two men, waiting outside Zinzendorf’s house in the pre-dawn hours on August 21st, 1732. The Count spent the night in prayer, and then he drove them part of the way to Copenhagen. They received a prayer of blessing, and departed on foot to Denmark to secure their passage to the Caribbean.

They had a few belongings and very little money. Although the idea may have been naive, both of them—Dober and Nitschman—fully intended to sell themselves into slavery.

In the end, however, the Danish king deemed this impossible. Dober and Tobias met with Von Plesz,  the chamberlain of King Frederick VI. Here is the dialogue given in Hutton’s History of the Moravian Church:

Von Plesz, the king’s chamberlain, asked them how they would live.

“We shall work,” replied Nitschman, “as slaves among the slaves.”

“But,” said Von Plesz, “that is impossible. It will not be allowed. No white man ever works as a slave.”

“Very well,” replied Nitschman, “I am a carpenter, and will ply my trade.”

“But what will the potter do?”

“He will help me in my work.”

“If you go on like that,” exclaimed the Chamberlain, “you will stand your ground the wide world over.”⁠⁠5

Twenty-five years earlier, in 1706, King Frederick IV of Denmark had sent the first Protestant missionaries to his colonies. But Dober and Nitschman went without royal support. They were not even offered passage by the Danes.

The Rest of the Story

The ‘tall tale’ of two Moravians says that they never saw their families again.  In fact, Leonard Dober only stayed for about two years, until he was called to Herrnhut to take office as General Elder of the church there. Amazingly, Tobias Leupold—who had been turned down as his companion—broke the news to Dober in person in June 1734.⁠⁠6 This was not the end of the mission, however. The Moravians would send 18 more missionaries to those islands in the next two years.

Dober arrived in Europe February 5th, 1735 and held the office of General Elder for six years, travelling often to Holland and England during the remainder of his life. He spent the last few months of his life in Herrnhut.

David Nitschman only went to St. Thomas as an assistant to Dober in his travels, and so he left St. Thomas after just four months.⁠⁠7 Nitschman later took passage to Georgia in 1736, where he met John Wesley, and spent the later years of his life in the Moravian colony at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Forerunners in Protestant Missions

Today, Moravians are little known in America; we tout them as a missionary powerhouse, but that’s where the story ends—at least at missions conferences. But in the 18th century, many Europeans viewed the Moravians as a cult, an uneducated church for spiritual outcasts and fanatics.

They had strange and unique customs, some gleaned from Zinzendorf’s leadership. The original settlement had a rote discipleship system which would sound today like a drug rehab program. They were passionate, committed, communal, innovative, and evangelistic.

When John and Charles Wesley sailed to Georgia with twenty-six Moravian shipmates, they were greatly impressed by their no-nonsense attitudes and the way they returned blessing for insult. John Wesley feared for his life during day after day of violent Atlantic storms, but he wrote in his journal of the Moravians:

“In the midst of the psalm wherewith their service began, the sea broke over, split the main-sail in pieces. … A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans calmly sang on. I asked one of them afterwards, ‘Was you not afraid?’

He answered, ‘I thank God, no.’

I asked, ‘But were not your women and children afraid?’

He replied mildly, ‘No; our women and children are not afraid to die.'”⁠8

The Moravians’ historian takes great pride in the fact that many English Moravians preceded William Carey to the mission field. When they left for St. Thomas, Dober and Nitschman preceded William Carey by sixty years. There is no doubt that they were the first Protestant church, as far as we know, to send missionaries with no worldly or political ties.

Careers

Why, then, does the modern legend transform Nitschman and Dober into slaves? It betrays a deep confusion in modern American missiology. Maybe deep down, we believe that going overseas is pointless unless the sacrifices are tangible, irreversible, and impressive.

But it was not their romantic sacrifice that gave them access to the unreached—it was their flexibility. They did not hang on to some heroic vision of missionary life, but showed that they would undergo any hardship—even pursuing a secular vocation!

“For over one hundred years no missionary in the West Indies received from the Moravian Church one penny of salary for his services. Each man, during all the period, had first to earn his own living.”⁠9

Maybe we should also think about where the legend ends: “They went overseas.” But that is where the preface ends, and we reach page one. Leonard Dober and David Nitschman, in fact, preached the gospel to numerous slaves. They worked hard, maintained careers, baptized disciples, and preached the Gospel in the Caribbean. And their impact outlasted them.

Results

An important point to this story is that these two were not just two among a centuries-long stream of missionaries out of Herrnhut. They were the first. Immediately inspired by their commitment, a trio of Moravians joined Hans Egede in his apostolic work in Greenland.⁠⁠10

Many of the workers that followed our wayfaring pair to the Caribbean died of tropical diseases. After they left, 18 Moravian missionaries began work in St. Croix, and within two years, half of them had died. In fact, Moravian missionaries had to take their own headstone across the Atlantic with them, because the Caribbean islands couldn’t supply them with stones.

By the time Leonard Dober died, there were more than 5,000 former slaves in the Moravian congregations of the West Indies.⁠11 The Moravian Brethren still have disciples in the Caribbean today, and it started with those two young men volunteering.

Takeaways

There are a few things that stick out about this story.

First, they didn’t sell themselves into slavery; they did something much less heroic—they plied their trade. No one wants to share a story of two volunteer missionaries saying: we will do anything to reach people, even manual labor.

Second, volunteering was not enough. After they declared their intent to go to the mission field, they had to find a way to support their work. They had to be sent. The church decided one of them shouldn’t go. When they got there, real life had to happen. Willingness was only one ingredient.

Third, the story didn’t end when their ship weighed anchor from Denmark; then their work had only begun. They only contributed to the work for a couple of years, but they paved the way for the Moravian missionaries that followed them—both in the West Indies, and globally.

In the end, the mythical version says more about our generation than theirs. We would not pass on the story if it did not have a ring of romance to it. The legendary retelling certainly appeals to our heartstrings. But the heroes this generation needs are not going to be those one or two who give it all, forsake their families, and cross the seas to become slaves. We need an army of workers willing to scrap their way, by any means, to the unreached and the inconvenient lost, whether or not they have to use a university degree to do so.

Share the true story and help restore our generation’s understanding of missions. As A. W. Tozer said, you don’t become a missionary by crossing the sea; you become a missionary by seeing the cross.


1 The audio of Reidhead’s famous sermon is available here.

2 You can read about this revival, for example, in John Greenfield’s book, Power from on High, or The History of the Moravians by J. E. Hutton.

3 See, for example:

Helen H. Holcomb, Men of Might in India Missions. 1901.

J. Ferd. Fenger. History of the Tranquebar Mission. 1842. Translated from the Danish in 1863.

Jesse Page. Amid Greenland Snows: The Early History of Arctic Missions. 1904.

4 Remarkably, this decision was made using a system of casting lots for Scriptures, a practice that the Moravian Brethren have since given up, for obvious reasons.

5 J. E. Hutton. History of the Moravian Church. Book II, Chapter VI. “The Foreign Missions and Their Influence.”

The story is also told by J. E. Hutton in his History of Moravian Missions. 1922.

6 J. E. Hutton. A History of Moravian Missions. p. 37-38. 1922.

7 “Memoir of Leonard Dober.” Periodical Accounts Relating to the Missions of the Church of the United Brethren Established Among the Heathen, vol. 12. p. 241-246.

8 Richard Watson. The Life of John Wesley, p. 43. 1857.

9 J. E. Hutton. A History of Moravian Missions. p. 38-39. 1922.

10 Jesse Page. Amid Greenland Snows: The Early History of Arctic Missions. Ch. 6.

11 “Memoir of Leonard Dober.” Periodical Accounts Relating to the Missions of the Church of the United Brethren Established Among the Heathen, vol. 12. p. 241-246.

On Racing Against Horses

The prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament complains to God that men in his hometown are plotting to kill him. He has had a difficult ministry towards unwilling people. You would think God would say something like, “that’s okay, Jeremiah, just trust in my grace.” Instead God says, in effect, “suck it up. It’s gonna get harder.”

If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses?
(God’s word to Jeremiah, Jer. 12:5)

At first, it does not sound encouraging. G. Campbell Morgan points out though, that Jeremiah had raced with men. God didn’t say he failed. He had done well in a ministry that was filled with conflict. He had already preached boldly in a temple to religious people who had missed the entire point of the temple. He had brought some brutal, yet God-sent words. The nation was in danger—not because of karma, but because God couldn’t allow himself to be misrepresented ad infinitum.

And it was going to get harder! Sometimes we expect God to set us up for success and affluence, but he sees all the chess pieces, and he knows what we can handle. He knows that he can ask us to face something that is more difficult. The logical inverse, though, is that God wouldn’t send Jeremiah to race horses when he hadn’t won against men. God knows what’s too hard for us, and the Bible says that he doesn’t ever send his children to a battle that they can’t fight with his help.

In connection with this, I have been asking, is it possible to race horses? The metaphor sounds fantastic, but there are at least two races that have pitted men against horses in long-distance running: one is a 22-mile race in Wales, and one is a 50-mile race in Arizona. In 2004, for the first time a man won the race in Wales. In Arizona, the horses have never lost, but the race is often close. In 2009, the race director said that the first man, Jamil Coury, clocked in just over seven hours for 50 miles of running, and could have beaten the first place horse if he hadn’t gotten off course.

So God’s question—how will you compete with horses? is not only relevant to long-distance runners. A man can’t compete with a horse over short distances. But it is possible for a human to beat a horse, if the human doesn’t quit. Maybe that was really God’s key to facing difficulty in ministry anyway.

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
(Paul to Timothy, 2 Timothy 4:5)

Review: Five Great Affirmations of the Bible

Rating: ★★★★★

Who: W. A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, later president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Overview: In 1958, Criswell preached and published Five Great Questions of the Bible, and in 1959, he followed up with a similar series, Five Great Affirmations of the Bible. The book deals with foundational truths of the Bible: the reality of God, the sonship of Jesus, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the second advent of Jesus.

Meat: As in its prequel, Criswell’s chosen headings are doctrinally centered, but the outcome is stirring, devotional, and evangelistic. The third sermon has a great way of dealing with the resurrection of Christ in a way that shows to what lengths God went to remove any shadow of a doubt regarding the truth of his bodily resurrection. The sermons are simple and accessible.