Tag Archives: Late 19th century missions

Review:  Candle in the Dark: The Story of Ion Keith-Falconer

Rating: ★★★★

Who: Ion Keith-Falconer, Arabic scholar, prominent cyclist, and pioneer missionary to Yemen.

When: 1856-1887.

Where: The book covers his training and travels in Scotland, England, Germany, Egypt, and Yemen.

Overview: This is the authorized biography of Ion Keith-Falconer, published within a year of his unexpected death by a friend who knew him at Cambridge. It is still the most complete biography of him available.

Keith-Falconer came from a noble Scottish bloodline. He was definitely a son of privilege; but to his credit, he used this privilege to support Gospel work. He liberally supported urban evangelistic work, not only with money, but with his own sweat.

He was an exemplary academic and excelled in Arabic and other Semitic languages at Cambridge. Before he went to Yemen as a missionary with the Free Church of Scotland, he was offered a lectureship in Arabic by Cambridge, and accepted, if only because the requirements were so light, and the benefits so obvious—he would only have to lecture once annually at the minimum.

He also exemplifies “muscular Christianity.” He stumbled into fame as a cyclist when the sport was just budding into existence on college campuses.

He began to seriously consider missions in late 1884, and left for Yemen in November 1885 for a trial visit. He returned with his family a year later, in November 1886, but within just a few short months, he succumbed to several bouts of malaria, and died at the age of 31.

Meat: Keith-Falconer is in many ways the prototypical missionary of the Arabian Peninsula. He taught that hospitals and academic work were an appropriate avenue for missionaries there, and many followed in his wake.

The announcement of his death coincided closely with the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, and as a result, many were moved to consider the mission field after he died.

Bones: The author, Sinker, was an academic and sometimes gives too much detail on Keith-Falconer’s academic life at the expense of his personal life. An ideal biography would give a better sense of Keith-Falconer’s habits and daily life.

A member of the Yemen mission, James Robson, later produced a bite-sized biography, Ion Keith-Falconer of Arabia (1923), which essentially abridges the material found here.

Quotes: “Still, it seemed as if some scheme ought to present itself in which Christian zeal and linguistic power might work hand in hand, or rather, shall I say, in which his intellectual attainments and his learning might be to him something more than a mere parallel interest, existing side by side with, but having no connection with, work for Christ.” (loc. 2116)

“The efforts already made to Christianize Mohammedan countries have produced commensurate results.” (loc. 2724)

“The heathen are in darkness, and we are asleep. . . . While vast continents are shrouded in almost utter darkness, and hundreds of millions suffer the horrors of heathenism or of Islam, the burden of proof lies upon you to show that the circumstances in which God gas placed you were meant by Him to keep you out of the foreign mission-field.” (loc. 2797)

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.

Uganda's White Man of Work book cover

Review: Uganda’s White Man of Work

Rating: ★★★★★

Who: The main subject of this biography is Alexander MacKay, English pioneer missionary to Uganda, but we also hear about Henry Stanley, Robert Ashe, Bishop James Hannington, the Uganda Martyrs, and many others.

The author, Sophia Lyon Fahs, was born to Presbyterian missionaries in China. This is her only missionary biography.

Where: The Kingdom of Buganda, the predecessor to today’s Uganda.

When: 1849-1890. (Published 1907.)

Overview: Alexander MacKay was a practical pioneer missionary to Uganda. His missions group required a litany of practical skills to survive and thrive in Uganda: road-building, carpentry, farming, and teaching, to name a few.

He was invited by the Ugandan king, Muteesa I, and was able to stay longer than many of the other missionaries he worked with, though it was only 12 years. He suffered much at the hands of the vacillating kings of Uganda, who one day said that the religion of Christ was the best, and the next executed missionaries for fear of an outside invasion. The kings also pandered for many years to Arab traders, who conspired against the missionaries, traded in guns and slaves, and sought to promote Islam. The missionaries seemed especially successful, though, in their literacy programs, which were a great service to Ugandans. Despite persecution and martyrdom, the story is by and large a triumph of modern missions.

This book was written for a younger audience, so the story is quite easy to follow.

Meat: The reason this book gets five stars is its scope. The book is almost a condensed history of Ugandan missions. Rather than merely celebrating the work of one man, the author shares the stories of others which both preceded and followed that of MacKay. Before MacKay came, Henry Stanley—the same Stanley that found Livingstone—was told by Uganda’s king to send missionaries to share the Christian message in full with him. In passing, we hear the story of Bishop Hannington, and the Uganda Martyrs, who were executed by King Mwanga II between 1885 and 1887. Finally, we catch a glimpse of the stage of the tremendous church growth in Uganda in 1900.

Bones: This book might simplify or skim over some of the stories; we cannot assume, for example, that all of Uganda’s churches are healthy, or that it has no need of missionaries today.

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