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James Gilmour of Mongolia review

Review: James Gilmour of Mongolia

Rating: ★★★★★

Who: James Gilmour, pioneer missionary in China and Mongolia.

Richard Lovett arranged these memoirs using Gilmour’s journals in the year after Gilmour’s death.

When: Gilmour was active in the mission field from 1870 until his death in China in 1891.

Where: Gilmour spends much of the book training and equipping in northern China before making various excursions into Mongolia.

Overview: A few pioneers had translated the Bible for the Buryat people (a Mongol people group) in Russia in the early 1800s with permission from the Russian Emperor, but they had been sent home after many years by the same. At the time Gilmour began work among them, the Mongols were an extensive and widespread people group with no church and no missionary.

Mongolia at the time was so wholly untouched by Western influence that Gilmour could say, after just a few years of excursions, that he knew more of Mongolia than any European he was aware of. This is the unromantic record of a very difficult missionary life on a pioneer field.

Meat: Gilmour’s writings here on the missionary call (quoted below) are very well known. He ate, slept, and travelled as a low-class Mongolian; he experienced bereavement on the mission field and nearly drowned in flash floods; but he wrote that all this was merely obedience to the Great Commission.

Gilmour deals pretty extensively with grief, depression, and disappointment on the mission field, and this is reflected much better in this firsthand account than in modern retellings. Lovett writes, “The most constant force acting in the direction of mental depression was what appeared to him like the want of immediate success.” (p. 225)

Bones: The original edition has some repetitive letters and journal entries that could easily be abridged. In spite of this, it is very inspiring to read his own words, rather than some romantic modern summary of his life.

Quotes: “I feel quite ready to go anywhere if only He goes with me.” (p. 177)

“Where is now the Lord God of Elijah? He is waiting for Elijah to call on Him.” (p. 59-60)

“I go out as a missionary not that I may follow the dictates of common sense, but that I may obey that command of Christ, ‘Go into all the world and preach.’ He who said ‘preach,’ said also, ‘Go ye into and preach’, and what Christ hath joined together let not man put asunder. This command seems to me to be strictly a missionary injunction, and, as far as I can see, those to whom it was first delivered regarded it in that light, so that, apart altogether from choice and other lower reasons, my going forth is a matter of obedience to a plain command; and in place of seeking to assign a reason for going abroad, I would prefer to say that I have failed to discover any reason why I should stay at home.” (p. 42-43)

On missionary depression:

“In the shape of converts I have seen no result. I have not, as far as I am aware, seen anyone who even wanted to be a Christian.” (p. 97)

“In terrible darkness and tears for two days. Light broke over me at my stand to-day in the thought that Jesus was tempted forty days of the devil after His baptism, and that He felt forsaken on the cross.” (May 9. 1888; p. 224-225)

“The only trouble that haunted him was that the results of his long journeys and of his various missionary enterprises had been apparently so few.”

Related: Among the Mongols, More about the Mongols.

This biography is available for free on Kindle, Project Gutenberg, and the Internet Archive.

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