Every time I read about what happened today in missions history, it excites me to see the bigger picture, the overall narrative of what God has been doing to reach every nation. God has called simple men and women throughout history to leave a mark of his glory upon his storyline, which leads us to right here, right now, wherever we are.

David said, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Now, with simple faith, let us go too, leaving a mark of righteousness for generations to come.

Here’s a look back through the years at what happened in missions history in the month of May. [CLICK TO TWEET]


May 1, 1873 — Missionary-explorer David Livingstone dies. Responsible for “opening up” central Africa and for popularizing missions to that continent, Livingstone himself only made one convert who later backslid. Still, Livingstone is widely held up as a Christian missionary hero.

May 2, 1797 — Anson Gleason, who spent 40 years as a missionary to the Choctaw, Mohegan and Seneca Indians, was born in Manchester, Connecticut.

May 3, 2000 — After years of making it very difficult for Christians, the Cuban government is allowing them, beginning today, to evangelize openly for six weeks (May 3-June 13, 2000). Planned events include stadium rallies, street outreaches, and house-to-house visitations. Permission to build churches is still quite difficult to obtain. Most evangelicals meet in illegal house churches. Pastors have been arrested, beaten, and jailed, and those who elude arrest are often threatened with loss of employment.

May 4, 2003 — Gracia Burnham’s book, In the Presence of My Enemies, is released. The book tells about the kidnapping and captivity she and her husband endured at the hands of Filipino Muslim extremists. Missionaries to the Philippines since 1985, Gracia and Martin Burnham were the focus of prayers across the United States and around the world from their kidnapping in May 2001 until their rescue 376 days later. Gracia Burnham emerged from the rescue attempt alive, but her husband and Philippine nurse Deborah Yap were killed in the gun battle.

May 5, 1834 — John Dunbar leaves Ithaca, New York for Nebraska where he is being sent by the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions to the Pawnee Indians. Dunbar, who was born in Massachusetts (March 4, 1804) is a graduate of Williams College and Auburn Seminary. He will finally arrive at at Bellevue, near Council Bluffs in October.

May 6, 1816 — The American Bible Society was organized.

May 7, 2003 — A bomb explodes outside the home of a Christian missionary couple in Lebanon, killing a neighbor who came to their aid. The device was placed outside the ground floor apartment of veteran Dutch missionary Jakob Griffioen and his German wife. Griffioen was well-known in the neighborhood, and had recently been active in distributing Christian books, leaflets and CDs during a book fair.

May 8, 2004 — “Beyond the Gates of Splendor” is shown during the Wheaton College alumni weekend. This film project, which includes footage from the Wheaton campus, chronicles the amazing story of the Waodani Indians, the missionaries (Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Peter Fleming, Ed McCully, & Roger Youderian) who gave their lives to reach them with the Gospel, and the families who overcame incredible obstacles to continue the mission in love and reconciliation.

May 9, 1760, Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, the founder of the Unitas Fratrum (Moravian Brethren Church), dies in Herrnhut, Germany (b. 1700). By the time of his death the Moravians (which themselves only numbered in the hundreds) had sent out 226 missionaries around the world.

May 10, 1845 — The Southern Baptist Convention established a Board of Foreign Missions with headquarters in Richmond, Virginia.

May 11, 1887 — Missionary Ion Keith-Falconer dies in Aden, Arabia.

May 12, 1996 — The search for survivors in the crash of ValueJet flight 592 in a Florida swamp is called off. Among 109 people presumed to have died was Carlos Gonzalez, a young man who had spent two years in the U.S. preparing for missionary work in his native Venezuela.

May 13, 1917 — Japan first celebrates Mother’s Day as a result of the Association for Mothers in Japan formed by American Methodist missionary Mira E. Draper. At first, Mother’s Day was observed in Japan by only a handful of people, but Draper’s efforts gradually spread throughout the country. Draper died in 1935, the year Mother’s Day became an official event in Japan.

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May 14, 1858 — Robert and Elizabeth Clark are married in England. A month later they will sail for India. While still single, Robert had become the first missionary to the Afghans. During a furlough he met and fell in love with Elizabeth Browne.

May 15, 1946 — Missionary Ruth Dech arrives in Benque Viejo, British Honduras (now Belize). She will give 40 years of missionary service there and in Costa Rica.

May 16, 1875 — Birth of Matilda Smyrell Calder who spent two years as a missionary teacher in Turkey and then two years as traveling secretary for the Student Volunteer Movement. In 1906 Calder went to China where in 1913 she founded Ginling College.

May 17 1817 — Heinrich August Jaeschke, Moravian missionary to Tibet, was born in Herrnhut, Saxony, Germany.

May 18, 1896 — Church Missionary Society missionaries Samuel Zwemer and Amy Wilkes were married in Arabia. Samuel Zwemer had arrived there as a missionary in 1890 and would serve with Amy until 1913 when they transferred to Egypt (1913-1929). From there Zwemer went to Princeton Theological Seminary where he taught from 1929 to 1952. Along the way, Zwemer found time to write over fifty books and hundreds of articles. He founded the Moslem World, a missionary periodical, and served as its editor for thirty-five years. Zwemer died in New York City on April 2, 1952 at age eighty-four.

May 19, 1926 — Belgium’s King Albert grants Evangelical Free Church Mission an official legal charter to do missionary work in the Congo.

May 20, 1865 — Veteran missionary Edward T. Doane and his second wife, Clara, sailed from New York for the Caroline Islands of Micronesia aboard the steamer Golden Rule. The Doanes worked on Ponape under the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions until 1873, when Mrs. Doane’s poor health necessitated a transfer to Japan. After his second wife died, Edward T. Doane went back to the Caroline Islands. During the 1887 Spanish occupation of the area, Doane was taken to the Philippine Islands as a prisoner. He was eventually released and returned to Ponape.

May 21, 1891 George Louis Williams is ordained a Congregational minister in Oberlin on May 21, 1891, just five days before marrying his classmate Mary Alice Moon. Under appointment of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, George and Alice Williams sailed for China on July 29, 1891. During their years in Taigu, George provided care for opium addicts at the local opium refuge, one of several medical clinics established by the missionaries. Alice worked alongside Lydia Lord Davis (1867-1952), teaching Chinese women to read and developing close ties with several Chinese Christians. In 1899, with Alice’s mother in failing health and the Taigu mission facing serious financial difficulties, Alice and her three daughters returned on furlough to the United States. George Williams was to follow, but he was killed at Taigu on July 31, 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion. The Chinese Boxers killed all thirteen members of the “Oberlin Band”; they also destroyed the missionaries’ personal property and mission buildings.

May 22, 1937 — Robert B. Ekvall (1898-1978), missionary among the Tibetan Nomads, publishes part one of an article on the life of A.B. Simpson, founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Ekvall was born in China where his parents were missionaries. After his graduation from The Missionary Training Institute in Nyack in 1923, he returned to China. There he began Tibetan language study at Taochow and started work among the Tibetan nomads. In 1938 Ekvall and his wife returned to America to write the 50-year history of the Christian and Missionary Alliance as well as a book on mission work in Tibet. During their furlough he studied Sanskrit and cultural anthropology at the University of Chicago with a focus on Tibetan nomads.

May 23, 1932 — In the midst of the Great Depression gripping America, U.S. President Herbert Hoover wrote to what is now New York Theological Seminary expressing hope that the school “shall continue its interdenominational work of training Bible inspired preachers, teachers, missionaries and other Christian workers. No institution doing the work this Seminary is doing should be allowed to fail, particularly in times like these.” The school’s missionary graduates from before and after that financial crisis include Hallie Covington (Korea), Marian Farquhar (Sudan), Clark Offner (Japan), Frederick Stock (Pakistan), Carol Wilson (India), and Bulgarian national Nikola Nikoloff, the founder of the Bulgarian Pentecostal Union.

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May 24, 1931 — Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, whom the world knows as “Mother Teresa,” takes her initial vows as a nun in India. Agnes was born in Macedonia on August 27, 1910 from parents of Albanian descent. At 18, she had left her parental home in Skopje and joined an Irish community of nuns with missions in India. After a few months’ training in Dublin she was sent to India. Following the taking of vows, she began teaching at St. Mary’s High School in Calcutta.

May 25, 1892 — Isaac Stringer had responded to a call for missionaries to work among the Inuit of the Mackenzie Delta region. The two-month journey from Toronto to Fort McPherson, Stringer’s destination for his first Arctic assignment, would involve a variety of modes of transportation. Stringer had set out by railroad on May 16 and by this date — May 25 — had reached the end of the steel rails at Edmonton. From here, he faced 2,000 more miles of winding trails and torturous streams. Before leaving Edmonton, Stringer purchased a year’s worth of supplies from the Hudson’s Bay Company. Knowing communication possibilities beyond Edmonton would limited, he also sent telegrams to friends and family.

May 26, 604 — Augustine, missionary to England, dies. Augustine was a Roman who headed up Saint Andrew’s monastery on the Coelian Hill in Rome. In 596, he was sent with 30-40 of his monks to evangelize the English. By the time the monks reached southern France, they were so frightened by stories of the brutality of the Anglo-Saxons and the dangerous nature of the Channel crossing that they wanted to return to civilization. Augustine managed to convince them not to turn back. They were welcomed by King Ethelbert of Kent. Ethelbert’s wife Bertha, the daughter of the king of Paris, was already a Christian. Within a year of the missionaries’ arrival, the king himself was baptized.

May 27, 2003 — On the front page of today’s New York Times is an article titled “Seeing Islam as `Evil’ Faith, Evangelicals Seek Converts.” The article’s author noted: “Evangelicals have always believed that all other religions are wrong, but what is notable now is the vituperation. . . . Enmity between Christianity and Islam dates as far back as the Crusades, the fall of Byzantium and the reconquest of Spain.” In the June 2 Letters to The Editor section, Rudolph Gonzalez of the South Baptist Mission Board responded, “I take issue with your characterization of our efforts as including ‘vituperation.’ Southern Baptists have historically championed the rights of all people to believe and practice as their consciences dictate. We reject all methods of evangelism that involve coercion, bribery or threat. Though we may disagree with Islam in its essential doctrines, our missionaries do not regard Muslims as ‘evil’ people. Southern Baptist medical missionaries and relief workers have demonstrated nothing but unconditional love for Muslim people. In the last year, that love cost several of them their lives.”

May 28, 1924 — William Haas (born, 1873), founder in 1920 of Baptist Mid-Missions, dies of a fever at Bangassou (in present-day Central African Republic), where Baptist Mid-Missions had established its first African outpost.

May 29, 1954 — Missionaries Don and Adeline Owens arrive in Seoul, Korea.

May 30, 2003 — Harvest Partners, a ministry of the Church of the Nazarene, announces that it has surpassed the 25-million viewer mark in showings of the JESUS film around the world by Nazarene film teams.

May 31, 1803 — Presbyterians appoint Gideon Blackburn as their first missionary to the American Indians, the Cherokee nation.


Article by Howard Culbertson. For more original content like this, visit: http://home.snu.edu/~hculbert

David Joannes
Founder/President at Within Reach Global
David Joannes is the co-founder and president of Within Reach Global, Inc, which serves the advance of the Gospel in some of Southeast Asia’s most difficult places. He is the author of The Space Between Memories: Recollections from a 21st Century Missionary. David has a love for language, culture, and creative writing, and for the last 20 years, he has witnessed God’s Kingdom established in forgotten parts of the globe. David lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with his wife, Lorna, and their daughter, Cara.
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