The Foreign Missionary Enterprise at Home: Explorations in North American Cultural History

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The Foreign Missionary Enterprise at Home:Explorations in North American Cultural History. Edited by Daniel H. Bays and Grant Wacker. (Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press. 2003. Pp. xi, 343. $60.00.)

The scholarly community has often avoided the subject of missionaries and their activities, presuming the missionary impulse to be destructive of indigenous cultures. Further, "foreign missionary" work has often been considered a one-way street, that of mission groups converting peoples of other tribes, cultures, or countries. However, Daniel H. Bays and Grant Wacker's superbly edited work clearly points to the reciprocal impact overseas missionaries had on the identity, culture, and politics of the United States. The fifteen chapters were drawn from among the papers presented at the 1998 Wheaton College conference, "Missionary Impulse in North America," supported by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts to the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals.

Bays, a Modern China scholar, formerly professor of history at the University of Kansas, and currently at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Wacker, professor of church history at the Duke Divinity School, are an able team to edit the work. They suggest three themes, which surface throughout the chapters. Missionaries were often the brokers between countries they served and the United States or Canada, in terms of communicating the religious, cultural, social, and ethical values of other peoples and religions. Some missionaries did that in more public ways, as is indicated in Scott Flipse's chapter, "To Save 'Free Vietnam' and Lose Our Souls."A second theme is that the mission experience itself was a means of identification ethnically and demographically for groups and individuals. …