Magazine article The Christian Century

Recalling U.S. Missionary Beginnings

Magazine article The Christian Century

Recalling U.S. Missionary Beginnings

Article excerpt

When America's first ordained reign missionaries sailed from Massachusetts toward India 200 years ago, they launched a movement to spread the faith and created America's most potent export: Christianity.

That message reverberated through nine "Judson 200" commemorative events in February in and around Salem. Speakers recalled how the course of history changed with Adoniram Judson and four other missionaries.

Religious liberals and conservatives, both of whom lay claim to Judson's legacy, held separate events. One event celebrated the recent merger of two evangelical mission societies, CrossGlobal Link and the Mission Exchange, representing some 35,000 missionaries.

Participants embraced a shared heritage as exporters of American ideas and weighed its modern-day implications. "The essential idea [in foreign missions] is that a person born in Pakistan is every bit as human and to be valued as much as a person born in North America or England," said Rodney Petersen, executive director of the Boston Theological Institute, a consortium of nine area theological schools.

Judson's 1812 departure with his wife Ann Hasseltine Judson marked the start of a new era of American and Christian influence. To support them a missionary-sending agency was born: the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). Similar organizations soon took root, sending thousands of missionaries to all corners of the globe. By the mid-20th century, America was sending more missionaries than any other country.

America still sends the most: 127,000 of the 400,000 foreign missionaries sent in 2010 came from America, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which is based outside of Boston.

The Judsons left a giant mark. Denied admission to British India, they continued on to Burma (modern-day Myanmar), where they created a grammar system, translated the Bible into Burmese and won converts to the faith. …

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