Themes of self-sacrifice have played a central part in evangelical conceptions of missionary life ever since the First Great Awakening, when Jonathan Edwards wrote The Life of David Brainerd. Evangelicals recognized that missionaries left behind the familiarity and comforts of their home life to labor in challenging conditions. Missionaries sometimes gave up higher salaries or more comfortable positions for their cause. They often placed their lives at risk, particularly in the nineteenth century, when disease claimed many. Long years of toil often resulted in few converts.
Oddly, though, the missionary encounter could wed self-sacrifice to power and status. Even if they had held marginal or ordinary identities within their communities in the United States, nineteenth-century evangelical missionaries usually qualified as elites in the societies in which they ministered. William Taylor billed himself as a common street preacher in America, but in South Africa, India, and West Africa, he drew on established denominational systems and well-positioned Western contacts that audiences in these places could not. In Burma, Ann Judson, Sarah Boardman, and Deborah Wade actually enjoyed more authority and freedom as women to preach, teach, evangelize, and pursue academic activity than they did in the United States. Henry McNeal Turner’s reputation as an educated black denominational leader preceded him in South Africa. Agnes McAllister attracted serious attention in Garraway, Liberia, simply by pulling out her sewing machine. Even Amanda Smith, who drew audiences to her holiness message in the United States by consciously making use of her marginal status as a poor black woman, carried an identity as a representative of Western civilization with her in India and Liberia. Evangelical missionaries consistently enjoyed more economic resources, levels of education, political contacts, and access to transportation networks than their audiences. Through the books, periodical articles, and newspaper reports they wrote, missionaries employed mass media for their cause, a feature that gave them great influence over American perceptions of missionary engagement.
The new movements of world Christianity connected to evangelicalism, however, were almost always democratized. These audiences followed popular