Recruiting for Missions: The Baylor Volunteer Foreign Mission Band, 1900-1906: The Protestant Foreign Mission Movement in the United States Began Early in the Nineteenth Century, but as Late as 1890, Fewer Than One Thousand Missionaries Lived Abroad
Pitts, Bill, Baptist History and Heritage
By 1900, however, that number had risen to over five thousand. (1) These numbers support the claim that Protestants produced a veritable explosion of missionary activity by 1900. Effective methods of recruiting were absolutely essential to the success of the modern foreign missionary enterprise.
In 1901, John R. Mott observed that "the closing years of the nineteenth century have witnessed an unprecedented development of missionary life and activity among young men and young women. A remarkable manifestation of the interest in the extension of the Kingdom of Christ has been among students." (2) Mott noted that a "remarkable" feature of this missionary interest was the level of interest and commitment to a life of missions that occurred among college students. The largest and most successful of these groups was the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, or the SVM, led by Mott himself. (3) At first its secretaries recruited chiefly in "the eastern half of the country." (4) Famous Glasgow professor Henry Drummond's notable tour of campuses in 1887 was confined to the Northeast. (5) The idea of recruiting for missions on university campuses eventually reached distant corners of the United States.
Baptist students in the South shared the era's widespread enthusiasm for missions. One remarkable expression of the missionary fervor was the formation of the Volunteer Mission Band at Baylor University in 1900. This group adopted many of the goals and practices of the SVM. For many years the band provided a campus organizational structure that attracted and supported students interested in foreign missions.
At periodic stages throughout the twentieth century, various authors reported the number of Baylor students who had devoted their lives to foreign missionary service. In 1937, English professor A. J. Armstrong enthusiastically wrote that "Baylor University has furnished more missionaries in the foreign field than any other institution in America." (6) In 1955, the school's annual was more discrete, reporting that the university had provided more missionaries than any other school related to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). (7) Twenty-five years later, Jester Summers wrote that nearly six hundred Baylor alumni missionaries and journeymen had served in sixty-five countries. (8) A 1981 Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board report indicated that over 470 graduates from Baylor had been appointed as missionaries. (9) The number of Baylor graduates who became foreign missionaries doubtless surpassed five hundred by the end of the century.
Regardless of specific numbers, Baylor nurtured an ethos that was conducive to promoting foreign missions as a lifelong vocation. The Volunteer Band, therefore, played a significant role in the story of twentieth-century Baptist missions. At its outset the group was small, but it was a powerful force in the lives of young missionaries-to-be. The staying power of the Volunteer Band was remarkable. In the official history of Baylor University, Eugene Baker observed that as late as 1959 the band was one of the sponsoring organizations for Religious Emphasis Week, the most important annum campus effort to encourage religious renewal. (10) The organization disbanded in the 1960s and was revived in 1975 as World Mission Fellowship under the auspices of the Baptist Student Union.
The purpose of this article is to assess the recruiting role of the band for Baptist missions by analyzing its (1) origins and purpose, (2) activities, (3) relationship to the larger missionary movement, and (4) student character.
The Origin and Purpose of the Volunteer Mission Band
The foreign mission effort in the United States began in the first half of the nineteenth century. Americans organized to improve many aspects of society. One of their causes was to spread the Christian faith throughout the world. To that end, they formed the American Board of Commissions for Foreign Missions in 1810 and sent Adoniram and Ann Judson to Asia. …