Missionary Travels and Travails

By Arnoldy, Ben | The Christian Science Monitor, December 14, 2000 | Go to article overview

Missionary Travels and Travails


Arnoldy, Ben, The Christian Science Monitor


On the Missionary Trail

By Tom Hiney Atlantic Monthly Press 304 pp., $25

Help Wanted: Christian, well versed in the Bible, foreign languages a plus, must be willing to travel. Hazards of job include: shipwreck, pirates, and cannibals.

If the London Missionary Society advertised for missionaries in the early 1800s, this is what an honest classified would have looked like. In reality, however, the volunteers venturing out to Polynesia, Asia, and Africa could not have known the struggles ahead.

Tom Hiney's new book, "On the Missionary Trail," explores the early travails of these missionaries through the eight-year voyage of Rev. Daniel Tyerman and George Bennet. The two men were sent around the globe by the London Missionary Society in 1821 to determine the progress of their missions.

Hiney chose the right men to follow for this story. They left behind a fascinating journal and their journey was itself an investigation of the movement. Unfortunately, Hiney couldn't decide what kind of story to present: historical analysis or travel literature. As a result, his narrative is anything but smooth sailing. Poorly integrated threads of history, biography, travel, and anthropology toss the plot off the charts.

Quotes from Tyerman and Bennet's remarkable journal, however, consistently carry the reader forward. Particularly engaging is their portrayal of Hawaiian King Rihoriho, a target of missionary attempts at conversion, notwithstanding his five queens, who shared his affection for the bottle. …

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