Here is a quote from Missionary Member Care: An Introduction, by Ronald Kotesky. It can be downloaded HERE. It draws heavily from Ruth Tucker and Leslie Andrews article “Historical Notes on Missionary Care” (In “Member Care: Counting The Cost”)
David Brainerd. Born in Connecticut and missionary to Native Americans living in New Jersey in the 18th century, David Brainerd suffered from loneliness and depression. He wrote, “I live in the most lonely melancholy desert…My soul was weary of my life. I longed for death, beyond measure,” (He chose to work alone rather than with a veteran missionary couple with whom he had been assigned).
Dorothy and Felix Carey. Born in England and missionary to people in India near the end of the 18th century, Dorothy and Felix were the wife and son of William Carey, often called the “Father of Modern Missions.” As noted in Chapter one, Dorothy was severely mentally ill and Felix turned his back on God after serving briefly as a missionary (No help from the agency in England, William tried to help on site.).
J. Hudson Taylor. Born in England and 19th century missionary to China, J. Hudson Taylor at age 37, after 20 years of missionary service said, “Hope itself had almost died out.” He had such intense internal conflict that he agonized that “every day, almost every hour, the consciousness of failure and sin oppressed me.” He sank to such despair that he had “the awful temptation even to end his own life.” “Maria, his wife, stood between Hudson and suicide” (J. C. Pollock, 1962, Hudson Taylor and Maria, New York, McGraw-Hill, p. 195-196)
Adoniram Judson. When his wife and daughter died, 19th century American missionary to Burma, Adoniram Judson’s grieving process turned into a mental disorder. Reclusive, he dug a grave in the jungle where he remained—filling his mind with thoughts of death. He said, “God is to me the Great Unknown. I believe in him, but I find him not.” (Fellow missionaries cared for him.).
Mary Livingstone. When she and their children could not keep up with him, David Livingstone, 19th century Scottish missionary to Africa, sent them back to England. There Mary found cheap lodging for herself and the children, but was so distressed that she turned to alcohol. When David returned five years later he had no time for his family. (Even though Mary and the children were right there, their agency did nothing for them.).
These sounds rather depressing, and perhaps even more so since they involve some of the great early Protestant missionaries. It might be argued that these individuals were weak. And no doubt that is true, to a certain extent. Everyone is weak. Frailty is a core quality of our humanity. This is part of the reason God created us as social rather than isolated beings, and why Christ established the church with two major descriptions of Body and Assembly.
The fact that they were frail, then is no surprise. In fact, I get very nervous of those who suggest that faithfulness to God leads to the absence of problems. Not only does that not jibe very well with the Biblical record but it often leads to prescriptions that won’t address the problem. The problems listed above did not just happen. They were created through a failure to evaluate and support missionaries and missionary families.
I will be teaching Missionary Member Care this coming semester at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary. I look forward to it. But I also enjoy reading the victories and struggles of those who have gone before us. There is much to learn in both of these aspects. They are definitely too valuable to forget.