May in global missions history: It happened today!
On this date in world missions history
"Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses
. . ." -- Hebrews 12:1
Fulfilling Acts 1:8 -- Significant month-of-May events in world evangelism
- May 1, 1873 -- Missionary-explorer David Livingstone died. Responsible for "opening up"
central Africa and for popularizing missions to that continent, Livingstone himself only made
one convert who later backslid. Still, Livingstone is widely held up as a Christian missionary
- May 2, 1797 -- Anson Gleason, who spent 40 years as a missionary to the Choctaw,
Mohegan, and Seneca Indians, was born in Manchester, Connecticut.
- May 3, 2000 -- After years of making it very difficult for Christians, the Cuban government
began allowing them to evangelize openly for six weeks (May 3-June 13, 2000).
Events included stadium rallies, street outreaches, and house-to-house visitations.
Permission to build churches was still quite difficult to obtain. Most evangelicals still met in
illegal house churches. Pastors were arrested, beaten, and jailed, and those who eluded arrest
were often threatened with loss of employment.
- May 4, 2003 -- Gracia Burnham's book, In the Presence of My Enemies, came
out. The book relates the kidnapping and captivity she and her husband endured at the
hands of Filipino Muslim extremists. Missionaries to the Philippines since 1985, Gracia and
Martin Burnham were the focus of prayers across the United States and around the world from
their kidnapping in May 2001 until their rescue 376 days later. Gracia Burnham emerged from
the rescue attempt alive, but her husband and Philippine nurse Deborah Yap were killed in the
- May 5, 1834 -- John Dunbar left Ithaca, New York for Nebraska, where he was being sent by
the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions to the Pawnee Indians. Dunbar, who
was born in Massachusetts (March 4, 1804) was a graduate of Williams College and Auburn
Seminary. He finally arrived at Bellevue, near Council Bluffs in October.
- May 6, 1816 -- The American Bible Society was organized.
- May 7, 2003 -- A bomb exploded outside the home of a Christian missionary couple in
Lebanon, killing a neighbor who came to their aid. The device was placed outside the ground
floor apartment of veteran Dutch missionary Jakob Griffioen and his German wife. Griffioen was
well-known in the neighborhood and had recently been active in distributing
Christian books, leaflets and CDs during a book fair.
- May 8, 2004 -- "Beyond the Gates of Splendor" was shown during the Wheaton
College alumni weekend. This film, which included footage from the Wheaton campus,
chronicled the story of the Waodani tribe and the missionaries -- Nate Saint, Jim
Elliot, Peter Fleming, Ed McCully, and Roger Youderian -- who gave their lives trying to reach
them with the Gospel. Some members of the men's families continued the Amazon jungle mission
in love and reconciliation.
"Not long after I had become a Christian, it really struck my heart that people like Jim
Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, and Roger Youderian would willingly die so
that people might come to know Christ." -- David H., Northwest Nazarene University
- May 9, 1760, Nicolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, the founder of the Unitas Fratrum (Moravian
Brethren Church), died in Herrnhut, Germany (b. 1700). By the time of his death, the Moravians
(which themselves only numbered in the hundreds) had sent out 226 missionaries around the
"The Moravians' example shows us the reality of what true obedience can look like." --
Louis G., Northwest Nazarene University student
- May 10, 1845 -- The Southern Baptist Convention established a Board of Foreign Missions
with headquarters in Richmond, Virginia.
- May 11, 1887 -- Missionary Ion Keith-Falconer died in Aden, Arabia.
- May 12, 1996 -- The search for survivors in the crash of ValueJet flight 592 in a Florida
swamp was called off. Among 109 people presumed to have died was Carlos Gonzalez, a young
man who had spent two years in the U.S. preparing for missionary work in his native
- May 13, 1917 -- Japan first celebrated Mother's Day as a result of the Association for
Mothers in Japan formed by American Methodist missionary Mira E. Draper. At first, Mother's
Day was observed in Japan by only a handful of people, but Draper's efforts gradually spread
throughout the country. Draper died in 1935, the year Mother's Day became an official event in
- May 14, 1858 -- Robert and Elizabeth Clark were married in
England. A month later, they sailed for India. Earlier, while still single, Robert had become the
first missionary to the Afghans. Then, during a furlough, he met Elizabeth Mary Browne and had
fallen in love with her.
- May 15, 1946 -- Missionary Ruth Dech arrives in Benque Viejo, British Honduras (now
Belize). She would give 40 years of missionary service there and in Costa Rica.
- May 16, 1875 -- Birth of Matilda Smyrell Calder, who spent two years as a missionary
teacher in Turkey and then two years as traveling secretary for the Student Volunteer Movement
for Foreign Missions. In 1906 Calder went to China where, in 1913, she founded Ginling
- May 17, 1817 -- Heinrich August Jaeschke, Moravian missionary to Tibet, was born in
Herrnhut, Saxony, Germany.
- May 18, 1896 -- Church Missionary Society
missionaries Samuel Zwemer and Amy Wilkes were married in Arabia. Samuel had
arrived there as a missionary in 1890 and would serve with Amy until 1913, when they
transferred to Egypt (1913-1929). From there, Zwemer went to Princeton Theological Seminary,
where he taught from 1929 to 1952. Zwemer wrote over fifty books and hundreds of articles. He
founded the Moslem World, a missionary periodical, and served as its editor for
thirty-five years. Zwemer died in 1952 at age eighty-four.
- May 19, 1926 -- Belgium's King Albert granted the Evangelical Free Church Mission an
official legal charter to do missionary work in the Congo.
- May 20, 1865 -- Veteran missionary Edward T. Doane and his second wife, Clara, sailed
from New York for the Caroline Islands of Micronesia aboard the steamer Golden
Rule. The Doanes worked on Ponape under the American Board of Commissioners for
Foreign Missions until 1873, when Mrs. Doane's poor health necessitated a transfer to Japan.
After his second wife died, Edward T. Doane went back to the Caroline Islands. During the 1887
Spanish occupation of the area, Doane was taken to the Philippine Islands as a prisoner. He was
eventually released and returned to Ponape.
- May 21, 1891 -- George Louis Williams was ordained a Congregational minister in Oberlin on
May 21, 1891, just five days before marrying his classmate Mary Alice Moon. Under the
appointment of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, George and Alice
Williams sailed for China on July 29, 1891. During their years in Taigu, George provided care
for opium addicts at the local opium refuge, one of several medical clinics established by the
missionaries. Alice worked alongside Lydia Lord Davis (1867-1952), teaching Chinese women
to read and developing close ties with several Chinese Christians. In 1899, with Alice's mother in
failing health and the Taigu mission facing serious financial difficulties, Alice and her three
daughters returned on furlough to the United States. George Williams was to follow, but he was
killed at Taigu on July 31, 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion. The Chinese Boxers killed all
thirteen members of the "Oberlin Band." They also destroyed the missionaries' personal property
and mission buildings.
- May 22, 1937 -- Robert B. Ekvall (1898-1978), missionary among the Tibetan Nomads,
published part one of an article on the life of A.B. Simpson, founder of the Christian and
Missionary Alliance. Ekvall was born in China, where his parents were missionaries. After his
graduation from The Missionary Training Institute in Nyack in 1923, he returned to China.
There, he began Tibetan language study at Taochow and started work among the Tibetan
nomads. In 1938 Ekvall and his wife returned to America to write the 50-year history of the
Christian and Missionary Alliance as well as a book on mission work in Tibet. During their
furlough he studied Sanskrit and cultural anthropology at the University of Chicago, focusing on
- May 23, 1932 -- In the midst of the Great Depression gripping America, U.S. President
Herbert Hoover wrote to what is now New York Theological Seminary expressing hope that the
school "shall continue its interdenominational work of training Bible inspired preachers,
teachers, missionaries and other Christian workers. No institution doing the work this Seminary
is doing should be allowed to fail, particularly in times like these." The school's missionary
graduates include Hallie Covington (Korea), Marian Farquhar (Sudan), Clark Offner (Japan),
Frederick Stock (Pakistan), Carol Wilson (India), and Bulgarian national Nikola Nikoloff, the
founder of the Bulgarian Pentecostal Union.
- May 24, 1931 -- Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, whom the world knows
as "Mother Teresa," takes her initial vows as a nun in India. Agnes was born in Macedonia on
August 27, 1910, to parents of Albanian descent. At 18, she left her parental home in
Skopje and joined an Irish community of nuns with missions in India. After a few months'
training in Dublin she was sent to India. Following the taking of vows, she began teaching at St.
Mary's High School in Calcutta.
- May 25, 1892 -- Isaac Stringer had responded to a call for missionaries to work among the
Inuit of the Mackenzie Delta region. The two-month journey from Toronto to Fort McPherson,
Stringer's destination for his first Arctic assignment, involved various modes of
transportation. Stringer had set out by railroad on May 16 and by this date -- May 25 -- had
reached the end of the railroad at Edmonton. From there, he faced 2,000 more miles of winding
trails and torturous streams. Before leaving Edmonton, Stringer purchased a year's worth of
supplies from the Hudson's Bay Company. Knowing communication possibilities beyond
Edmonton would be very limited, he also sent telegrams to friends and family.
- May 26, 604 -- Augustine, missionary to England, died. In 596, he was sent with 30-40 of his
monks to evangelize the English. By the time the monks reached southern France, they were so
frightened by stories of the brutality of the Anglo-Saxons and the dangerous nature of the
Channel crossing that they wanted to return to civilization. Augustine managed to convince them
not to turn back. They were welcomed by King Ethelbert of Kent. Ethelbert's wife Bertha, the
daughter of the king of Paris, was already a Christian. Within a year of the missionaries' arrival,
the king himself was baptized.
- May 27, 2003 -- On the front page of this day's New York Times was an article
titled "Seeing Islam as `Evil' Faith, Evangelicals Seek Converts." The article's author noted:
"Evangelicals have always believed that all other religions are wrong, but what is notable now is
the vituperation. . . . Enmity between Christianity and Islam dates as far back as the Crusades, the
fall of Byzantium and the reconquest of Spain." In the June 2 Letters to The Editor section,
Rudolph Gonzalez of the South Baptist Mission Board responded, "I take issue with your
characterization of our efforts as including 'vituperation.' Southern Baptists have historically
championed the rights of all people to believe and practice as their consciences dictate. We reject
all methods of evangelism that involve coercion, bribery, or threat. Though we may disagree with
Islam in its essential doctrines, our missionaries do not regard Muslims as 'evil' people. Southern
Baptist medical missionaries and relief workers have demonstrated nothing but unconditional
love for Muslim people. In the last year, that love cost several of them their
- May 28, 1924 -- William Haas (born 1873), founder in 1920 of Baptist Mid-Missions, died
of a fever at Bangassou (in present-day Central African Republic) where Baptist Mid-Missions
had established its first African outpost.
- May 29, 1954 -- Missionaries Don and Adeline Owens arrived in Seoul,
- May 30, 2003 -- Harvest Partners, a ministry of the Church of the Nazarene, announced that
it has surpassed the 25-million viewer mark in showings of the JESUS film around the world by
Nazarene film teams.
- May 31, 1803 -- Presbyterians appointed Gideon Blackburn as a missionary to the Cherokee
Nation. He thus became their first missionary to Native Americans.
-- compiled by Howard Culbertson,
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