10 Names You Need to Know in Missions

Prepared by Allan Sherer

1. William Carey ~ One man was used by God to literally transform India!

  • Pushed for and achieved the outlawing of infanticide
  • Pushed for and achieved the outlawing of Sati, the burning of the widow when the husband died
  • Established the first newspaper ever printed in an Asian language
  • Introduced the study of Astronomy and Forestry to India
  • Started over 100 Christian schools for over 8000 Indian children
  • Translated the Bible into six languages and the Gospels into 29 other languages.  Carey single-handedly DOUBLED the number of vernacular translations of the Bible in the world!
  • Many, if not most, of the “new innovations” now practiced in missions were already well-understood by Carey and practiced in his ministry.
  • Carey did all this with a minimal education and despite the fact that planting the gospel among Hindus was completely illegal.

2. Roland Allen ~ Worked as a missionary in China from 1895 to 1903.

  • Later worked as a missionary in Kenya, where he eventually died. 
  • Challenged the existing assumptions of missionary work in his day. 
  • Allen advocated giving more responsibility to indigenous leaders in the church from the very beginning. 
  • Was the leading proponent of churches that are “self-governing, self-propagating, and self-supported.” 
  • Allen’s views on missions were not accepted during his lifetime, but 60 years later his works were reprinted and his ideas are now taught by most missions training organizations.  Allen argued that the pattern of missions in the New Testament should be accepted as prescriptive rather than just descriptive.  Allen wrote, “Today if a man ventures to suggest that there may be something in the methods by which Paul attained such wonderful results worthy of our careful attention, and perhaps of our imitation, he is in danger of being accused of revolutionary tendencies.”

Allen’s books include:
Missionary Methods, Saint Paul’s or Ours?
Missionary Principles
The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church
The Ministry of the Spirit

3. John Nevius ~ Pioneering American missionary in China.

  • Nevius called for discarding old-style missions and the adoption of his new plan to foster an independent, self-supporting local church.
  • He criticized the missionaries' practice of paying national workers out of mission funds, believing the healthy local church should be able to support its own local workers. 
  • The missionary principles formulated by Nevius came to be known as “The Nevius Plan.”  This plan was implemented in Korea contributing to the explosive growth of Christianity in Korea.  Today Korea sends more missionaries than America or any other nation on earth. 
  • Nevius’ most popular work was The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches.

4. Rufus Anderson ~ Led the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in the early 1800’s.

  • Anderson believed "missions are instituted for the spread of a scriptural self-propagating Christianity". Missions were for:
  • Converting lost men,
  • Organizing them into churches,
  • Giving these churches a competent native ministry,
  • Conducting them to the stage of independence and (in most cases) of self-propagation.
  • Anything beyond this, Anderson felt, was secondary. The goal of the mission was to be "a scriptural, self-propagating Christianity"—the test of which is seen in evidence of a religious life, a genuine change in the church and the individual.

5. Robert Elliott Speer

Secretary of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the USA, Speer authored 67 books.  He built on Nevius’ ideas.  In his 1900 book, Missionary Principles, Speer wrote:
“The purpose of foreign missions has to do with implanting the life of Christ in the hearts of men…not the total reorganization of the whole social fabric.  I had rather plant one seed of the life of Christ under the crust of heathen life than cover that whole crust with the veneer of our social habits.”

6. Hudson Taylor

Taylor was a pioneer of biblical contextualization. His determination to lay aside all Western customs that obscured the message of the gospel was not well-understood at the time, but paved the way for best practices in missions today.

7. Bruce Olson

Born in Saint Paul Minnesota in 1941, Bruce grew up in a religious family that was hostile to the gospel of grace.  Bruce was invited to a friend’s church and came to know Christ.  When he told his family of his new-found faith he was cast out of his home.

At age 16, Bruce heard a missionary speaker and started on a course to be a missionary. 
He was rejected by several mission boards, and in early 1961, he bought a plane ticket to Venezuela.  He did not speak Spanish and had almost no money with him.  In time, Bruce came into contact with the Bari tribe, a brutally violent people who had never been contacted with the gospel.  Through living with the Bari and sharing the gospel, the tribe turned radically to Jesus.

Bruce’s life and ministry are not the typical path to missions; but his story, as told in the two books listed above, is a stunningly powerful study in contextualization, missionary methods, and traditional assumptions about missions.

8. George Muller

While not generally thought of as a missionary, he had much to say about missions, faith, and numberless other topics.  Avoid reading all biographies about Muller other than A.T. Pierson’s George Muller of Bristol. If possible, get the three volume set of Muller’s own journals. They are out of print, but can be found used. They are a wealth of wisdom and a deep well of Christ-centered devotion.

9. Samuel Zwemer

Sometimes called the apostle to Islam.  He was a pioneer, along with Raymund Lull, in reaching Muslims for Christ.

10. The Moravians

As a group launched one of the most significant missionary movements in history.  Their motto was “The Lamb has conquered, let us follow him.”  Hundreds of missionaries set out for the most hostile parts of the world, most never to return.  They packed their belongings in their coffins and waved from the decks of outbound ships as they shouted to those they left behind, “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of his suffering.”