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Some Primary Source Texts on Christian Missions



Detail of a China Inland Mission publication, from CRL collections.

Religious revivals in North America and the British Isles during the early and mid-19th century generated a surge in interest in overseas missions. The archives and publications of individuals and religious organizations from Great Britain and North America that undertook missions to then-remote regions like Africa, South and Southeast Asia, China, and Japan—as well as to disadvantaged populations in the U.S. and Canada—survive today and are held by a number of research libraries and archives.

CRL has a strong collection of published accounts of missionary travels and works. These materials provide a wealth of unique information about societies newly “discovered” by the West, as well as about the attitudes and proselytizing ambitions of Western Christians.

Links to Selected Full Texts

Thomas Adam, Missionary to Trinidad. A Grammar of the Mandingo Language with Vocabularies. London: Printed for the Wesleyan-Methodist Missionary Society [1837?].

Produced for the use of English missionaries in West Africa Macbrair’s guide to the Mandinka language includes extensive information about the grammar and idioms of the language, copious vocabulary, and translations of a selection of Christian religious texts such as the Lord’s Prayer and Matthew XX: 1–17 in English and Mandinka.

The Mandingo is one of the most extensive languages of Western Africa. It not only prevails in various parts of the coast, south of the Senegal, but reaches interiorly towards the Niger and the mysterious Timbuctoo. It is spoken by all the native tribes settled on the banks of the Gambia, and has been adopted by the roving hordes also which frequent the neighbourhood of this noble river.

William Campbell, Missionary to India. Report of the Special Committee on the Deputation to India. New York: J. A. Gray's Fire-Proof Printing Office, 1856.

The report lays out the ideology of American Protestant missionaries on the eve of the American Civil War. It reports on debate on the goals and effectiveness of schools run by the missionaries for Tamils in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Southern India, and includes letters from heads of various mission schools in Indian and Ceylon. Also discussed are the relative merits of teaching English versus Tamil, and the place of education itself in the work of conversion and missions. “We are brought now to the chief question of missions: What place, relatively, shall we assign to the preacher, the teacher, and the book?”

Resolved, the oral utterance of the Gospel, in public and private, is the chief instrumentality for the conversion of the world. Resolved, That education and the press are to be employed as auxiliary agencies, in forms and methods, and in a relative proportion to the chief instrumentality, to be determined by the circumstances of each particular mission.

The author asserts that “If the highest object is to educate and civilize, the education and civilization will not be worth having.”

Samuel Adjai Crowther. Description of the “Chinese Empire” from the China Inland Mission Papers, ca. 1849 .

The China Inland Mission Papers from the School of Oriental and African Studies document missionary activities and communications in China from the 1840s through the early 20th century, document the evangelistic efforts of the British organization, while providing a glimpse of societies and culture in China during the period immediately following the Opium Wars and the opening of the country to Westerners. The papers are among the many mission-related archives in the U.K. microfilmed by

View of the Sumida River landing in Tokyo’s Mukojima district. From Wayside Sowing: an Illustrated Story of the Work in Mukojima, Tokyo. Cleveland: The Woman's Missionary Society of the Evangelical Association, 191–?.

Susan Bauernfeind’s work among the 3,500 women and girls employed in the mills of the Kanegafuchi Spinning Company in Mukojima. The Kanegafuchi Company was one of the industrial giants that emerged in Japan with the growth of its domestic knit fabric industry during the late 19th century. Mass production transformed the spinning industry from a home and workshop enterprise to a factory setting, employing thousands of young women and girls in a setting largely unregulated by the government. The book presents a positive picture of the Kanegafuchi company and the working and living conditions at its mill.

The sole purpose of the author in the publication of this book is to make known and preserve the story of the manifestly providential beginnings of the work of the Evangelical Association in the Mukojima district of Tokyo.