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Seven Case Studies from the Life of William Carey

William Carey is one of the most significant figures in the history of Christian missions. His influence flows from his inspiring life and ministry, but his story has also proven to be instructive. These seven thematic and illustrative case studies explore different aspects of Carey’s experience in ways that lead to fruitful dialogue about responsible involvement in global evangelism today. They create opportunities for historical analysis and discussion about missions in terms of motivation, preparation, participation, vision, teams, empowerment, and perseverance.

Case studies have played an important role in missions training and education. Many missionaries have been formed by Paul and Frances Hiebert’s Case Studies in Missions1 and Alan Neely’s Christian Mission: A Case Study Approach.2 While case studies about challenging cross-cultural situations are certainly helpful, it can also be advantageous to use case studies that explore different aspects in the overall formation and work of a missionary. The following are seven thematic and illustrative case studies that I have gleaned from S. Pearce Carey’s biography of William Carey.3 Timothy Tennent states that “the standard biography of Carey remains” S. Pearce Carey’s work,4 but I will also include references to other resources for those who want to analyze certain aspects of these stories more deeply. These case studies have proven useful in my own teaching of undergraduate and graduate missions courses (2016–present) and have laid the groundwork for productive conversations about the past, present, and future of Christian missions.

1. Motivating the Church for Mission

William Carey (1761–1834) has often been called the “Father of Modern Missions.”5 His influence on Protestant efforts in global evangelism would be hard to overestimate.6 Yet, by some measures, Carey appears to be an unlikely candidate for this lofty role. By trade he was a shoemaker, and in terms of education, he was largely self-taught. A world map hung on the wall of his workshop, inspiring his dreams and desires as well as his personal research. His mission team translated and printed the Bible in many Indian languages, helped bring about meaningful social reforms, as well as starting the Serampore College, which is the oldest University in continuous operation in India. Before Carey’s journey to India he wrote an influential pamphlet/book called An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens (1792) that used history, statistics, and biblical imperatives to remind the church that the world desperately needs the gospel of Christ.7 Perhaps the hardest challenge that Carey faced was that his church fellowship initially lacked the vision, means, and structure to participate in overseas missions. So Carey’s first essential contribution to global evangelism was his role in motivating the churches he served and launching the Baptist Missionary Society.

Carey had to make the conditions in which his Society could be born. He could not merely apply the match to the tinder, for the tinder itself had to be prepared. When he woke to the missionary vision, he found to his amazement that most of his fellow Christians were fast asleep. He had to create the very desire that, at length, created the Mission—to provoke the demand that he himself would then supply. For 10 years he resisted his contemporaries’ inertia and fought their disbelief to conquer ‘by the stubborn minority of one’—’going at length against every dictate of common sense, every calculation of prudence, and all but universal opinion, because in the solid solitary sanctuary of his brooding soul an entreaty kept sounding from destitute heathendom.’8

Carey met with his fellowship of churches in 1791 and made an appeal using Haggai 1 for the church to participate in global evangelism. There was excitement and interest, but no real resolution for commitment. Carey pushed for their “impression to be turned to expression,” to move from “sentiment to service,” but the people were not ready.9

A month later, Carey spoke at Leicaster and read from his pamphlet. The summary of his argument was that “not by deluge nor by other such judgment will God deal with the world’s sin. God now calls people by the grace of Christ’s Cross. . . . It is time for Christian people to awake from the love of money and ease. . . . We have no right to the promises (of Scripture) unless we observe the command [to go]. The one conditions the other. To neglect his commission is to forfeit His benediction.”10

One way that Carey’s pamphlet challenged the church to act was by pointing to the example of other missionaries and making comparisons to the world of business: “Elliot and Brainerd transformed America’s Indians through the power of the Gospel as no European civilization ever could have done. Barbarism baffled no traders. Even to distant Alaska they ventured just for otters. If we Christians loved men as merchants love money, no fierceness of peoples would keep us from their midst. Their very barbarism would evoke our swifter help. Elliot and Brainerd, by the grace of the Gospel, both subdued and uplifted men. We cannot afford to leave even the most dehumanized races without Christ.”11

Carey called upon the church to pray—quoting Zech. 4:6, rightly reasoning that this task would not be accomplished by human initiative alone. But he also challenged the church to plan and plod. Again, economic metaphors were used for inspiration: “When traders form a company and win a charter, they go to the limit of their secured concessions and prerogatives, choosing stocks, ships, men, routes, everything, in accordance with their purpose. They strain every nerve, run every risk, dare every danger, watch every vessel, mourn every delay, and never rest ‘till the rich returns are safe and port.’ We Christians must be equally earnest in the business of our Lord. For the present, each denomination of Christians must form its own missionary society, though in friendliest communication with the rest.” Carey called all to give generously according to their means to participate in this worthy venture.12

Besides this pamphlet, Carey’s story reminds us that preaching is a powerful agent in the task of motivating the church to participate in the mission of God. Carey gave a sermon which was long remembered as having laid the foundation of the Baptist Missionary Society. He challenged Christians in a statement that has been popularized as, “Expect great things from God; and attempt great things for God.”13

Carey’s preaching was not, though, what finally moved the church association to act. His own personal request coupled with the emergence of a partner is what finally tipped the scales. After making a number of appeals in one meeting that met with a mixed response, Carey cried out, “Is there nothing again going to be done, sir?” This proved a “creative moment in the history of evangelistic endeavor.” Andrew Fuller resonated with this desperate, heartbroken gesture, and he stood with Carey. Fuller became Carey’s most powerful supporter, and the two of them acted like “Joshua and Caleb”—a powerful duo for motivating the church for mission.14

Eventually, five relatively young men—John Sutcliffe (40), John Ryland (39), Andrew Fuller (38), William Carey (31), and Samuel Pearce (26)—took the risk and threw themselves into the task. All of them poured themselves faithfully into this mission for the rest of their lives.15

It must not be forgotten that “founding a missionary society with such humble and feeble backing was entirely new in modern British history. The Puritans had looked to Parliament as patron and treasurer of missions.” But these five men had only the backing of a handful of obscure village churches.16 It was not unreasonable for these small churches to feel helpless. These “were such little flocks, and their folk were illiterate and poor, and could neither be expected to grasp nor support such a vast undertaking. In any case, they lacked experience or precedent to guide them. . . . The greater centers and churches, they said, must surely take the initiative and shoulder the burden. None of this should surprise us. In human terms they really were nobodies from nowhere, with no influence beyond their village bounds. Indeed, their villages were so obscure that a mid-Englander would have never heard of them!”17 And yet, they answered this seemingly impossible call, and their efforts in global evangelism made a powerful impact for the kingdom.18

Question: What are some principles that today’s church can learn from this case study about the way to motivate the church for mission today?

2. Apostolic Preparation: Training and Equipping (Getting ready to “Go”)

In this section, I will look at the theme of preparation for mission service in Carey’s story. Before and during his work of motivating the church for mission, Carey served small, troubled congregations and gained real experience in ministry in his own culture.19 Those churches grew to love and respect him. At that stage, Carey’s preaching lacked windows or metaphors,20 something that he would later learn to implement well in India.

After the formation of the missionary society, Carey encountered a man named John Thomas who had lived in India for a number of years. Thomas made a compelling case for service in India to Carey. Even though Carey was the natural choice “to be the Society’s first missionary, he here introduced them to another missionary, and this one an expert, who seemed to have arrived by punctual and dramatic providence.” Carey displayed a willingness to put his own interests below that of the Missionary Society. Not only would it put Carey in the role of “second fiddle,” it also ended up changing their target location. Carey had hoped to go to Tahiti, and now they would look to his second choice, Bengal, instead.21

A few years later, another group inspired by Carey’s efforts “convened a much larger non-Baptist group in London, which proposed to form an interdenominational mission on the same lines as Carey’s. The response from their churches was electric, and fourteen months later (August 1795) their first missionaries sailed down the Thames in the Duff, to the cheering of thousands, bound for Tahiti (Carey’s own originally-intended destination), with the missionary party of thirty, singing: Jesus, at Thy command; We launch into the deep.”22 Carey’s own departure, though, was much, much less celebrated. He and Thomas were delayed for weeks, held up by delays caused by government paperwork and Thomas’s financial mismanagement.

Eventually, though, Carey and his family arrived in India, where he would spend the rest of his life (40 years). The journey lasted five months. “During the tedious last month the captain sometimes let Carey accompany him on the poop deck. All he observed became a parable of the task before him. He wrote: ‘For near a month we have been within 200 miles of Bengal, but the violence of the currents sets us back from the very door.’ ” Carey described the process they took tacking back and forth to move slowly forward: “Now this is tedious work, and, if the current be against us, we scarcely make any way; nay, sometimes, in spite of all we do, we go backwards. Yet it is absolutely necessary to keep working up, if we mean to arrive at port. So we Christians have to work against wind and currents; and we must, if we are to make our harbor.” The most challenging thing for Carey about this journey was “the ship’s spirit towards India’s people. Officers and passengers alike talked of them with disdain.” Carey recognized that this contempt and lack of respect would only hinder his ability to connect with the people.23

By 1795, after two challenging years in India, changing locations, dealing with sickness and working vocationally, Carey “could preach for nearly half an hour, and be tolerably well understood, though some hearers would complain that he gave them ‘mental trouble,’ and he knew he was still in the grip of English idiom and sentence construction, and remote from the freedom of Bengali.” His preaching had no visible effect, as custom and caste were “king.”24

The sheer number of India’s poor and the abundance of their needs certainly had the potential to be overwhelming. Thomas wrote: “Do not send men of compassion here, for you will break their hearts. Do send men full of compassion, for many perish with cold, many for lack of bread, and millions for lack of knowledge. The other day I saw a pathway stopped up by sick and wounded people, perishing with hunger in a populous neighborhood, but none showing mercy – as though they were only dying weeds, not dying men.”25

Looking at the end of Carey’s life and ministry, it is instructive to see what he wrote to his sons to help prepare them to serve as missionaries themselves. His letters are filled with fatherly affection26 as well as practical instruction:

  • To Felix: “Let the Burmese language occupy your most precious time, and your most anxious solicitude. Do not be content with its superficial acquiring. Make it yours, root and branch. Listen with prying curiosity to the forms of speech, the construction and accent of the people. All your imitative powers will be wanted, and, unless you frequently use what you acquire, it will profit you little. As soon as you feel your feet, compose a grammar, and some simple Christian instruction. Begin your translations with the Gospel of Mark. Be very careful that your construction and idiom are Burman, not English.”27
  • To William, working in a lonely, difficult location: Carey encouraged him to have courage and be firmly dedicated to the task, exhorting them not to be distracted. “Mount your horse . . . and be out on God’s work.”28
  • To Jabez: “Consult Mr. Martin on every occasion of importance. As soon as you are settled, get a Malay, who can speak a little English and do a tour of your islands, visiting every school. Keep a journal of each, and encourage all you see worthy. Compare their periodic progress. Consider yourself more than a director of schools—even their Christian instructor, and devote yourself to their good. God has committed to you the spiritual interests of these islands; a vast charge, but one which he will enable you to fulfill. When you meet with a few who truly fear God, form them into Gospel churches. As soon as you see any fitted to preach, call them to the ministry and settle them over these. . . . Labour incessantly to become a perfect master of the Malay [language]. With this in view, associate with the native people, walk with them, ask the name of everything you see, visit them when they are sick.”29

Humility was a key quality that Carey valued in potential colleagues in ministry: “The confidence of young men in their competence makes me distrust them the more.”30 Carey also addressed the topic of what some have unfortunately labeled as “going native.” He warned of overidentification and over spiritualization in his counseling of foreign workers to be aware of their own limits. One new missionary to India was “eager to become wholly Indian in diet, clothing and housing. Carey, while admiring his dedication, felt compelled to add many cautions. ‘The Master won’t thank you for committing suicide. It is yourself, and not these externals, that will make the abiding impression.’ ”31

Question: What are some principles we can learn from Carey about the preparation of foreign missionaries or local partners in global evangelism?

3. Community of Mission: Sending Churches / Sending Organizations / Mission Committees

As one of Carey’s biggest supporters (Andrew Fuller) put it: “Our undertaking to India really appeared at its beginning to me somewhat like a few men, who were deliberating about the importance of penetrating a deep mine which had never before been explored. We had no one to guide us; and, whilst we were thus deliberating, Carey, as it were, said, ‘Well, I will go down, if you will hold the rope.’ But, before he descended, he, as it seemed to me, took an oath from each of us at the mouth of the pit, to this effect that ‘whilst we lived, we should never let go the rope.’ ”32

In the Society’s attempts to investigate the amount of financial support that would be needed, they asked John Thomas about their budget, “not knowing that Thomas was the last man in the world to consult on such questions. He was incapable of being financially precise, or of giving safe guidance. . . . Immeasurable later tragedy would have been saved had the Society learned at the outset the full measure of the task and its costs.”33 The church, though, responded in generosity and shared what they had.34

There were seasons when Carey was prevented from being reminded of the Mission Society’s commitment to him. In one of the darkest seasons of his life, when Mrs. Carey was struggling with deep depression and illness, their faithful “communications had all miscarried. The silence for almost two years was as if he had been clean forgotten. From Fuller’s ‘rope-holders’ at the mine-mouth not twitch nor tremor of the rope was felt!”35 When Carey did finally receive communication, Carey’s soul was nourished to hear that God had blessed the sending churches with growth in England that was beyond their expectations.36

When Carey communicated to the Mission Society that he had now found employment, there was conflict. Some members of the mission society were upset that he was now serving as a vocational missionary. This was confusing for Carey, as this had been the plan he thought he had communicated all along. Besides, “had they not been providentially led into business they would’ve starved” because the supplies sent from home were always delayed in transit or even intercepted.37 The Mission Society’s concerns may have stemmed from a negative experience: its second venture (into Sierra Leone) failed because of their missionaries’ political indiscretions.38

Carey tried his best to communicate about the situation in India in language that his Mission Society supporters would understand: “Only imagine England to be in the situation of Bengal; without public roads, inns, or other convenience for travel; without a post, save for the letters of the nobility; without the boon of printing; and absorbed in the monkish superstition of the eleventh century—that in this situation two or three men arrive from Greenland to evangelize the English, and settle at Newcastle—that they are under the necessity to labor for their living, and to spend much time in translating the Scriptures, and you will be able to form some idea of our case.”39

Andrew Fuller’s leadership and drive to support the work was impressive:40 When Carey asked for 1000 pounds a year, “Even they who knew Andrew Fuller best could little dream how this bold program of widened biblical translation would kindle his imagination and intensify his passion and his power. He soon traveled 1,300 miles and raised 1,300 pounds for this purpose.”41 One of the most impressive and tender images of Fuller, though, was his letter of encouragement to Carey’s son Jabez. Fuller’s commitment to hold the rope for Carey extended to Carey’s children, whom he had never met!42

When the mission in India came into grave danger as the directors of the “East India Company were ready to vote for the immediate recall of the missionaries,” friends back in England stepped boldly in, defending them against baseless attacks.43 Fuller was a key figure but passed away not long after: “he had never recovered the strength he had exhausted in his fight with Parliament. He had purchased the revised charter with his life. Indeed, through all the twenty-three years from” the very beginning of the mission venture, “he had been of one mind and soul with Carey, and . . . had spent himself for the Mission.”44

After Fuller’s death and the loss of members who knew Carey personally, conflict developed between the Mission Society and Carey. Some on the committee seemed to think that Carey and his teammates were “feathering their nests” so that their children would inherit the property at Serampore.45

Further conflict occurred as those on the committee sided with newer team members who arrived in later years—men that they knew personally. The Society tried to exert more and more control, leading Carey to pour out his distress in a letter to Ryland: “We are yours still to live and die with you; but as your brothers, not as your servants. I beseech you, therefore, not to attempt to exercise a power over us, to which we shall never submit. Bear with me a little, even if I speak foolishly; for my heart is exceedingly wounded at the Society’s proposal of the eight British trustees, and at several concomitant symptoms.” Carey reminded them that the Society had given only a small portion of what it took to build up the property, especially since Carey and his teammates had invested their own money in the venture. It pained Carey to remind them: “We are your brothers, not your hired servants.”46

The Serampore Mission team understood that at times they would need flexibility from the Mission Society to make decisions based on their own on-the-ground experience and insight.47 One example of this tension was the fact that most of the American and British Baptist money was strictly earmarked for the theological department of the Serampore College because they did not appreciate the wider scope of the design of the school and the realities the team was facing in the culture.48 Another example was when a group of contributors dropped support because Carey and his translators were not willing to transliterate the word “baptize.” Thankfully, other churches stepped in to meet the need.49

“Eventually, by disgraceful, persistent harassment, a takeover of properties was affected by a denominational missionary society, signaling that the era of corporate domination of missions and churches had at last broken upon British Baptists.”50 The final decision to surrender the property for the sake of peace, surprisingly brought much joy among the veteran team members. “ ‘Never,’ said one of their sons, ‘did men rejoice more in the acquisition of property than did these elders in divesting themselves of all interest in the Mission premises.’ ”51

The Society began to have a business-only approach to Carey. Carey wrote to comment that “no person belonging to the committee has, since Fuller’s death, written me a single letter of friendship, and I suppose I am unknown to almost every one. I do not complain though I acknowledge that I have occasionally felt it.” It leads one to wonder, what would have happened had it been possible to send a delegation to visit, investigate, or have more trust in the opinion of experienced missionaries.52

Question: What principles can we learn from this case study about best practices for sending partners in global evangelism?

4. Community of Mission: Vision (and Discerning Roles and Tasks)

The work of translation was at the heart of Carey’s vision for the mission enterprise in India.53 In a 1797 letter to Andrew Fuller he said, “Whereas in any land there are only two obstacles to God’s work—the sinfulness of man’s heart, and the lack of the Scriptures—this latter God has here begun to remove; for the New Testament is now translated into Bengali. Its treasures will be greater than diamonds.”54 Carey’s colleague, Ward, worked diligently to publish the Scriptures. In reflecting on his own calling on his journey to India, Ward said, “Unto me, who am less than the least of our saints, may this grace be given, that I should print for the Gentiles, the unsearchable riches of Christ.”55 The team saw translation as the key to transformation in the Indian culture.56 To accomplish this complex endeavor involved even the manufacture of the paper they would use to print with!57

As Carey’s work in Bengali progressed and he began teaching in the Government College, a new vision was impressed upon him of an expanded vision of translating the Bible into multiple languages. This was at first met with resistance by the Serampore team as they wrestled with the tension between having a deep impact in one language or culture verses having a wide impact in multiple languages or cultures,58 but soon Ward, in particular, became a leading enthusiast for the work.59

Carey employed a number of Indian “pundits” to assist him in the translation endeavor and the connections between these languages allowed him to have some level of mastery in each.60 Learning and translating the Bible into Sanskrit was especially crucial to unlocking other languages. Carey’s daily routine reveals a man possessed with the task of translation, working in multiple tongues at multiple stages, all the while teaching vocationally.61 Carey fully embraced this calling. In a letter to Fuller in 1804 he said, “I am more in my element . . . translating the Word of God than in any other employment.”62 A summary of Carey’s total translation work follows:

  • Bengali, Oriya, Hindi, Marathi, Sanskrit, Assamese (whole Bibles).
  • Punjabi (NT and OT up to Ezekiel 26).
  • Pashto, Kashmiri (NT and OT up to 2 Kings).
  • Telugu and Konkami (NT and Pentateuch).
  • Nineteen other languages (NT only).
  • Five other languages (one or more Gospels).63

It would be a mistake, though, to assume that Carey and his colleagues saw their ministry in only “spiritual” terms—merely producing God’s “spiritual texts.” Their team was aware of social issues happening around the globe, praying fervently for the end of slavery in the British Empire and celebrating steps toward this end.64 And their commitment to the Indian people went beyond translation as they saw other facets as playing into the holistic nature of the transformation of culture.

For example, they spoke out against the practice of widow burning or sati.65 Carey met personally with a revered Hindi scholar and saint and was able to “elicit from him an unqualified condemnation of sati. When, at this time, Carey learned that one of his own Serampore pundits had lit the pyre for the burning of his sister-in-law, he drove him from his presence as a murderer.”66 This reform took time to gain support,67 but eventually the practice was abolished.68 At that time Carey was the Government’s official Bengali translator. “The edict arrived early on Sunday 6 December, when he was preparing for the pulpit. Arranging with another to preach, he, with his pundit, gave the day to translating. He would not lose an hour with women’s lives at stake.”69

A variety of other concerns demonstrate the team’s dedication to holistic transformation:


The Serampore team was committed to education and started Serampore College. This had a powerful impact as they influenced Christian and non-Christian Indians, challenging the caste system while giving them a free education.70 The Serampore team also worked to educate the women of India.71

Money and Missions

“When Carey persuaded his colleagues at the founding of their Serampore base to disallow all labor for personal gain and to pool all earnings, one wonders what his own hopes were of acquiring funds for the Mission. When the Marshmans were soon making large contributions from the profits of their schools, he must have almost envied them their joy.” But rather quickly it fell to Carey to be the largest contributor as most of his government salary went into the common fund.72

Influence among Westerners

Carey’s vocational work as a teacher also influenced the British officials in India. Ironically, Carey (an informally educated man) was chosen to teach the Indian languages to privileged young men who hailed from the best schools in England.73 Carey was known for treating them as adults and succeeded in converting some of these students.74 “By 1818 he alone of the professors had been at the college since its foundation. By 1825 he was senior to the next longest serving professor by 12 years, and the rest by at least 20. He served for 30 years, and was the only one of its professors to be pensioned.”75 One of Carey’s earliest and brightest students was put in authority of the Moluccas region and opened the door for Carey’s son to serve there as a missionary.76

Working with the Poor

Carey’s mingling with the European officials as a professor never led him to abandon his love for “India’s poorest and most outcast.”77 One contemporary commented that during the day Carey would teach language and grammar to the governing class while working on the translation of the Scriptures into Indian languages, but he returned “when the sun went down, to preach to the poorest of India in their own tongues the good news of the kingdom, with a loving tenderness and a patient humility only learned in the school of Christ.”78 The Serampore team was faithful in meeting the needs in front of them. They helped plant a church in Calcutta among the Portuguese.79 They treated people’s illnesses, practicing “medicine” and eventually making an appeal to the Government for “the establishment of a first hospital for Indians in Calcutta.”80

The Serampore mission produced journals to impact Indian culture and helped encourage the founding of a leper asylum. “Dr. George Smith says, ‘Carey never rested till a leper hospital was established in Calcutta, near the centre of the Church Missionary Society’s work.’ And after Carey’s death, Marshman commented: ‘Scarcely an undertaking for the benefit of India has been engaged in, of which he was not either a prime mover or a zealous performer.’ ”81

Partnership in Ministry

The Serampore team saw the importance of disciple-making and took young Indian Christians with them to preach in surrounding areas.82 Furthermore, they promoted a contextualized approach. One of the Serampore team, Marshman, spoke out against the practice that other missionaries had of giving non-Christians new Christian names at baptism because, “this only served to import a foreign and repulsive character to Christianity in the eyes of the people of India.”83

Question: What principles can we learn from Carey about vision and roles/tasks in global evangelism?

5. Community of Mission: Mission Teams

Not long after their arrival, Thomas’s financial mismanagement exhausted their initial income and forced them to make quick employment choices.85 By 1800, Carey’s situation in Malda had changed and a door opened for him and a new team in Serampore. “Carey’s missionary apprenticeship was over, and his leadership of a team was about to begin.”86 Serampore had first been a base for Moravian missionaries. That team had learned Bengali, but the ministry had been unsuccessful among the Hindus: “ ‘preaching seemed ploughing upon rock.’ When, after fifteen years’ effort, they could only count one dubious convert, the Moravian effort was abandoned in 1792, the very year that the Particular Baptist Mission was founded in England. So Carey and his colleagues gave battle just where his Moravian heroes had been foiled. He better understood, as his North Bengal years had taught him, how grim the struggle would be.”87

Certain missionary colleagues did not aid the mission, exactly. Even before the move to Serampore, John Thomas “had become deeply discouraged and had abandoned” his post. “His relationship even to the Mission had become vague. With his wife and daughter he moved hither and thither, never remaining in any one place. Now living in a boat, now in a bamboo hut; now in Nadia, now in Birbhum; now preacher, now sugar-refiner and distiller, and now again indigo venturer! He was ever a rolling stone, possessing a warm heart, but also a wayward judgment and will.”88

In the early days at Serampore, the team wrestled and argued, trying to settle on a working agreement, especially as it related to finances.89 Two members of the team died in the first few months, but Ward, Carey, and Marshman formed a threefold cord that lasted for over 20 years. It helped that all of them had common friends back home in England and that they all were in their 30s. “All were ready for the utmost exertion. And their work-power was more than quadrupled by their pulling together. . . . In the formative months, with Thomas at a distance, Carey was the one experienced missionary. To him they looked: on him they leaned.” Carey went against the Moravian strategy of having a team leader. “Forgoing his own claim to headship or house-fathership, he founded Serampore on equality for each, pre-eminence for none; rule by majority, allocation of funds by collective vote” and the rotation of various responsibilities. “The bold stroke payed off. This democratic basis of the Mission . . . was a secret of its strength.”90

They practiced weekly team meetings. Carey wrote: “We have a meeting every Saturday evening . . . to regulate family concerns, and settle any difference that may have arisen in the week. Should any be hurt in their minds, and not mention it then, they would meet with little pity afterwards, and, indeed, would be guilty of a crime.”91 The mission team committed to frugality and decided to pool their earnings. They followed Moravian precedent and decided that the team would vest “all the premises they bought or built in the Society, declaring themselves trustees rather than proprietors.”92 The Serampore team crafted a covenant, “which was read three times a year in each” mission “station:

  1. To set an infinite value on men’s souls.
  2. To acquaint ourselves with the snares which hold the minds of the people.
  3. To abstain from whatever deepens India’s prejudice against the gospel.
  4. To watch for every chance of doing the people good.
  5. To preach ‘Christ crucified’ as the grand means of conversions.
  6. To esteem and treat Indians always as our equals.
  7. To guard and build up ‘the hosts that may be gathered.’
  8. To cultivate their spiritual gifts, ever pressing upon them their missionary obligation since Indians only can win India for Christ.
  9. To labor unceasingly in biblical translation.
  10. To be instant in the nurture of personal religion.
  11. To give ourselves without reserve to the cause, ‘not counting even the clothes we wear our own.”93

They also reminded themselves of the kind of lives necessary for this mission: to be people of prayer who also possessed “a competent knowledge of the languages current where a missionary lives, a mild and winning temper, and a heart given up to God—these are the attainments, which, more than all other gifts, will fit us to become God’s instruments in the great work of human redemption.”94

The mission team valued each other’s strengths. Carey wrote a letter to Ryland praising Marshman’s abilities as an evangelist, gifts that he himself did not possess.95 The team of three families worked well together for many years, “each engaging his particular skill; each responsible in his own domain; and each able to produce an income for the furtherance of their missionary aims. Their wives were all a source of great strength and blessing.”96 The team also wrote letters of encouragement to other missionaries, sharing from their experiences.97

In 1814–15, though, new team members brought challenges and critical attitudes.98 This criticism was directed at Marshman and seemed to stem from gossip about him spoken by people back in England.99 “Though their missionary record amply demonstrates their high aims,” the newcomers did not fit well within the system that functioned in the early stages of the mission. “Serampore was full of discord and distress. Carey had never known such friction and grew dangerously ill.”100

“Perhaps, too, the elders were at less than their best. Marshman was embarrassed and unhappy, knowing himself misjudged. He and Ward and their wives were in poor health. Indeed all the seniors were paying the price for their long un-furloughed labor in the heat of Bengal.” Pressures of life and ministry had depressed them. “They may not have been . . . sympathetic enough with the dreams and ideas of the newcomers, whose youth made them one.”101 Eventually there was a split, and the team waited to communicate with supporters back home until “the schism was complete, and the juniors had formed and made public their ‘Calcutta Missionary Union.’ ”102

Carey wrote to Ryland to express how painful this was: “I do not recollect in my whole life anything which has given me so much distress as this schism. Many sleepless nights have I spent examining what we had done to give it occasion, but can discover nothing on which I can fix. The Mission, however, is rent in twain, and exhibits the scandalous appearance of a body divided against itself. We could easily vindicate ourselves, but the vindication would be our and their disgrace. We have, therefore, resolved to say nothing, but to leave the matter in God’s hands.”103 Thankfully, by 1820 the dispute with the “Calcutta missionaries” was settled. Carey celebrated this reconciliation in a letter to his son. Reflecting on the experience he said: “Nothing I ever met with in my life—and I have met with many distressing things–ever preyed so much upon my spirits as this difference.”104

Question: What principles can we learn from this case study about mission teams in global evangelism?

6. Community of Mission: Empowering the Local Church

During Carey’s first years in India, he worked in the indigo trade and realized that exploitation “was rife among the locals themselves.” This “made Carey’s soul blaze with anger – the landholders cheating and fleecing the peasants, the works foremen systematically robbing the laborers. The overseer clerk, whom he caught swindling every one of the workers out of a twentieth of their pay, he dismissed on the spot. He was sickened at the oppressions of the poor that he met at every turn.”105

In the early days, “though the people were grateful for his preaching, and interested, they had not courage to obey. The social cost was too terrible.”106 One of the early associates that Carey had hoped would be the first to be baptized, Ram Ram Basu, in 1796 “was shown to be guilty of adultery and embezzlement. Heartbroken, Carey wrote to Pearce, ‘It appeared as if all was sunk and gone.’ ” With the failure of this longtime confidant and companion, who could they hope in?107

Before moving to Serampore, after about 5 years of labor, the Careys “hands were pitifully empty . . . with (no Indian) conversions even from among their language teachers and inquirers. One had proved himself a fraud; one was guilty of adultery,” while others would discuss religion with them but were not willing to commit. They had only two real prospects. “It seemed a tiny step for a mountainous labor!”108 In 1799, Carey wrote to his supporters about his “bitter disappointment: ‘I am almost grown callous, and am tempted to preach as if their hearts were invulnerable.”109

Carey, whose preaching lacked windows and metaphors back in England, learned during this time to use local idioms and examples relevant to that context,110 no longer “lacking illustrations. He had acquired the Oriental mind.”111 But even with contextualized preaching, the people sometimes appreciated the preachers merely in terms of the economic advantages they could bring. “ ‘Make us your carpenters or smiths,’ said many, ‘and we are willing: but your religion we do not want.’ ”112

At the end of 1800, the Serampore team got to witness the first real fruits from their efforts. Krishna Pal was baptized. This man, who incidentally had first heard the Gospel while working as a carpenter for the Moravian missionaries years earlier,113 shared his testimony this way: “I followed the Hindu worship. I bathed in the Ganges. I worshipped dumb idols. I prostrated myself times without number, of my guru’s feet. I gave my gifts to the priests. I visited holy places. I kept repeating the name of my guardian deity. But it brought me little good, little relief from my sin. Then I heard of Jesus Christ, that He became flesh and dwelt among us, and was as one that served, and even for our ransom gave His life. What love, I thought, is this? And here I made my rest. Now, say if such love was ever shown by our gods. Did Durga or Kali or Krishna die for sinners? And think. Whilst gurus put their feet upon their prostrate chelas (pupils or slaves), Christ washed His disciples’ feet. Was (there) ever such lowliness?”114 Krishna’s wife and family became Christians and influenced many of their neighbors. Carey would preach and teach at their house and “Krishna’s home became the base of all advance.”115

The mission partnered with Krishna’s family and helped them with the hospitality expenses their witness was incurring. New believers were challenged with the need to break caste. They ate with the missionaries and others in this home. This was a hard step for some as Muslim and Hindu converts as well as those of high caste who also suffered persecution.116 Even from the beginning it was clear that caste would be a considerable challenge.117 The team understood that “caste was the bulwark of Hinduism, and diametrically opposed to the spirit of the Gospel, so they resolved to refuse it the least sanction from the outset. They would not bow the knee. They knew that by this drastic course their progress would be slower, but at least it would be sure.” The upper and lower castes “were treated as equals and brothers. At the Lord’s Supper this equality was absolute. The castes were also daily encouraged to a cordial friendship with one another,” and eventually they even intermarried.118

The pressure from the surrounding culture was intense: “Indian Christians were derided. Traders refused to serve them, landlords refused to accept them. Syam Das was murdered within nine months of his baptism. . . . Ram Dahn (was deceived) . . . and never permitted to return. . . . (Another) was drugged by his own father and fell into melancholy that nothing could relieve. Kasi Nath was flogged by his neighbors, till in fear he recanted. Halidhar, on the verge of baptism, was dragged off and hidden. Yet almost more heart-breaking were the stumblings of Krishna and his whole home circle. They pierced the Mission through with many sorrows. Its very devotion to them made them heady.”119 Ward noted that the hardest thing for a missionary certainly was not the hot weather but the discouragement one felt from quarrels and failures in the local church.120 A number of those young believers, thankfully, returned and were restored to the church. And the church’s witness through the burial of one of her members and her willingness to break caste made a positive impression on the community.121

A few years later, Krishna Pal and another man were ordained as preachers. “Ordination seemed too soon in Krishna’s case, for within six months the promotion made him heady again, and he and his household grew rebellious and difficult.” Thankfully, this trial passed within a few months.122

The Serampore team was thankful to see destructive Indian customs being left behind. Some converts willingly rejected idolatry. In reflecting on the way this came about, Ward said, “‘How much better . . . is love and illumination than force! Had we compelled them to discard these, they would have been attached to them for life.’ ”123

“The team was thankful for their courageous Indian converts, who persevered in their preaching” even under difficult circumstances. The missionaries knew that the preaching of these Indian brothers “was often more compelling than their own—as Ward felt when listening to a gifted young evangelist in Hindi, ‘Oh, I saw that the Gospel was as sweet in this as any other tongue! At his aptness and tenderness I could scarcely hold back tears.’ ”124

By 1813, Carey, even in the midst of dealing with government opposition, wrote to Ryland about what he had seen related to the power of the gospel in India: “ ‘It is too late to eradicate the Gospel from Bengal. The number born in the country who are now preaching the Word is very considerable.’ They had by this time baptized more than five hundred people.”125

Question: What principles can we learn from this case study about the struggle of church growth and empowerment of the local church?

7. Apostolic Perseverance: Failure and Success

In many ways, Carey was a typical British boy, but what marked him was his curiosity and determination. Richter, describing Carey’s character, noted that he “was a man of heroic diligence.”126 In describing himself, Carey commented “years later to his nephew Eustace, disclaiming all other talents, ‘I can plod and persevere. That is my only genius. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.’ ”127 Another descriptor for that may be linked to what was “at the top of Paul’s list of apostolic qualifications . . . . the hallmark of spiritual power: perseverance.”128

The area where the Careys initially settled (Sundarbans) was full of armed bandits, snakes, wild buffaloes, rhinos, crocodiles, leopards and boars, “but the tigers were the terror. Twenty men had been devoured . . . in the previous twelve months.”129 They witnessed serious and depressing challenges, such as observing the masses as they attended religious fairs where fakirs (Hindu begging ‘monks’) would fling themselves “upon spikes from considerable heights, tearing their flesh and bones. Also, he observed the frenzied dancing, and, as a hideous climax, the grotesque hook-swingings . . . [done by] men of the lowest castes.”130

Before the move to Serampore, Carey’s “five-year-old Peter—so gifted that his Bengali was all already almost native—fell into a fever even more dangerous than his. Through a fortnight they fought for his life but he could not recover. Then were they lonely indeed, for, with the people’s having such rigid rules concerning contact with the dead, no Hindu or Moslem would offer help for the child’s burial.” No one would help with the coffin, nor help dig the grave, until four men stepped forward and shared this disgrace.131

The work was slow, but there was some promise: early in their work, Thomas disguised himself as an Indian and “engaging Brahmins in conversation, he asked if any in that district minded God.

‘Yes, a few sahibs have come here.’

‘Are they good people?’

‘Yes, and they speak of one, Jesus Christ.’

‘And who is He?’

‘They call him ‘Son of God.’ Some say that after a while all Hindus, Mohammedans, and sahibs will be all of this religion.’

Thomas could assure his comrades that they were building better than they knew.”132

In Carey’s early experiences (five years in North Bengal), he learned “his basic knowledge of rural, real India . . . acquiring the vernaculars and Sanskrit, learning to organize and manage men, was laying the foundation of all his translation work and forming the true measure of his task.”133

Companionship and Challenges for Carey in Marriage

  • Dorothy Carey: Carey’s first wife suffered from mental disorder and distress for 13 years. This stemmed from a traumatic experience with dysentery (and malaria?) and the illness of their firstborn within the first months of arrival in India. “Missionaries’ wives paid dearly in these pioneer years.”134 “Early in 1795 his wife fell ill again with serious dysentery, and then all the strain she had lived through reacted upon her, till her brain became the haunted chamber of morbid fantasies and tormented fears. She grew the opposite of all she naturally was. Those whom she most tenderly loved, she turned most against. Her spirit passed into a permanent gloom. It was the price she paid for venturing to India in those unsheltered years. None, knowing the facts, will cast stones. Sympathy is the only fair response.” Once Carey was able to understand the problem as a disease, he was able to meet it with true compassion. He did not lament these troubles or complain about her in letters to close friends.135 Dorothy’s mental state declined even further in the last five years of her life and before her death, she had made two attempts on Carey’s life.136
  • Charlotte Carey: In 1808, Carey married a Danish woman who became a true helpmate. “They were of the same age. Yet their marriage seemed preposterously ill-advised, for Charlotte was an invalid. . . . Carey’s colleagues and their wives were distressed at the engagement” and shared their strong concerns with him. But she proved a good match. Though she was often “pitifully ill,” their relationship was strong with many common interests. Their marriage lasted 13 years.137
  • Grace Carey: Not long before his fall and illness, Carey married Grace (a widow who had also lost two spouses). She was a “gentle and affectionate partner.”138

Other Deaths

Besides the deaths of his first two wives, Carey lost other significant companions: Krishna Pal (church leader), Felix (his son), Ward (a teammate), Ryland (a key supporter in England).139


Near the end of Carey’s life, a flood damaged the property in Serampore and left many Indians in difficult circumstances as well. Carey took another job, and his extra income helped them through this time. Amazingly, the church continued to grow, and even in the midst of catastrophes, there were now 700 Hindus who had become followers of Christ. Other disasters that took their toll: bank failures,140 a strong gale,141 and his son’s own personal tragedies.142

To Pearce, Carey wrote: “I would not abandon the Mission for all the fellowships and finest spheres in England. My greatest calamity would be separation from this service. May I be useful in laying the foundations of Christ’s Church in India; I desire no greater reward, nor can conceive higher honour. The work, to which God has set His hands, will infallibly prosper. Christ has begun to besiege this ancient and strong fortress, and will assuredly carry it. It is not His way to desert what He has once undertaken.”143


In 1812, the Serampore team suffered a serious setback when the building where they housed the printing machines and book copies burnt to the ground. One colleague encouraged him by saying, “‘However vexing it may be, a road the second time traveled is usually taken with more confidence and ease than at the first.’ [Carey] resolved that his grammars, dictionaries, and translations should gain by the disaster.”144 They resolutely counted their blessings and pushed forward.145 Amazingly, some good came from the fire: “by the next April they were printing in more languages than before the fire, and the pundits’ better renderings saved Carey hours of revisionary toil.”146 And the churches in Britain showed so much generosity that the losses were repaid in two months!147

Question: What principles can we learn from this case study about missionary perseverance and global evangelism?


These seven thematic and illustrative case studies from the life of William Carey are useful launching points for a variety of conversations about responsible involvement in global evangelism today. They create opportunities for historical analysis and discussion about missions in terms of motivation, preparation, participation in community, vision, teams, empowerment, and perseverance. My hope is that they will inspire further dialogue about faithful missional engagement today.

Alan Howell, his wife Rachel, and their three daughters resided in Mozambique from 2003 to 2018 as part of a team working among the Makua-Metto people. Alan (MDiv) served as the Visiting Professor of Missions at Harding University from 2019 to 2023 (Searcy, AR) teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in the areas of biblical studies, cultural competency, theology, and strategy. He is the Director of Church Relations at Mission Resource Network (

1 Paul G. Hiebert and Frances F. Hiebert, Case Studies in Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987).

2 Alan Neely, Christian Mission: A Case Study Approach, American Society of Missiology Series, No. 21. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1995).

3 These case studies are thematic and illustrative in that the individual case studies do not intend to follow a single event, but instead link pieces from Carey’s life and experience topically in a way that invites reflection and consideration. I have combined together these themes and threads from my own analysis of Carey’s story, following S. Pearce Carey, William Carey (London: Wakeman Trust, 1923; repr., 2009).

4 Timothy Tennent, “William Carey as Missiologist: An Assessment,” Expect Great Things, Attempt Great Things: William Carey and Adoniram Judson, Missionary Pioneers, Studies in World Christianity, ed. Allen L. Yeh and Chris Chun (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2013), 15.

5 Jim Reapsome, “Carey, William,” in Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, ed. A. Scott Moreau (Grand Rapids: Baker Books), 162–3. Reapsome notes that this “nomination . . . may not be chronologically accurate (Moravian missionaries criss-crossed the globe before he was born), but it is accurate in terms of what his life and ministry spawned in the ensuing years of Protestant missions in England—that is, the so-called Great Century of missionary outreach” (162).

6 For a helpful overview of Carey’s life, see Timothy George, “Let it Go: Lessons from the Life of William Carey,” in Expect Great Things, 3–14. For a helpful book-length treatment analyzing William Carey’s influences, work, and impact, see Terry G. Carter, P. Sam Daniel, George Melvyn Ella, C. P Hallihan, Vishal Mangalwadi, and Bruce Nicholls, William Carey: Theologian – Linguist – Social Reformer, World of Theology Series 4, ed. Thomas Schirrmacher (Bonn: Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft, Culture and Science Publ., 2013).

7 David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), 340, in reflecting on the influence of this tract, notes that Carey should be credited with putting the Great Commission front and center as a motivation for missions: “with the aid of a simple yet powerful argumentation, [Carey] demolished the conventional interpretation of Matthew 28:18–20. Since Carey, the appeal to Matthew 28:18–20 has always been prominent in Protestant (more especially Anglo-Saxon) missions.”

8 Carey, 10.

9 Ibid., 64.

10 Ibid., 64-5.

11 Ibid., 69. For more on the theological motivations in Carey’s Enquiry, see Travis Myers, “Tracing a Theology of the Kingdom of God in William Carey’s Enquiry: A Case Study in Complex Mission Motivation as Component of ‘Missionary Spirituality,’” Missiology 40, no. 1 (2012): 37–47.

12 Carey, 70.

13 In undergraduate and graduate classroom discussions of this saying, many questions have come to the surface: Could this be one of the first “tweet-able” sermons? Is it that this kind of sermon is not successful today, or is it that we have simply stopped preaching it? If a needs-based approach does not work anymore what will? Which sermon has had more impact on American Protestant churches, Carey’s sermon or Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”?

14 Ibid., 78.

15 Ibid., 87.

16 Ibid., 84.

17 Ibid., 82–3.

18 Another major issue, that is outside the scope of these case studies, has to do with additional theological commitments that were barriers keeping churches from evangelizing overseas (such as the assumption that mission was relegated to the age of the apostles, and commitments to versions of Calvinism). For more on the theological barriers that also needed to be overcome, see Michael Haykin, “A Historical and Biblical Root of the Globalization of Christianity: The Fullerism of Andrew Fuller’s The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation,” Puritan Reformed Journal 8, no. 1 (2016): 165–75.

19 Ibid., 55. For more on how he was shaped by experiences in ministry and how his work in evangelism, education, and translation was shaped by his ecclesiology, see C. J. Moore, “An Ecclesiological Mission: The Basis for William Carey’s Threefold Mission Strategy,” Southeastern Theological Review 12, no. 1 (2021): 83–109.

20 Carey, 59.

21 Ibid., 90.

22 Ibid., 122. The song was “Jesus the Pilot.”

23 Ibid., 129.

24 Ibid., 162.

25 Ibid., 163.

26 Ibid., 307.

27 Ibid., 270.

28 Ibid., 274–75.

29 Ibid., 304.

30 Ibid., 317.

31 Ibid., 361.

32 Ibid., 108.

33 Ibid., 96.

34 Ibid., 105.

35 Ibid., 159.

36 Ibid., 159.

37 Ibid., 160–61.

38 Ibid., 165.

39 Ibid., 167.

40 For church sponsored missionaries who depend on missions committees to represent them and their needs to a congregation, it is hard to imagine a better “head of a missions committee” than Fuller.

41 Ibid., 234.

42 Ibid., 305.

43 Ibid., 265. For a helpful summary of R. S. Sugirtharajah’s postcolonial critique of Carey and Saugata Bhaduri’s recognition that Carey’s work with vernacular literature had an unintended de-colonizing impact, see Darren Cronshaw, “A Commission ‘Great’ for Whom?: Postcolonial Contrapuntal Readings of Matthew 28:18–20 and the Irony of William Carey,” Transformation 33, no. 2 (2016): 110–23. Cronshaw notes that, “This is the irony of Carey’s context; that he was part of colonial mission, and his words coincided with and were coopted by colonializing forces, but he himself was marginalized by the reigning colonial trading power. His setting . . . is best described as polycolonial . . . as Bengal was ruled not just by the British alone, but also by the Portuguese, Dutch, French, and Danish. Colonialism theories all too often focus on the influence of one colonial master, rather than recognize the polycolonial reality. Bhaduri reminds us that Carey did his mission, publishing, and botanical work not from British India, but from the Danish colonial space of Serampore. Moreover, he argues that postcolonial studies too often make colonizer/colonized an irreconcilable binary, when the historical reality is that there were hospitable and fruitful hybridizing transactions between colonizer and colonized, sometimes leading to decolonizing possibilities” (116–17).

44 Carey, 313–14.

45 Ibid., 316.

46 Ibid., 318–19.

47 Ibid., 326.

48 Ibid., 333.

49 Ibid., 373.

50 Ibid., 346.

51 Ibid., 351.

52 Ibid., 349.

53 Ibid., 160–61.

54 Ibid., 169.

55 Ibid., 181.

56 Ibid., 200. For more on how Carey and his team related to the Bengali culture, see John D. W. Watts, “Baptists and the Transformation of Culture: A Case Study from the Career of William Carey,” Review & Expositor 89, no. 1 (1992): 11–21.

57 Carey, 284.

58 Ibid., 232–33.

59 Ibid., 235.

60 Ibid., 231.

61 Ibid., 236.

62 Ibid., 234.

63 Ibid., 396. For more on the quality of those translations, and a survey of analysis done by translators, see H. L. Richard, “Some Observations on William Carey’s Bible Translations,” International Bulletin of Mission Research 42, no. 3 (2018): 241–50. Richard provides a clear-eyed view of the low quality of some of those translations and the reasons for that, while also not diminishing the overall impact of Carey’s work as an early pioneer. Richard describes how Carey’s limited linguistic knowledge combined with India’s undeveloped regional languages, as well as attempting too much, the failings of language assistants, and a misplaced focus on words and word order led to insufficient translations. Richard concludes that “the task of Bible translation into India’s language that Carey began is far from ended” and hopes that this would “inspire fresh concern and effort toward a better fulfillment of the legacy of William Carey” (247). See also Richard Fox Young, “Was the Sanskrit Bible the ‘English Bible-in-Disguise’?: Postcolonialism Meets Philology in William Carey’s Dharmapustaka (1808),” International Journal of Asian Christianity 1, no. 2 (2018): 177–97.

64 Carey, 384.

65 Ibid., 172.

66 Ibid., 259.

67 Ibid., 212, 336–37.

68 Ibid., 363.

69 Ibid., 363.

70 Ibid., 325-6, 329–32, 380.

71 Ibid., 334.

72 Ibid., 210.

73 Ibid., 210.

74 Ibid., 213–14.

75 Ibid., 215.

76 Ibid., 302.

77 Ibid., 260.

78 Ibid.

79 Ibid., 225.

80 Ibid., 225.

81 Ibid., 335–36.

82 Ibid., 226.

83 Ibid., 218.

84 Ibid., 338.

85 Ibid., 137.

86 Ibid., 179.

87 Ibid., 184.

88 Ibid., 178–79.

89 Ibid., 184.

90 Carey, 185. For more on Carey as a leader, see Tariku Fufa Gemechu, “The Making of Organizational Leaders: Case Study of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Mother Teresa, and William Carey,” Journal of Biblical Perspectives in Leadership 8, no. 1 (2018): 37–50.

91 Carey, 186.

92 Ibid., 186.

93 Ibid., 240.

94 Ibid., 240.

95 Ibid., 262–63.

96 Ibid., 280–81.

97 Ibid., 202.

98 Ibid., 314.

99 Ibid., 341.

100 Ibid., 314.

101 Ibid., 341–42.

102 Ibid., 343.

103 Ibid., 343.

104 Ibid., 345.

105 Ibid., 157–58.

106 Ibid., 163.

107 Ibid., 164.

108 Ibid., 170.

109 Ibid., 171.

110 Ibid., 190.

111 Ibid., 191.

112 Ibid.

113 Ibid., 194.

114 Ibid., 220.

115 Ibid., 221.

116 Ibid., 222–23.

117 Ibid., 197.

118 Ibid., 199.

119 Ibid., 223–24.

120 Ibid., 224.

121 Ibid., 225. It seems ironic that Krishna’s letter to the churches in England is titled “A letter to the Home Churches” (227).

122 Ibid., 239.

123 Ibid., 243.

124 Ibid., 253.

125 Ibid., 300. For an Indian Christian’s perspective on the impact of Carey, see Chakravarthy R. Zadda, “Shoemaker and Missionary, William Carey,” in Expect Great Things, 27–41. Zadda states that, “Carey’s positive attitude toward Indian cultures, his desire for an indigenous theology, and his concern for the liberation of the downtrodden and for the creation of a healthy ecology and environment demonstrate the Christ-centered nature of his mission. He had a vision for an emerging India, based on the gospel values of truth, equality, liberty, and social justice” (41). Zadda agrees with Neill’s assessment: “What David Livingston meant to Africa, William Carey meant to India and more” (41).

126 Carey, 180.

127 Ibid., 20.

128 Frank Viola, Finding Organic Church: A Comprehensive Guide to Starting and Sustaining Authentic Christian Communities (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2009), 166.

129 Carey, 144.

130 Ibid., 146–47.

131 Ibid., 156.

132 Ibid., 194.

133 Ibid., 182.

134 Ibid., 137. Sometimes missionary husbands or wives will struggle mentally and emotionally, and one would hope that cross-cultural workers today would take advantage of mental health professionals and resources. For more on the story of Dorothy Carey, see Chris Chun, “The Sacrifices of Dorothy Carey and Ann Judson: Two Sides of the Same Coin,” in Expect Great Things, 125–36. There are many similarities between Dorothy Carey and Ann Judson: they “were first wives whose husbands married twice again after their passing,” they experienced great stress and danger for leaving home, they both left the religious traditions of their families of origin to “follow their husbands’ Baptist beliefs. . . . Needless to say, Ann’s sacrificial legacy is well remembered, and deservingly so. The same could not be said of Dorothy, however. It is true that she did not share the same missionary visions with her husband as did Ann, but Dorothy, undoubtedly, gave up much.” These sacrifices included enduring the loss of “their children in foreign soil, away from family and friends” (135). “Indeed, each of them had faced tremendous obstacles to ministry and endured personal afflictions. This notwithstanding, the two heroines stood by their men, even with broken physical (Ann) and mental (Dorothy) health, and weathered through tough times. Most of all, they gave their own lives to the mission field, all the while never enjoying the fruits of their sacrifice, since they died before their husbands reached the pinnacles of their careers as missionary celebrities. Their sacrificial lives, when taken into account together, conjure the image of two sides of one coin” (136).

135 Carey, 158.

136 Ibid., 269.

137 Ibid., 272–73.

138 Ibid., 360.

139 Ibid., 359.

140 Ibid., 367–69.

141 Ibid., 373.

142 Ibid., 320–22.

143 Ibid., 171.

144 Ibid., 287.

145 Ibid., 290.

146 Ibid., 291–92.

147 Ibid., 292.

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Restoring the “Pure Gospel” to Europe: Mission Efforts of Churches of Christ in Europe Following World War II

Many religious bodies anticipated that the end of World War II would present unprecedented missions opportunities. Leaders in Churches of Christ also recognized the opportunity for mission work in the war-ravaged nations of Europe, and this brought about a dramatic and exciting shift in their missions efforts. This article highlights some of the initial church planting efforts in Europe undertaken by missionaries from Churches of Christ during the postwar period and then focuses on the missionaries’ expectations and attitudes, the motivations that propelled their work, and the preparation, strategy, and methods employed by these missionaries.

Even before World War II ended, religious bodies in the United States and beyond knew that the war’s conclusion would present unprecedented missions opportunities. Baptist military chaplain Dudley T. Pomeroy wrote, “The greatest opportunity in Christian Missionary History will be presented to the Church with the Coming of V-Day. . . . Just as American Industry has led the world at war, American Christians must take the lead in Christian Enterprizes [sic] in the post-war world.”1 By October 1946, various denominations had raised or were in the process of raising millions of dollars for missions and physical relief in the wake of the war.2 In July 1947, the International Missionary Council hosted a missionary conference in Whitby, Ontario, that was attended by over one hundred representatives of forty nations “to discuss the Christian World Missions in the light of post-war realities,” inspiring Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor H. C. Goerner to proclaim that the world had entered a “New Day for Christian Missions.”3 Unsurprisingly, Churches of Christ4 also recognized and responded to the new opportunities.

Prior to World War II, Churches of Christ had been involved in limited ways in foreign missions, primarily with a few missionaries working in what would have been considered “pagan” areas (Africa or Asia) of the world.5 World War II brought a dramatic and exciting shift in mission work in Churches of Christ, as church leaders quickly recognized the opportunity for mission work in the war-ravaged nations of Europe. As with other faith fellowships,6 members of Churches of Christ who had served in the armed forces in Europe returned with reports of the great need in Europe for missionaries. One young soldier wrote back, “Germany needs the gospel about as much as any other place that I have been. . . . In my last talk with a German whom I know he said, ‘You need to send good Christian soldiers over to help us.’ ”7 Harold Paden, who had served in the Tenth Mountain Division fighting in Italy during the war, recalled, “It took time and the experiences of WWII for God to get my attention and make me understand His need for me in Italy. . . . Who would go teach the Italians?”8 Optimism ran high regarding such opportunities. L. R. Wilson wrote, “Today the opportunities for spreading the gospel are greater than at any time in our past history. As a result of the many contacts which have been made and our increased methods of transportation and communication, we now have the opportunities of carrying the gospel to every nook and corner of the earth, which would have been exceedingly difficult before the war.”9 Churches of Christ mobilized for the challenge of taking the gospel to Europe. Less than five years after the close of the war, missionaries from Churches of Christ had established churches in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Italy, and France.10

This article highlights some of the initial church planting efforts in Europe undertaken by American missionaries11 from Churches of Christ during the postwar period before focusing on three major components of this flurry of missionary activity: (1) the missionaries’ expectations and attitudes; (2) the motivations that propelled the work; (3) the preparation, strategy, and methods employed by the missionaries.

Initial Church Planting Efforts

The Netherlands was the first nation in Europe that Churches of Christ entered after the war. In the summer of 1946, seventy-one-year-old Jacob C. Vandervis and Bill L. and Bonnie Phillips arrived in Holland and began their work.12 It was almost a year before they had their first converts, establishing the first congregation in Haarlem. Converts in Amsterdam had traveled to Haarlem for worship on Sundays, and the first family to be baptized was the H. Bakvis family, residents of Amsterdam. The Bakvis family hosted weekly Bible studies in their home, leading to the baptisms of four others and the establishment of a congregation in Amsterdam. By 1950 the missionaries reported twenty-eight members in two congregations.13

Switzerland was not initially targeted for mission work by Churches of Christ. Rather, missionaries planning to work in Germany would first go to Zurich to await permission to enter Germany. Under the leadership of Delmar Bunn, who had arrived in Switzerland in the summer of 1946, they rented a room for worship services, hosted an evangelistic campaign and weekly Bible studies, and were able to establish a small church with the first conversion in 1948.14

Before the arrival of full-time missionaries in Germany, US military personnel had begun a congregation in Munich and baptized about fifty Germans. However, according to Bob Hare, the vast majority fell away “because they were converted to loaves and fishes instead of to Christ and because of inadequate teaching.”15 The most well-known pioneer of mission work in Europe from Churches of Christ was Otis Gatewood (1911–1999). In June 1945, the elders and deacons of the Broadway church in Lubbock, Texas, met with Gatewood and his wife, Alma, and decided to send them to (West) Germany as missionaries. On June 17, 1946, Gatewood and Paul Sherrod, one of the leaders of the Broadway church, left the United States to conduct a two-month survey trip to several European countries, ultimately choosing Frankfurt, Germany, as the city where the work would begin. On May 16, 1947, the Gatewoods and Roy and Jaxie Palmer left the United States to begin mission work in Germany. Lieutenant General Lucius Clay had permitted two missionaries from Churches of Christ to enter Germany for permanent mission work; these were the first permits granted to any American religious group to send missionaries into Germany. Leaving their families behind in Zurich, Gatewood and Palmer entered Germany on June 6, 1947. They immediately secured a hall for worship services, and on the first Sunday, June 15, twenty-two people came for the English worship service, thirteen of whom were Germans. In late 1947, additional permits were granted, and Gatewood and Palmer were soon joined by their families, the Loyd Colliers, Bunn, Herman Ziegert, and Kathryn Patton. The work grew steadily, and in 1950 Churches of Christ in Germany claimed over one thousand members in nine congregations.16

The initial catalyst for beginning work in Italy was Harold Paden and his experience serving in Italy during the war. Harold convinced his brother Cline of the need, and together they began planning for their mission work.17 In 1947 and 1948, Cline Paden and Bill Hatcher took a six-week survey trip to Italy, visiting Genoa, Milan, Rome, Naples, and other cities. As a result of that trip, interested individuals selected Rome as the city where the mission work should begin.18 In 1948, Gordon Linscott, who had also fought in Italy and spoke Italian, and his wife, Peggy, arrived in Italy to begin the work and to prepare for the arrival of others.19 In January 1949, a team consisting of Cline and Jo Paden, Harold and Bettye Paden, Wyndal Hudson, Bill and Peggy Hatcher, Jack and Rosetta McPherson, K. D. (Dale) and Tillie Pittman, and Joe R. Chisholm sailed from New York to join the Linscotts in Frascati, about twelve miles southeast of Rome.20 The group rejoiced in the first baptisms by March; by June, the Frascati church had over fifty members.21 In 1950, Carl Mitchell and Howard Bybee joined the work in Milan.22 Despite various forms of opposition and persecution ranging from heckling, slander, assaults, stonings, attempted bombings, legal threats, and imprisonment, the missionaries soon established congregations in Rome, Milan, Florence, and several other cities.23 In Frascati, the missionaries established an orphans’ home “not only to care for homeless youngsters but ultimately to develop gospel preachers.”24 By 1950 these efforts had resulted in over two hundred converts.25

Yvonne Noel was the first convert in Belgium.26 Through her work and the efforts of Jacob Vandervis, who would travel from Holland, at least sixteen Belgians had been converted before the first full-time missionaries, S. F. Timmerman Jr. and his wife Maxine, arrived on September 19, 1948.27 Noel assisted Timmerman in the early days, and though she eventually fell away, Timmerman credited God with using her to begin the work in Belgium.28 After preaching only his second sermon, Timmerman baptized his first convert in Pepinster on September 26.29 Timmerman also discovered about twelve Polish people who designated themselves as the “Church of Jesus Christ.” After ascertaining their beliefs, Timmerman invited the Poles to be united with his Belgian body of believers, and the Poles accepted.30 By 1950, Timmerman reported congregations meeting in Pepinster, Liege, and Verviers. Eventually, the Timmermans also started a congregation in Brussels.31

As in Germany, US military personnel in France started some temporary English-speaking congregations during the war years, but no permanent congregations were established until the postwar arrival of full-time missionaries.32 The first missionaries to France from Churches of Christ were Melvin Anderson and Maurice Hall and their families, arriving in Paris in November 1949. Hall had served as a captain in the army in the occupation zone of Germany and had been influenced by the work of Gatewood and Palmer in Frankfurt. He had also visited France during his military service.33 Several Christians studying or working in Paris agreed to assist the missionaries in the early phases of the work.34 Within a week of their arrival, the missionaries began worship services in homes. For about six months, services were conducted in English until the missionaries learned French well enough to have services in French.35 One early breakthrough in France came in the summer of 1950, when the missionaries conducted several gospel meetings. Timmerman came from Belgium to conduct a revival in Paris, and a French Pentecostal evangelist named Hubert Knevals attended. After several discussions with him, the missionaries decided they agreed on the major doctrinal points, and Knevals consented to work with them, thus providing a boost to their early efforts. Three others were baptized at the conclusion of the meetings.36 By late 1950, the church in Paris reported nineteen conversions. In addition, Anderson was making regular preaching trips to northern France, where a few others were converted.37

Thus, by the end of 1950, the first congregations of Churches of Christ had been established in at least six nations—the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, (West) Germany, and France. There were no fewer than twenty congregations and perhaps twelve hundred or more members.38 The bulk of these were in Germany.

Expectations and Attitudes

The sense of optimism that characterized the United States following the victories of World War II was shared by Churches of Christ, and this optimism was reflected in the expectations regarding the new mission efforts to Europe.39 Though occasionally tempered by the realization that things might not go as well as expected,40 in general, the missionaries and their supporters had high goals and grand visions of what they believed could be accomplished in Europe. They were not simply thinking about quick successes but imagined what results their efforts could bring over the years. “I began to visualize Germany as we hope it to be ten to fifty years from now,” wrote Kathryn Patton in a letter from Frankfurt.41 Paul Sherrod predicted “that the church is on the eve of a globe-encircling expansion, perhaps as great as any time in history” and suggested that it was “not unreasonable to work and expect to have several thousand missionaries out supported by churches in America.”42 B. Sherrod anticipated, “When we get to Europe, I hope we can get churches started and have 1,000 to 2,000 members, and they will be strong enough to start their own mission work.”43

Each missionary saw his or her particular field as one in which great things would be accomplished. The elders of the Sherman Street congregation in Denver, Colorado, wrote of the work in Belgium, “We think that there is no field in the world today that offers a richer opportunity for preaching the gospel than the little nation of Belgium.”44 Expectations were especially high for Germany and Italy. Of Germany, Carl Spain wrote, “The Lord is adding to the church daily such as are being saved, and the situation promises to be very much like it was in Jerusalem in the time of Paul.”45 Almost from the start, missionaries in Germany planned to build an auditorium that could seat between five hundred and a thousand people. Gatewood said, “We are greatly worried because we are nearing the seating capacity of the largest auditorium available to us in the city. . . . The greatest problem is the erection of a church building.”46 Gatewood also stated, “We believe that before many years have passed Frankfurt, Germany, will not only be a radiating center for the gospel in Germany, but into other parts of Europe and the world.”47 Cline Paden articulated the expectations for the work starting in Italy in a front-page headline in the August 30, 1950 issue of the Christian Chronicle: “Prospects of Becoming Largest Non-Catholic Group in Italy in the Next Ten Years Not Unlikely.” Just two weeks earlier, Carl Mitchell said he believed “there can be a church of several hundred here in two or three years’ time.”48 Those who ran the orphans’ home in Frascati believed there would be “no limit to the growth of the church of Christ in Italy when these boys leave” the home.49

These lofty expectations were intimately related to the ideals of Churches of Christ as a restoration of the New Testament Church. The movement’s historical tension between the plea for unity and the plea to restore “the ancient order of things” can be seen in the writings of the missionaries to Europe.50 These missionaries expressed interest in establishing unity with other religious groups in Europe and actively sought out groups with whom they might join forces, but they gave greater emphasis to the restoration ideal. Thus, unity could only be achieved when these groups accepted the missionaries’ concept of truth. Missionaries in France discovered an indigenous group in Strasburg, whom Maurice Hall described as “very close to the truth in most points of doctrine and life.” They referred to themselves simply as “Christians” and desired “to restore the church of Christ.” However, he was concerned that they differed from American Churches of Christ “mainly in the matter of music and the Lord’s Supper.” In addition, the missionaries found it necessary to teach the Strasburg group their understanding of baptism by immersion.51 The missionaries and the French evangelist Hubert Knevals disagreed on “one or two minor points,” but when the Frenchman accepted the American position, the Americans accepted him as a coworker.52

Regarding Timmerman’s discovery of the Polish group in Liege, Belgium, he discovered that “they were opposed to all forms of sectarianism, that they believe in holding conscientiously to the Scriptures, that they teach and practice the truth on baptism, that they hold no particular notions regarding the Holy Spirit and his work, that they follow a simple New Testament pattern of worship, etc.” He went on to report that “there was only one point on which their former practice and the New Testament did not agree.” The Polish believers were not in the practice of celebrating the Lord’s Supper each first day of the week. When they accepted Timmerman’s understanding of weekly communion, unity was achieved.53 The missionaries in Italy denied reports that they were fellowshipping a conservative group of Italian “Brethren,” pointing out that the “group’s use of instrumental music in worship and other denominational forms . . . made it impossible to fellowship them.” They did express hope, however, that they could “bring these people in line with New Testament doctrine and practice.”54 Regarding “restorationist” type groups in Germany and elsewhere, Bob Hare cautioned, “By far the majority of the groups whom we have contacted . . . have proven to be of little value as far as being able to lead them to the truth is concerned.”55

If the efforts toward Christian unity were limited, the efforts toward restoring New Testament Christianity in Europe were front and center. Roy Palmer declared, “It is our purpose to plant the plea for a restoration of New Testament Christianity firmly and steadfastly in Germany.”56 In the view of the first missionaries to Italy, the church had fallen into apostasy at Rome, and Churches of Christ now had the opportunity to bring a restored church in all its purity back to Rome and the rest of Europe. Bill Hatcher claimed that in “about the year 325 A.D., the Roman Catholic Church reared its ugly head in Italy and the apostacy [sic] from the truth of Jesus Christ began.” He was convinced that Italy was “desolate as far as a known member of the body of Christ is concerned” and believed that if missionaries preached the same gospel in Italy that Paul had preached, missionaries would “reap the same harvest today—simple New Testament Christians, and churches of Christ.”57 Cline Paden suggested that “shortly after the days of the Apostles, Italy had known nothing but Catholicism,” but “now for the first time since the Apostasy is an effort being made to bring the Church back to the very scene of its departure.”58 He wrote of the vision, “We believe that it is fitting and proper that we start in the very place where the church had its falling away,” and he spoke of plans to convert a “family to simple New Testament Christianity.”59 Otis Gatewood issued the challenge for evangelizing Italy, “Here we go, Brethren, into a country that has resisted the reformation movement and has not come in contact with the restoration movement.”60 He also wrote, “Here in our generation the pure gospel of Christ was returning to a nation that had heard the preaching of the apostles.”61 While sailing for Paris, Hall wrote that he and Anderson were about “to become the first preachers of the simple gospel to that land in nearly two thousand years.”62

Closely related to the restoration plea was the emphasis on maintaining doctrinal purity.63 At the first Lubbock Lectures, Robert Alexander insisted that the “first thing” that needed to be considered was that the work “must be done definitely in harmony with the New Testament pattern of teaching and practice” and that any missionary who “gets out of line with that pattern” should be called into account.64 One eldership reported that it would “take a fighting stand against any premillennialist or premillennialist sympathizer who would go to Belgium,” and the elders expected their missionary not to fellowship any coworker who might have premillennialist sympathies.65 At the second Lubbock Lectures, Roy Palmer insisted that “young men must be trained to preach the simple gospel of Christ in its purity.”66

Missionaries spoke of the “pure gospel of Christ”67 and “pure Christianity,”68 which was finally being brought to Europe, “where the church went into apostasy,”69 and where the fields were “fouled up with other false doctrines, but false religions have been uprooted.”70 Gatewood believed he and his co-workers were enjoying success in Germany because they were “teaching [the Germans] the Word of the Lord instead of the philosophies of men which they have been so accustomed to hearing in the churches.”71 The missionaries perceived Protestantism to be a poor substitute for what they were offering.72 Likewise, Gatewood expressed that many Italians who had rejected Roman Catholicism were prepared to accept “the truth.”73 Timmerman reported that a “very intelligent” young Yugoslav woman raised in a Catholic institution “came to see the abuses and errors of that religion and finally found the right way.”74 The common sentiment was expressed in statements that, in many places, one could “not find a single church of our Lord, nor one true member of His body.”75

Additionally, the missionaries evinced a strong anti-Catholic sentiment. Raymond Kenney suggested that in Germany, areas that were less influenced by Catholicism “might be more receptive of the Gospel.”76 Gatewood blamed Catholicism for ignorance and poverty and denounced it as a “corrupt institution.”77 Hatcher wrote of Roman Catholicism’s “rear[ing] its ugly head” and accused the Roman Catholic Church of “spread[ing] its erroneous doctrines abroad.”78 Linscott, who was involved in extensive relief work in Italy, considered relief work done by the Catholic Church to be no more than political stunts.79 Cline Paden referred to the “Catholic propaganda machine” that had built barriers against Protestantism,80 and he expressed his opinion that Catholics were “idol worshippers” who “seemed to worship mechanically.”81 He recommended, “Let us work and pray that Catholicism will not last for 36 more popes.”82 Of course, this attitude is not surprising. It was simply a reflection of the common attitudes of Churches of Christ (and Protestants in general) in America at the time.83 These attitudes were reinforced by the persecution the missionaries in Italy faced in the early years of their work.


We can identify at least several major ideas which either motivated missionaries and church leaders or which they used to motivate others to become missionaries in Europe in the period following World War II.

First and foremost, leaders and missionaries from Churches of Christ perceived the Great Commission as a command to be obeyed. Maurice Hall declared, “Jesus said for us to ‘Go’; we MUST go!”84 Bybee wrote, “I felt that foreign mission work was imperative because the Lord said to go into all the world.”85 Others pointed out that while Churches of Christ had emphasized the “baptizing and teaching” part of the Commission, they had not obeyed the “going into all the world” part, and the time had come to obey all of the Great Commission.86

These early missionaries to Europe truly believed the world was lost, and it was up to Churches of Christ to take the saving message of the gospel to the world. Hall called attention to “40,000,000 lost Frenchmen,”87 and Hatcher challenged, “Think of it, brethren, forty-five million people [in Italy] starving without the Bread of Life . . . [are] facing a never ending eternity.”88 Keith Coleman declared, “[O]ur mission is primarily to save souls.”89 Sherrod summarized the thinking: “There are perhaps two billion people in the world today eternally lost. . . . [T]hose who have not heard of Christ are lost and without hope in the world, and also Christ is depending on us to take the word to them.”90

Although it was always secondary to people’s spiritual needs,91 missionaries were motivated by the great physical needs of the people of Europe. Otis Gatewood called attention to the obligation of Christians “to bind up the wounds” of the German people: “Isn’t it the duty of the Christian to love his enemy; feed him when he is hungry; clothe him when he is naked?”92 Indeed, as discussed below, the missionaries were active in various forms of humanitarian work.

Sometimes shame and comparison to others were employed as motivating factors. According to Hatcher, “One of the greatest shames that will ever be brought against the body of our Lord is that we have made no greater effort to take the gospel into all the world as the Lord commanded us to do.” Churches of Christ had condemned Catholicism but had not “lifted our little finger to tell these people” about the true gospel.93 Hall referred to the warning of Ezekiel 33 about the watchman who failed to warn the people.94 Gatewood challenged his American brethren, “If they [Mormons] think that it is worthwhile to send 125 missionaries there, do we not love the people of Denmark enough to send two evangelists to teach them the Truth.”95 Sherrod exclaimed, “How puny have been our efforts to bring the gospel to the WHOLE world.” He pointed out that if members of the Churches of Christ were as zealous as Seventh Day Adventists, they would send thousands of missionaries to the fields.96 Gatewood warned, “Every denomination will be going and we’re going to have to compete with them.”97

The opportunity was immediate. People in Europe were in need, and they were apparently receptive to the message of the gospel. Writers sensed that Churches of Christ had never had such a wonderful opportunity in Europe, and it would probably never be repeated. Palmer suggested that the time presented “Our Greatest Opportunity.”98 Sherrod insisted that “the fields are white unto harvest. . . . When grain gets ripe, it may fall and be ruined if the harvest is delayed.” He continued, “The church may never again have such wonderful opportunities as now.”99 The idea was to strike while the iron was hot.

Although it is not often mentioned, Sherrod called attention to the motivation of God’s love for all: “Christ died for all—white man, red skin, yellow, black. . . . ‘But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Rom. 5:8).”100 Carl Mitchell mentioned love for lost souls as an important motivation and quoted Joe Gibbs, who insisted, “The very basic motivation was concern for, a love for lost souls.”101

An interesting motivation was that by bringing the gospel to Europe, the church could potentially prevent future wars and open a pathway to lasting peace. For example, Wilson suggested that “the best way to prevent [the conquered nations] from attempting war upon us in the future is to convert them to the Lord Jesus Christ. If we can make Christians out of any appreciable number in the next generation, it will go a long way towards cementing us together in love and brotherhood. . . . In no other way can we hope to put an end to carnal warfare.”102

Preparation, Strategy, and Methods

Up to the years immediately following World War II, little academic work in missiology had been done in Churches of Christ. Missionaries from Churches of Christ generally had little training in areas such as cultural adaptation or contextualization of a message.103 According to Phillip Elkins, “most of the efforts were made by men who had no experience in foreign missions, and practically no one had any special training to provide the guidance that was needed.”104 It would be easy to view early missionaries as well-meaning but naïve. One should remember, however, that in many ways, these missionaries were pioneers, and they were paving the way for others to follow.

Many of these early missionaries did, however, enroll in Christian colleges to receive at least some training; one would presume that most of this would have consisted of training in biblical studies, though several also studied languages. Furthermore, many of these missionaries had extensive training and experience in ministry and evangelism before going to the mission field. Hall, who had previously assisted with mission work in the Philippines in 1945, and Anderson studied at Abilene Christian College, where part of their education included the study of French.105 Cline Paden studied at Abilene Christian, and Harold Paden studied at Pepperdine, while Hatcher studied at both of those schools, plus Harding College. All three served as ministers in US churches before going to Italy.106 Bybee ministered in congregations in California and had spent six months studying the Italian language before his departure.107 Gatewood had begun preaching at the age of fifteen, had studied at Abilene Christian, and had been a church planting domestic missionary in New Mexico and Utah. After deciding to do mission work in Germany, he went to Pepperdine, accompanied by Jacob Vandervis, to prepare for preaching the gospel as a foreign missionary.

Interestingly, at Pepperdine, Gatewood also taught personal evangelism and mission work and was one of Hatcher’s teachers.108 Alma Gatewood studied at Harding, Abilene Christian, and the University of Colorado.109 Timmerman had been preaching regularly from the time he was seventeen years old, studied at Harding College (where there were no missions classes), and had helped establish a church in Oak Ridge, TN, where he served for four years prior to his becoming a missionary.110 Coleman graduated from Harding and then studied for three years at Wheaton, taking courses in Greek, Hebrew, German, and “courses which would help him meet modern unbelief.” He preached and did mission work for several congregations in Arkansas and Illinois before moving to Zurich to continue his study of the German language.111

In order to gain information about the situation in Europe, several people took survey trips to Europe to “spy out the land” and to discover receptive areas. As mentioned, Gatewood and Sherrod toured several countries, and Cline Paden and Bill Hatcher toured Italy.112 Bunn spent thirteen months in Zurich, “taking advantage of learning opportunities there.”113

Although Elkins has claimed that “Most [missions] spokesmen [for Churches of Christ] assumed that physical identification is unnecessary,”114 these early missionaries did recognize the importance of learning the languages of the people with whom they worked.115 The challenge, which came from Switzerland, was, “Who will choose Switzerland as a field and come soon to begin preparing for the language.”116 As mentioned previously, Floyd reported that upon arrival in Switzerland and “preparatory to entering mission work in Germany,” Coleman would spend time studying the German language. Floyd also noted that Coleman had already studied German at Wheaton College.117 Lucian Bagnetto (who later did work in Germany) pointed out how silly it would be for someone using broken English to try to convert an American and that the same principle applied in Europe.118 Of Germany, Raymond Kenney wrote, “In order to reach the German people . . . one would need . . . to master their language.”119 Gatewood reported in July 1947 that he and Palmer “spend several hours each day studying German.”120 Gatewood reported that before the missionaries in Germany could speak fluently, they would write their sermons in English and, after having them translated, they would read them in German.121 However, by 1950, several missionaries were considered “well gifted and experienced in speaking the German language.”122 In Italy, Wyndal Hudson was so determined to learn the language that he moved away by himself to the town of Perugia, where he lived with an Italian family.123 S. F. Timmerman, who became fluent in French, emphasized the importance of learning the languages of the country where one worked: “If you can’t speak people’s language, you can’t know what they think.”124

Thus, although training in missiology was lacking among the early missionaries to Europe, many did have significant educational training, often at Christian institutions of higher learning, ministerial experience, and commitment to language learning.

The strategy of the missionaries to Europe tended to include four major components: (1) securing a physical location for meetings and ministry;125 (2) providing humanitarian aid; (3) engaging in evangelistic methods of outreach; (4) nurturing new converts and preparing future leaders.126

The earliest missionaries from Churches of Christ to Europe were convinced that buildings were essential to launching and sustaining their work. Several workers even delayed their departure for Italy until property had been purchased because they felt “that it would be inadvisable to try to make a beginning there without a meeting place, and other facilities almost essential to a successful start.”127 One cannot peruse the journal articles of the time without being struck by the number of references to the need for buildings.128 In Paris, Hall and Anderson sold their cars so they could pay the lease on a building they were trying to secure.129 One of the first things the missionaries in Frankfurt did upon their arrival was to rent an auditorium that would seat two hundred people. In 1948, after reporting that in Frankfurt, the missionaries were now renting an auditorium that would seat about six hundred, Otis Gatewood announced that “[w]e have promises that we can start erecting a new church building before too long.”130 Actual construction on a building in Frankfurt began on May 15, 1950.131 It appears that to the missionaries of that time, it was almost inconceivable that any work could be successful without a building.132

Because of the physical devastation of Europe, humanitarian work was a natural component of ministry.133 The missionaries shared Gatewood’s conviction “that it was impossible for us to do the work that we should do unless we did something to help [the people of Europe]. It is hard to tell hungry people about the love of Jesus when you have plenty of food and do nothing to try to feed them.”134 American members of Churches of Christ responded to pleas for aid and sent thousands of packages of food and clothing to the missionaries, who then distributed them to the poor.135 In Italy and Germany, orphan homes for boys were established to provide places where homeless boys could live and be taught the gospel.136 Some missionaries adopted orphans themselves.137

Humanitarian work set the stage for proclaiming the gospel.138 Gatewood reported of the Germans, “They have seen Christianity in action, and now they are anxious to hear about it. Our work in teaching and preaching so that they might hear has begun.”139

The missionaries used a variety of evangelistic methods to make contacts and to lead people to conversion, including the following: inviting people, especially those who had received packages of food and clothing, to church services,140 visiting their religious neighbors’ worship services,141 talking to people on the streets and in their homes,142 conducting Bible classes for non-Christians,143 holding large evangelistic meetings,144 practicing hospitality,145 providing Sunday school for children between the ages of four and twelve years and conducting vacation Bible school,146 translating and passing out tracts and handbills,147 using correspondence courses,148 preaching over the radio,149 putting religious articles in newspapers and circulating their own newspapers,150 and going house to house or visiting people who had shown particular interest at the large meetings and conducting personal studies with them.151

Beyond mere conversion, the early missionaries to Europe recognized and addressed the need for nurturing new converts and training future leaders.152 They held regular classes for new converts to be grounded in the faith and allowed some of the young men who had been converted to help with the classes and with church services.153 In addition to basic principles of Christian faith and life, classes in Germany, for example, also addressed such topics as the work and qualification of the elders, giving, and the responsibilities of church work.154 The major purpose of the Frascati Orphans’ Home was to train Italian boys to become leaders in the “New Testament” church in Italy, and in fact, some of them did.155 In Germany, the missionaries began a visitation program to get acquainted with the new members and ascertain their spiritual or physical needs.156 They also started a Bible Training School in which students were instructed in Old Testament, New Testament, Greek, personal evangelism, church history, and English. Especially for boys, they initiated a three-week Bible training program in the mountains.157 According to Bob Hare, “the chief aim of [the Bible Training School] was to develop teachers, preachers, and leaders for the church.”158 In France, a formal “Bible School of Paris” was established.159 Unfortunately, in many cases, actual leadership was never effectively transferred to nationals.160

Perhaps one of the most disturbing practices for training new converts was sending them to the United States to attend one of the Christian colleges.161 This practice was widely accepted as “the proper way to strengthen the work” in the various churches.162 Based on reports from brethren who had visited Germany, Switzerland, and Holland, Robert Alexander stated, “One of the best things they can do, as quickly as they convert good men and women is send them back here to the U.S. where the Cause of Christ is strong and educate them so they can go back.”163 Otis Gatewood urged a group of boys in France to move to the United States to study. As early as 1948, three young Germans, Helmut Proconow, Fred Casmir, and Dieter Alten, had been selected to attend David Lipscomb College in Nashville.164 By 1950, the plan was to send the three back to Germany and to recruit at least one more to come to Lipscomb for training.165

Concluding Observations

The years immediately following World War II saw American Churches of Christ engage in a flurry of missionary activity in Europe. For the first missionaries, two of the strongest motivations for going were a sense of obligation to fulfill a command coupled with a deep conviction that Europeans needed the true gospel.166 Inspired to restore the “pure gospel” in lands that had not received it since the days of “the apostasy,” these first missionaries set out with a sense of expectant urgency. Although they knew little about modern missiology, these missionaries did have significant prior ministry experience and enjoyed remarkable early success. However, despite rich historical precedent for restorationist-type movements in Europe,167 the restoration plea, as articulated by early missionaries from Churches of Christ, lost traction in the following decades, and the work stagnated.168

Though the results of mission work by Churches of Christ in Europe have been mixed, it should be emphasized that the need for the gospel in Europe remains. According to D. A. Carson, “Europe is by far the ‘darkest’ continent, as measured by the percentage of the population without evangelical faith—certainly under 3 percent.”169

Allen Diles served twelve years as a church planting missionary in Prague, Czech Republic, and while there, completed the ThD in Church History/Historical Theology at Charles University (2005). Stateside, he has served as an elder in two congregations, and in 2018 Allen was part of a team that launched the Living Way Church of Christ in Searcy, AR, where he leads the missions ministry team. He has been teaching at Harding University since 2005 in the areas of Biblical Text, Missions, and Church History. He has published several scholarly articles and book reviews and is the author of Let Truth Prevail: An Introduction to European Christian Renewal Movements (ACU Press, 2021). He and his wife Laurie have two sons.

1 Dudley T. Pomeroy, “The Church Aggressive,” The Review and Expositor 42, no. 3 (1945): 294. Pomeroy served with General Patton’s Third Army during the latter phases of the war (290).

2 Methodists had raised $25 million, the Presbyterian Church, USA, was in the process of raising $27 million dollars, Northern Baptists were engaged in raising $14 million, Lutherans had set a goal of $10 million, Episcopalians of $8 million dollars, and Southern Baptists were raising over $3.5 million. See Cornell Goerner, “Saving the World to Save America,” The Review and Expositor 43, no. 4 (1946): 422.

3 H. C. Goerner, “The New Day for Christian Missions,” The Review and Expositor 46, no. 1 (1949): 13.

4 Historically, this fellowship of churches was intended to be non-denominational (or undenominational) “Christians only” who eschewed any denominational identifiers and often referred to themselves with a lower-case “c”—churches of Christ–to indicate that they were merely churches that belong to Christ. Modern scholarly convention, however, uses an upper-case “C” to identify this fellowship.

5 Phillip Wayne Elkins, Church-Sponsored Missions: An Evaluation of Churches of Christ (Austin, TX: Firm Foundation, 1974), 94–96, lists 143 missionaries from Churches of Christ between 1886 and 1939. Of these, eighty-four worked in Asia, twenty-four worked in Africa, seven in South America, seventeen in Mexico, four in Hawaii, three in the Mediterranean, two in the Caribbean, and two in Europe. Cf. C. Philip Slate, Lest We Forget: Mini-Biographies of Missionaries from a Bygone Generation (Winona, MS: J. C. Choate Publications, 2010). Of the seventy-one missionaries discussed by Slate, forty-three worked in Asia, eighteen in Africa, six in South America, and four in Hawaii.

6 See, e.g., the story of the Presbyterian Navy chaplain Robert P. Evans in Allen V. Koop, American Evangelical Missionaries in France 1945–1975 (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1986), 1–2, 7.

7 Raymond J. Kenny, “Germany as a Field for the Gospel,” Missionary Messenger 24 (1947): 5, 6; emphasis original.

8 Quoted in Carl Mitchell, “Italy: Fifty Years of Progress (1949–1999),” n.d., unpublished manuscript in the author’s possession. A copy of the manuscript may be found in the missions files housed in the Center for World Missions at Harding University.

9 L. R. Wilson, “Now That the War is Over,” Firm Foundation 62 no. 39 (1945): 2.

10 Few accounts focusing on the work of missionaries from Churches of Christ in the years immediately following World War II have been published. An important published account is that of Otis Gatewood, Preaching in the Footsteps of Hitler (Nashville, TN: Williams Printing, 1960). Examples of unpublished accounts include several masters theses, e.g. Robert Lee Hare, “Missionary Work by Churches of Christ in Germany, 1946–1955” (MA Thesis, Harding Graduate School of Religion, 1956); Joe Edward Gibbs, “Missionary Work of the Churches of Christ in Italy, 1949–1957, Viewed in the Light of the New Testament” (MA Thesis, Harding Graduate School of Religion, 1958); Maurice C. Hall, “History and Methods of Mission Work by Churches of Christ in France” (MA Thesis, Harding Graduate School of Religion, 1959); Elkins, Church-Sponsored Missions, is an important published work, but his focus is primarily on the years 1957–67. Other than chapter 15 of Earl Irvin West, The Search for the Ancient Order, A History of the Restoration Movement 1919–1950, vol. 4 (Germantown, TN: Religious Book Service, 1987), several recent histories of Churches of Christ give little attention to mission work following World War II, and when they do, it is usually in the context of how the mission work related to the controversies of pre-millennialism and church cooperation. See e.g., Robert E. Hooper, A Distinct People: A History of the Churches of Christ in the 20th Century (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1993), 172–77, 207–9; Richard T. Hughes, Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of Churches of Christ in America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 233–38; David Edwin Harrell Jr., The Churches of Christ in the 20th Century: Homer Hailey’s Personal Journey of Faith (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 2000), 80–86.

11 Congregations consisting of US military personnel were also established. For example, in a letter dated October 8, 1945, James W. Daniel mentioned that a congregation had been meeting in Paris for over a year (James W. Daniel, “Activities of the Church in Paris, France,” Firm Foundation 62, no. 46 [November 13, 1945]: 9), and another group met in Frankfurt for the first time on September 23, 1945 (Max Watson, “European Christian News,” Firm Foundation 62, no. 44 [Oct. 30, 1945]: 9). This paper focuses only on congregations that were established by missionaries working with European nationals.

12 Mac Lynn, ed., Churches of Christ Around the World (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1990), 126, 181. Vandervis was converted from Mormonism in Salt Lake City, Utah, by Otis Gatewood. See Otis Gatewood, “France,” The Lubbock Lectures on Mission Work, ed. M. Norvel Young (Lubbock, TX: Broadway Church of Christ, 1946), 52, and Gatewood, Footsteps, 244. William Richardson joined the work in Holland in 1947. See “Richardson on Way to Holland,” Christian Chronicle 5 (Aug. 13, 1947): 1.

13 L. Arnold Watson, “Holland to Have 2nd Congregation,” Gospel Broadcast 8 (1948): 793; The Gospel for Holland (tract printed in 1951), 1–9. This tract was located in 1992 in the Abilene Christian University Library Vertical Files for Missions. The files have since been rearranged. There is some discrepancy between pages 4 and 9 as to how many members there were in 1950. Page 4 states there were twenty-eight and page 9 states there were twenty-five.

14 Loyd Collier and Delmar Bunn, “The Work in Zurich, Switzerland,” Gospel Broadcast 8 (1948): 14; Gatewood, Footsteps, 35, 42; Otis Gatewood, “Oh Lord, Open our Eyes,” in The Second Lubbock Lectures, Germany for Christ, ed. M. Norvel Young (Lubbock, TX: Broadway Church of Christ, 1948), 7–8.

15 Hare, “Missionary Work in Germany,” 45.

16 See Gatewood, Footsteps, 35-52; Otis Gatewood, “Church Begins in Frankfurt, Germany, with Twenty-Two Present,” Gospel Advocate 89 (July 17, 1947): 526; Otis Gatewood, “One Year in Germany,” Gospel Broadcast 8 (1948): 653; “Gatewood to Return to U.S.,” Christian Chronicle 8 (July 12, 1950): 1; M. Norvel Young, “Large Audiences Hear Gatewood Speak; Gifts Swell Building Funds,” Christian Chronicle 8 (Nov. 1, 1950): 1–2; M. Norvel Young, “Admit two Missionaries to Germany,” Gospel Advocate 89 (May 22, 1947): 365; Hare, “Missionary Work in Germany,” 47–54; Paul Sherrod, “The Field and the Need,” Gospel Advocate 89 (Oct. 2, 1947): 777.

17 Gibbs, “Missionary Work in Italy,” 4.

18 Gibbs, “Missionary Work in Italy,” 10–13; Cline R. Paden, “Plan for Work in Rome,” Gospel Broadcast 8 (1948): 287.

19 Gibbs, “Missionary Work in Italy,” 16; Mitchell, “Italy.”

20 Gibbs, “Missionary Work in Italy,” 19; Mitchell, “Italy.”

21 Mitchell, “Italy.”

22 “Bybee, Mitchell Leave Today for Milan, Italy,” Christian Chronicle 8 (July 5, 1950): 1. Carl Mitchell, interview with author (April 22, 2009). Mitchell married his wife Frankie in 1953, and they began working in Florence.

23 Gibbs, “Missionary Work in Italy,” 29–179, details the opposition and persecutions of the early years; see also Mitchell, “Italy.”

24 Gibbs, “Missionary Work in Italy,” 24.

25 West, Search for the Ancient Order, 389.

26 Floyd H. Horton, “Work in Belgium,” Gospel Broadcast 8 (1948): 943.

27 “Timmermans Plan to Enter Belgium,” Christian Chronicle 6 (July 7, 1948): 1; Floyd H. Horton, “Horton Reports on Belgian Progress,” Christian Chronicle 6 (Oct. 13, 1948): 1.

28 S. F. Timmerman, interview with author (Nov. 27, 2007).

29 Horton, “Horton Reports,” 1.

30 S. F. Timmerman, “Polish Christians in Belgium Unite with Liege Church; Claim Thousands More Members in Poland and Russia,” Christian Chronicle 8 (Aug. 23, 1950): 1.

31 Daniel T. Ward, “More Baptisms, Another Church Begun in Belgium,” Christian Chronicle 8 (Aug. 23, 1950): 6; Timmerman, interview.

32 Hall, “History and Methods,” 17–18. For a detailed account of the early years of the work in France, see “History and Methods,” 15–71.

33 Ibid., 19.

34 Ibid., 23. These were J. Lee Roberts, William Green, and A. B. Clampitt and his wife and daughter, Margaret.

35 Ibid., 26. The first teaching in French was done in a children’s class taught by Margaret Clampitt (ibid., 28).

36 Timmerman, “Well Publicized Paris, France Meeting Results in 3 Baptisms, Prospects,” Christian Chronicle 8 (June 21, 1950): 1; Hall, “History and Methods,” 29. I have found Knevals’ name spelled various ways, and have chosen to follow Hall’s spelling.

37 Elton Swafford, “Another Worker Sought to Join Evangelistic Forces in France,” Christian Chronicle 8 (Oct. 4, 1950): 5. One of those conversions was Hubert Knevals, “the preacher who acknowledged error.” See also Hall, “History and Methods,” 29–30.

38 I arrived at these numbers by totaling the figures given above.

39 For the optimism within Churches of Christ, see Hooper, A Distinct People, 181–206. See also Harrell, Churches of Christ, 81.

40 As preparations were being made for Italy, Paden,“Plan for Work,” 287, had warned that the work in Italy had “all the ear marks of a disappointing work.”

41 Kathryn Patton, “My First Impression of German Work,” Gospel Broadcast 8 (1948): 490.

42 Paul Sherrod, “The Field and the Need,” (Oct. 2): 780; idem, “The Field and the Need,” Gospel Advocate 89 (Oct. 9, 1947): 794.

43 B. Sherrod, “Monday Afternoon Roundtable,” in Lubbock Lectures, 39.

44 Horton, “Work in Belgium,” 943.

45 Carl Spain, “Desperate Needs in Germany,” Gospel Broadcast 8 (1948): 893.

46 Gatewood, “Observations on the German Work,” Gospel Broadcast 8 (1948): 412.

47 Otis Gatewood, “Teaching is Major Aim . . . All Else A Means to This End,” in Second Lubbock Lectures, 58.

48 Carl Mitchell, “Mitchell Tells of Personal Work in Italy,” Christian Chronicle 8 (Aug. 16, 1950): 7.

49 Quoted from a pamphlet for the Frascati Orphans’ Home, printed ca. 1950. This pamphlet was once located in the Abilene Christian University Library’s vertical files for missions (located in the Center for Restoration Studies). Those files have gone missing.

50 For one historical example of this tension, see the discussion regarding Thomas and Alexander Campbells’ decision to adopt believers’ immersion, knowing that it would create barriers to unity between their followers and the paedobaptists whom they wished to win over, in Robert Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 1897, 1898; reprint, Germantown, TN: Religious Book Service, n.d), 1:391–398. See also the discussion of this tension in Mark Weedman, “Assessing the Declaration and Address: Hermeneutics vs. Unity in Stone-Campbell Movement Theology,” Stone Campbell Journal 14 (Spring, 2011): 21–32.

51 Hall, “History and Methods,” 18; Otis Gatewood, “France, Monday Night—August 26, 1946,” in Lubbock Lectures, 56. Regarding the Lord’s Supper, the French group was using fermented wine and leavened bread, both of which were unacceptable to the Americans.

52 Timmerman, “Well Publicized,” 1. The “one or two minor points” of disagreement are not described.

53 Timmerman, “Polish Christians,” 1. Timmerman reported that “the leading man among them” had already reached the conclusion through his own private studies that weekly communion was the biblical practice. Likely, Timmerman’s support proved decisive in convincing the entire group.

54 Gibbs, “Missionary Work in Italy,” 73.

55 Hare, “Missionary Work in Germany,” 29. See also the account of Gatewood and Sherrod’s attempts to find grounds for fellowship with British Churches of Christ, during which they discussed such doctrinal issues as the phrase “mutual ministry” and the word “Minister” with a capital “M.” They disagreed over the concepts of open communion and the emphasis on baptism or the need for re-baptism. In spite of such disagreements, however, they were able to accept one another as brethren (Gatewood, “Our Visits with the British Brethren,” in Lubbock Lectures, 14–21).

56 Roy Palmer, “Our Greatest Opportunity,” in Second Lubbock Lectures, 83.

57 William C. Hatcher “The Call of Italy,” Gospel Broadcast 8 (1948): 590.

58 Cline Paden, “Italy and Christianity,” Gospel Broadcast 8 (1948): 37.

59 Paden, “Plan for Work,” 287; quoted in Otis Gatewood, “Specific Problems of Doing Work in Germany,” in Lubbock Lectures, 117.

60 Otis Gatewood, “The First Worship in Italy,” Gospel Broadcast 8 (1948): 38.

61 Gatewood, “First Worship,” 31.

62 Hall, “History and Methods,” 25. Watson, “Holland to Have 2nd Congregation,” 793, noted that the establishment of a congregation in Amsterdam would give Holland “two congregations, New Testament in pattern.” Cf. Ellis McGaughey’s claim: “It is regretted that the Cause is very weak in Wales. I know of only one other place in Wales where loyal brethren meet besides Newport. In this section many large towns and cities . . . [are] all without a church of the New Testament pattern” (quoted in P. Sherrod, “Bro. McGaughey Reports from Wales,” Gospel Broadcast 8 [1948]: 758); Cf. also the comment that missionaries in Belfast, Ireland, called on “many people . . . who know little or nothing about simple churches of Christ in their effort to restore New Testament Christianity” (quoted in M. Norvel Young, “Seventy-three Baptized in Belfast,” Gospel Broadcast 8 [1948]: 804).

63 Doctrinal purity in this case did not refer so much to the great doctrines of Christianity, such as the oneness of God, the incarnation, or resurrection of Jesus, though they would have been assumed. Rather, these missionaries, reflecting concerns of the fellowship as a whole, believed that it was important to have the right understanding of such issues as premillennialism, the purpose of baptism, the frequency and the method of the Lord’s Supper, and titles given to preachers.

64 Robert Alexander in “Round Table Discussion, Tuesday Afternoon, August 28, 1946,” chaired by B. Sherrod, in Lubbock Lectures, 82.

65 Horton, “Work in Belgium,” 943. “Premillennialism,” which refers to a variety of systems of belief that hold that Jesus Christ will return to earth and establish a physical one thousand-year reign on earth, was hotly debated within Churches of Christ for several decades in the early to mid-twentieth century. For an overview of the controversy, see Hughes, Reviving the Ancient Faith, 137–67.

66 Palmer, “Our Greatest Opportunity,” 83.

67 Hatcher, “Call of Italy,” 590.

68 Otis Gatewood, “Opportunities in Italy,” Gospel Broadcast 8 (1948): 92.

69 Paul Sherrod, “Why We Have Not Done More Effective Mission Work in the Past,” in Lubbock Lectures, 37.

70 Sherrod, “The Field and the Need,” (Oct. 2): 780.

71 Gatewood, “Observations,” 412.

72 Gatewood, “Opportunities in Italy,” 92.

73 Gatewood, “Specific Problems,” 118.

74 Daniel T. Ward, “5 Nationalities Witness Baptism in Belgium City,” Christian Chronicle 8 (1950): 1.

75 Hatcher, “Call of Italy,” 590.

76 Raymond J. Kenney, “Germany as a Field for the Gospel,” Missionary Messenger 24 (1947): 5.

77 Gatewood, “Opportunities in Italy,” 92; Gatewood, “First Worship,” 38.

78 Hatcher, “Call of Italy,” 590.

79 Gordon Linscott, “Report from Italy,” Gospel Broadcast 8 (1948): 851.

80 Paden, “Plan for Work,” 287.

81 Paden, “Italy and Christianity,” 34.

82 Ibid., 37.

83 For Protestant/Evangelical attitudes toward Roman Catholicism in the first half of the twentieth century, see Mark A. Noll and Carolyn Nystrom, Is the Reformation Over: An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 37–40; 48–58.

84 Hall, “History and Methods,” 25.

85 Quoted in Carl G. Mitchell, “Preparation of Missionaries in Churches of Christ,” (M.A. Thesis, Pepperdine College, 1963), 3. In the sources, references to obedience to the Great Commission are numerous.

86 P. Sherrod, “The Field and the Need,” (Oct. 2): 777; Olan Hicks in “Round Table Discussion, Tuesday Afternoon,” 84.

87 Hall, “History and Methods,” 26.

88 Hatcher, “Call of Italy,” 590.

89 Keith Coleman, “Practical Answers to Interesting Questions,” in Second Lubbock Lectures, 76.

90 P. Sherrod, “The Field and the Need,” (Oct. 2): 777, italics in the original.

91 See, e.g., Gibbs, “Missionary Work in Italy,” 24. According to Hare, “Missionary Work in Germany,” 60, “Everything which was done in Germany was aimed at one objective: to get the gospel of Christ into the hearts and lives of those people.”

92 Gatewood, Footsteps, 13.

93 Hatcher, “Call of Italy,” 590.

94 Hall, “History and Methods,” 25.

95 Otis Gatewood, “Gatewood Says Denmark Offers Great Door for the Gospel, with Interested Persons Now in Field,” Christian Chronicle 8 (July 19, 1950): 1.

96 P. Sherrod, “Why We Have Not,” 38; Paul Sherrod, “The Field and the Need,” (Oct. 9, 1947): 794.

97 Otis Gatewood, “Report on Germany,” in Lubbock Lectures, 102.

98 Palmer, “Our Greatest Opportunity,” 82.

99 Sherrod, “The Field and the Need,” (Oct. 2): 780, italics in the original. Furthermore, it was important to go before false doctrines solidified.

100 Ibid., 780.

101 Mitchell, “Preparation of Missionaries,” 7–8.

102 Wilson, “Now That the War is Over,” 2. See also Otis Gatewood, “Europe’s Need for the Gospel,” in Lubbock Lectures, 11–13.

103 E.g., Gary Holloway and Douglas A. Foster, Renewing God’s People: A Concise History of Churches of Christ (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 2006), 114, state, “These missionaries were zealous and courageous but generally untrained.” But see Chris Flanders, “The Beginning of Missionary Training in Churches of Christ (Part 1),” Restoration Quarterly 61, no. 1 (2019): 27–38, and idem, “The Beginning of Missionary Training in Churches of Christ (Part 2),” Restoration Quarterly 61, no. 2 (2019): 65–76, which describes some early attempts at academic missionary training in Churches of Christ while also pointing out the general lack of training prior to World War II. Cf. Elkins, Church-Sponsored Missions, 57: “It should be recognized at the outset that most of the missionaries of churches of Christ went overseas without having made a study of methods for sharing Christ in another culture. They were therefore without any theory of missionary methods.”

104 Elkins, Church-Sponsored Missions, 14.

105 Hall, “History and Methods,” 19–20. Hall also studied German at Abilene (see Gatewood, Footsteps, 243).

106 Gibbs, “Missionary Work in Italy,” 8.

107 “Bybee, Mitchell Leave,” 1.

108 Gatewood, Footsteps, 180–196, 244–45.

109 Ibid., 183. Alma Gatewood had also been a school teacher and had helped in establishing the first African-American congregation of Churches of Christ in Abilene.

110 “Celebrating the Life of S. F. Timmerman,” funeral program obituary, Jan. 2, 2010, (in my possession).

111 William Floyd, “Coleman Sails for European Work,” Gospel Broadcast, 8 (1948): 985.

112 See also Hall, “History and Methods,” 19, regarding survey trips.

113 Lloyd Collier, “German Boys to Lipscomb College,” Gospel Broadcast 8 (1948): 790.

114 Elkins, Church-Sponsored Missions, 22.

115 The criticism of Holloway and Foster, Renewing God’s People, 114, that “[s]ome could hardly speak the language of the country when they arrived,” seems a bit harsh. It is common in many cases for missionaries to learn the local language after arriving on the field. But see Philip Slate, Lest We Forget, 33, who suggests language learning was “a practice many missionaries in the post-World War II era neglected.”

116 Collier and Bunn, “The Work in Zurich,” 14.

117 Floyd, “Coleman Sails,” Gospel Broadcast 8 (1948): 985.

118 Lucian Bagnetto, in “Monday Afternoon Round Table,” in Lubbock Lectures, 42.

119 Kenney, “Germany as a Field,” 6.

120 Gatewood, “Church Begins in Frankfurt,” 526.

121 Otis Gatewood, “Work in Germany Grows Rapidly,” Gospel Broadcast 8 (1948): 23.

122 “Fourteen Weeks of Meetings Planned in Germany; 9 Men to Do Preaching in Tent Series,” Christian Chronicle 8 (July 5, 1950): 7.

123 Wyndal Hudson, “Marlin and DeHoff Visit Italy Work,” Christian Chronicle 8 (July 12, 1950): 4.

124 S. F. Timmerman, interview.

125 Missiologist David J. Hesselgrave, Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000), 208, has remarked, “No doubt about it, the bottleneck in many an effort in church planting is the meeting place. . . . [M]ost of us who have been involved in pioneer efforts over a number of years will confess that an adequate building is usually a big boost to growth.”

126 The first two components were intended to contribute to the third.

127 Paden, “Plan for Work,” 294; italics added.

128 According to Elkins, Church-Sponsored Missions, 19, “The most frequent appeal from missionaries in the church periodicals was for Americans to supply funds for church buildings.”

129 Malcom P. Hinckley, “Long Lease Taken on Choice Paris Building by Workers Who Sell Cars to Pay Cost,” Christian Chronicle 8 (1950): 1.

130 Gatewood, “Church Begins in Frankfurt, 526; Gatewood, “Work in Germany Grows,” 183.

131 Paul Sherrod, “Building Construction is Underway in Frankfurt,” Christian Chronicle 8 (May 31, 1950): 1. Initial construction was to provide an auditorium that would seat two hundred people, with plans to expand to an auditorium for up to one thousand people.

132 See Paul Sherrod, “Let us Build in Germany,” Gospel Broadcast 8 (1948): 77; The Gospel for Holland, 1, 5; Gatewood, “Observations,” 412; West, Search, 380–81.

133 Even before leaving the US, those who went to Italy devised a three-point strategy that began with humanitarian aid: (1) Build an orphanage; (2) distribute food and clothing; and (3) begin in Rome (Paden, “Plan for Work,” 287).

134 Gatewood, “Relief and Welfare Work,” Second Lubbock Lectures, 17.

135 Ibid., 14-27. M. Norvel Young, “An Opportunity in Germany,” Gospel Advocate 89 (Aug. 7, 1947): 591; John Allen Hudson, “The Situation in Great Britain,” Gospel Advocate 89 (Sept. 4, 1947): 675; Gatewood, “Church Begins in Frankfurt,” 526; Carl Spain, “Desperate Needs,” Gospel Broadcast 8 (1948); 893; Hall, “History and Methods,” 26; West, Search, 381–82.

136 Gibbs, “Missionary Work in Italy,” 24; Mitchell, “Italy;” Gatewood, Footsteps, 45-51; West, Search, 380-82, 389; Hare, “Missionary Work in Germany,” 67–74.

137 Hare, “Missionary Work in Germany,” 83.

138 Another form of community service consisted in offering English classes, which also provided evangelistic opportunities. Hall, “History and Methods,” 81; Gatewood, “Work in Germany Grows,” 183. Harold Paden, “5 Baptized by Harold Paden in Northern Italy,” Christian Chronicle 8 (July 5, 1950): 8, reported that although missionaries in Milan had offered English lessons, “our students in these classes became so interested in the Bible that they soon abandoned the English classes to study the Word of God.”

139 Gatewood, “Church Begins in Frankfurt,” 526.

140 Otis Gatewood, “Paper Issued in Germany Stresses First Principles,” Christian Chronicle 8 (July 5, 1950): 4.

141 Hall, “History and Methods,” 80–81. Hall referred to this as “going to the synagogues.”

142 Gatewood, “Church Begins in Frankfurt,” 526; Otis Gatewood, “Summer Meetings in Germany Will Carry Gospel into Many Cities During 14-Week Period,” Christian Chronicle 8 (July 12, 1950): 5.

143 Paden, “5 Baptized,” 8.

144 Timmerman, “Well Publicized,” 1; Gatewood, “Summer Meetings,” 5. Hall, “History and Methods,” 80, notes that evangelistic meetings were often set at times that did not conflict with other religious groups’ services.

145 Hall, “History and Methods,” 81, 83. Hall mentions that one month his wife, Marie, had served seventy-five meals to visitors in their home.

146 Wyndal Hudson, “Marlin and DeHoff,” 4; Hall, “History and Methods,” 83; Collier, “German Boys,” 790, mentions that “some of our young Christian women teach these classes,” but it is unclear as to whether he is referring to American women or German converts. Given that on the same page he uses the phrase “the young men of the church” to refer to German converts, it is likely that the phrase, “young Christian women” also refers to Germans.

147 Keith Coleman, “Expanded Paper and Baptisms Mark German Work As Busy Summer Progresses,” Christian Chronicle 8 (July 5, 1950): 1; Hall, “History and Methods,” 89; “Fourteen Weeks,” 7.

148 Hall, “History and Methods,” 88.

149 Ibid., 89.

150 Coleman, “Expanded Paper,” 1; Gatewood, “Paper Issued,” 4; Wyndal Hudson, “Marlin and DeHoff,” 4, Hall, “History and Methods,” 84, 87

151 Mitchell, “Mitchell Tells,” 7; Gatewood, “Summer Meetings,” 5; Paden, “5 Baptized,” 8. For more on the methods missionaries used, see also Hare, “Missionary Work in Germany,” 141–58, where he discusses the use of buildings, tents, correspondence courses, Bible and tracts, church publications, and radio programs.

152 As Edward R. Dayton and David A. Fraser, Planning Strategies for World Evangelization, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 217–18, have noted, “A strategy that calls for evangelism and does not call for adequate teaching will eventually fail. If our strategy brings people into relationship with Christ but does not help them to grow so they become propagators, we have failed.”

153 Collier, “German Boys,” 790. We have noted above, that it is likely that young German women were learning to teach children’s classes as well.

154 M. Norvel Young, “Summer Plans Call for Tent Meetings, Bible Classes for German Christians,” Christian Chronicle 8 (June 7, 1950): 6.

155 Gibbs “Missionary Work in Italy,” 24; Mitchell, “Italy.”

156 Collier, “German Boys,” 790.

157 Hare, “Missionary Work in Germany,” 74-82; Young, “Summer Plans,” 6.

158 Ibid., 74. The program was designed for a three-year course of study, though many students did not stay that long. The school was discontinued in 1955 (“Missionary Work in Germany,” 79, 81).

159 Hall, “History and Methods,” 86.

160 According to Elkins, Church-Sponsored Missions, 20, prior to 1957 elders had been appointed in only one country that he researched.

161 See Elkins, Church-Sponsored Missions, 20–21.

162 A. R. Holton, “Nashville Church Calls Meeting for Work in Germany,” Christian Chronicle 8 (May 31, 1950): 1.

163 Alexander in “Round Table Discussion, Tuesday Afternoon” 82.

164 Collier, “German Boys,” 790. Proconow had come from the boys’ home in Frankfurt, and both Casmir and Alten had been assisting the missionaries in the relief work.

165 Holton, “Nashville Church Calls Meeting,” 1. Hall, “History and Methods,” 35, 86, mentions that at least three young men from France were sent to study in the States. At the 1948 Lubbock Lectures, only Gatewood and Olan Hicks expressed a note of caution about bringing new converts to the States for training, fearing that they might never return to their home countries. Gatewood, “Practical Answers,” Second Lubbock Lectures, 72–74, proposed the idea that American churches could support new converts while the missionaries trained them in their home countries.

166 Neither of these factors appears to carry as much motivational weight today in our more ecumenical, pluralistic, and post-modern world. It remains to be seen whether a new and more compelling motivational factor for twenty-first-century missionaries will be found.

167 On various restorationist type movements in European history, see R. Allen Diles, Let Truth Prevail: An Introduction to European Christian Renewal Movements (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 2021).

168 By the end of the twentieth-century, Mac Lynn reported that Churches of Christ claimed only 3,586 members in the six nations of Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, France, and Italy. In Germany, which had nine congregations and over one thousand baptisms by 1950, Lynn reported only 1,035 members in sixty-four congregations, and thirty-two of these congregations were English-speaking and made up primarily of US military personnel. In the Netherlands over five hundred people had been converted through forty years of mission work, and yet in 1997, Churches of Christ claimed only 376 members. See Mac Lynn, ed., Churches of Christ Around the World (Nashville, TN: 21st Century Christian, 2003), 16-18, 376; Lynn, Churches of Christ (1990), 76, 181. Nevertheless, in the decades following World War II and then following the end of the Cold War, Churches of Christ have been successful in establishing congregations in almost every European nation, though the degree to which they thrive is uncertain.

169 D. A. Carson, “Conclusion: Ongoing Imperative for World Mission,” in Martin I. Lauber and Scott M Manetsch, eds., The Great Commission: Evangelicals and the History of World Missions (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2008), 184.

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What Can’t Be Embargoed: US-Cuban Church Relations

The first part of the essay highlights important persons and events during (1) the early history of the Churches of Christ in Cuba, (2) Cuba’s three decades of virtual isolation from foreign workers and resources in the wake of the Cuban Revolution, and later (3) the period of reconnection with North American churches following Cuba’s weakening restrictions on religious organizations in the mid-1990s. The second part of the essay analyzes four elements that make Cuba’s Churches of Christ unique in Latin America, namely, Cuba’s political history, her proximity to the United States, the influence of the Afro-Cuban religions, and her resilience in the face of economic hardship. The author concludes with an appeal for churches in North America to honor the autonomy and abilities of Cuban churches.

Beginnings Of Churches Of Christ In Cuba

When discussing the history of mission work in Latin America of the a cappella Churches of Christ, Cuba deserves a special mention. Cuba was the site of the first formal mission work in Spanish-speaking Latin America. José Ricardo Jiménez arrived in 1937. His was the earliest recorded work among a cappella Churches of Christ.1 It should be noted that the Foreign Christian Missionary Society (FCMS) had a work in Cuba beginning in 1899; this work was transferred to the Presbyterian church via a comity agreement in 1917.2 At that time, the a cappella churches were technically part of the same movement as the FCMS. However, when the a cappella churches separated from the Disciples of Christ in 1906, the FCMS identified with the Disciples of Christ.

In many ways, the work in Cuba restarted in 1987 when Spanish journalist Juan Antonio Monroy visited the island. Monroy was the first non-Cuban member of the Church of Christ freely able to visit the Cuban churches since the Cuban Revolution in 1959. For almost thirty years, the Cuban churches had lived in virtual isolation from the outside world. During those years, membership in Churches of Christ had dwindled from approximately 5,000 members in 1959 to about 300 at the time of Monroy’s visit. Of the 100 or so congregations that existed when the revolution began, only nine remained at the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989. Since that time, the restoration of abandoned works and establishment of new congregations has created a great need for leadership development.

The Beginnings of the Work in Cuba

Early mission work in Cuba was principally carried out by two Cuban-American men: José Ricardo Jiménez and Ernesto Estévez. Through their work, Churches of Christ were planted from the westernmost province, Pinar del Río, to Guantánamo in the east. Jiménez was the first to arrive, and among his first projects was the establishment of a radio presence. That was how he made his first contacts outside of Havana. Through appeals to churches in the United States, he raised financial support for missions in Cuba. Jiménez dedicated himself to radio work for more than a quarter of a century.

On July 25, 1948, the church purchased a building in downtown Havana on a main street named “10th of October.” The building could hold more than 100 people. It continues to serve as a meeting place for the church to this day. According to the national registry of churches, this church building also serves as the church’s national headquarters. Officially registered church buildings were also established in Consolación del Sur (Pinar del Río Province), Matanzas, Jovellanos (Matanzas Province), and Santiago. After the end of the Cuban Revolution (January 1, 1959), when the government forbade church gatherings outside of officially registered properties, these buildings became crucial to the church’s continued existence.

Use Of Media In Outreach And Training

Jiménez also established a Christian magazine, Revista Cristiana. He purchased a printing press for this and other publications. The slogan of the magazine was “Restoring the Church to Its Primitive Purity: Apostolic in Faith, Practice, and Worship.” On the back cover was printed:

No book but the Bible

No creed but Christ

No name but Christian

No theory but the gospel

No objective but service

In Christ: Unity

In opinions: Liberty

In all things: Love and tolerance.3

When Estévez arrived in Cuba, he dedicated himself to translating tracts from English into Spanish. He also printed a set of notebooks focused on doctrinal training for preachers. These were important in establishing a base for the teaching of consistent doctrine in the churches throughout Cuba.

Reynaldo Manrique, a preacher in Matanzas, published El Obrero Cristiano (“The Christian Worker”), containing literature he translated from English as well as some original material. These were printed on a mimeograph machine and distributed across the island. After the Revolution, when the mimeograph ceased to function, one engineer-turned-preacher, Fernando Oliver, built a new machine himself.4 Over the years, the churches also received materials from World Bible School and from the Baxter Institute in Honduras.5

The Cuban Revolution And Its Effects

On July 26, 1953, a group of young people, led by 26-year-old Fidel Castro, attacked the Moncada headquarters in Santiago, Cuba. The assault was unsuccessful. Castro was imprisoned, and later pardoned and exiled. Following a brief stay in Mexico, Castro returned on the yacht Granma with a group of eighty men, ready to lead an armed revolt. On January 1, 1959, Castro entered Havana in triumph. This began a new period in the history of Cuba.

At the time of the Revolution in 1959, an estimated 5,000 members of the Churches of Christ met in one hundred different locations. Six of these meeting places were buildings used exclusively for church gatherings. These church buildings were located in Consolación del Sur (Pinar del Río Province), Havana, San Antonio de los Baños (Artemisa Province), Santa Cruz del Norte (Mayabeque Province), Matanzas, and Jovellanos (Matanzas Province).

Following the Cuban Revolution, the first report to Churches of Christ in the United States about the work in Cuba was published on March 31, 1959.6 Jiménez and Estévez wrote an open letter to the churches in the United States, urging them not to rush to conclusions about the nature of the revolution. They requested that churches continue funding their work as they saw nothing but increased opportunities in a Cuba where the government was now separated from the Catholic Church.

During the initial years after the revolution, the church flourished under the new government. For example, a new congregation in Santiago received official recognition in 1959. Churches in the United States, however, were not so optimistic. Funding for the work in Cuba began to evaporate. The reports from Jiménez and Estévez show a certain desperation during this time. They were able to purchase vehicles and buildings for the church, as well as continue their radio ministries, but they were unable to find Christians in the United States willing to continue their support. Letters sent to former supporters were all in vain. These missionaries found it harder and harder to provide for their families and for the work of the church.

Jiménez was able to broadcast radio programs for two years after the revolution, but he discontinued the programs in 1961 for lack of funding. This troubled him greatly, for he knew that the work would not advance as it had without the support of the radio programs. Estévez, facing health issues and advancing age, decided to return to Tampa, where he died a few years later.

As late as 1965, Jiménez was still sending letters to various churches, telling them that his work had not been hindered in any way, nor had Churches of Christ experienced any opposition from the government. He argued that the government was only restricting those religious groups that had involved themselves in political affairs. He pleaded with his brothers in North America to restore their support, especially so that he could continue with the radio ministry.

The political climate changed once again in 1965. New restrictions were implemented that had a direct effect on the Churches of Christ in Cuba. Excessive fines were levied against local churches based on accusations that they had falsified their reports of funds, members, and property. Several places of worship were closed, notably in the provinces of Pinar del Río y Matanzas. During this time, Jiménez reported that the government only allowed formal religious meetings in legally recognized church buildings. All other religious gatherings were forbidden.

Jiménez passed away in 1974. As in many countries, all churches in Cuba are required to have a structure of elected officials who deal with the government. Fernando Oliver took over the leadership of the church with the help of several other church members. For health reasons, Oliver eventually left Cuba to live in Florida.7 Ammiel Pérez, a preacher from Havana, replaced Jiménez as representative of the Churches of Christ to the Cuban government.8

New Ties With Christians In Other Countries

In 1975, the Cuban Church of Christ renewed contact with the outside world through letters that were sent by Ernesto Estévez to Juan Antonio Monroy in Spain.9 Monroy, a Christian journalist and evangelist employed by Herald of Truth, published these letters in Restauración, a Christian journal Monroy published in Spain. In 1976, Restauración reported that the Church of Christ in Cuba had 5 meeting places, 240 members, and 10 preachers.10

Monroy had been baptized in 1950 by a Cuban missionary to Morocco. His dream was to visit Cuba and preach to the people there. A door opened for him in 1985. He was invited as a journalist to the inauguration of Daniel Ortega as President of Nicaragua. While there, he had the chance to meet Fidel Castro. Monroy spoke with Castro, expressing his desire to visit the churches in Cuba. As an ex-Communist turned Christian journalist, Monroy had always been denied a visa to Cuba. Castro told Monroy to apply again.

When Monroy returned to the Cuban embassy in Madrid, he was granted the long-desired visa. His dream came true on March 13, 1987, when Monroy arrived on Cuban soil. At this point, he had preached throughout Latin America but not in Cuba. This was the first of many trips.

Soon after this first arrival in 1987, Monroy met with a group of preachers at the church headquarters in Havana on 10 de Octubre Street. He also traveled to the other seven congregations that remained in Cuba.11 After Monroy’s visit, other foreign workers began to arrive, bringing financial assistance to the Cuban churches: Dryden Sinclair, Bill Stough, Harris Lee Goodwin, among others. In 1993, one group of North Americans held what they called “the first religious campaign since the Cuban Revolution,” preaching in nine different locations and baptizing 94 people. The reality, of course, is that this was the first religious campaign led by Christians from the United States. By that time, evangelistic campaigns had been held in Cuba for decades, and Juan Monroy had conducted several before 1993. After 1993, members of the Churches of Christ in the United States began to visit Cuba in ever-increasing numbers.12

A New Beginning

In the early ’90s, the government authorized the establishment of house churches, called casas culto. This led to an explosion of meeting places in every province of Cuba. Soon, the number of believers in Cuba doubled.

In the beginning, house churches could have no more than 25 people at any given meeting. However, the growth of these groups couldn’t be stopped, and the government eased this regulation, allowing churches to meet for study and prayer. Initially, they were not allowed to sing in these meetings. Again, these restrictions were eased over time.

These new freedoms coincided with the return of North American Christians to the island. Suddenly, Churches of Christ in Cuba had freedom to evangelize, to meet, and to grow. They also had resources needed for these activities. Dozens of preachers in Cuba began receiving regular financial support from churches in the United States around this time.

Leadership training has been a major focus for foreign groups working in Cuba. Such training has come in different forms: mass media, church conferences, and formal academic training. In 1995, Herald of Truth began transmitting radio programs to Cuba from the Cayman Islands. Around that time, José Antonio Fernández began working with Herald of Truth as follow-up coordinator. Later, broadcasts were conducted via shortwave from Quito, Ecuador and via AM frequencies from Florida. Since 2011, Herald of Truth radio programs have been reaching Cuba via AM radio on Transworld Radio out of Bonaire. The difference in response between shortwave and AM frequencies has been dramatic, nearing 300 letters per month. In 2014, the local post office requested that Fernández collect his mail every day, or else the quantity of letters would exceed the available space.13

Since 2006, the main radio program Herald of Truth has broadcast to Cuba is “Read the Bible” (Lea La Biblia). Instead of an overtly evangelistic format, the program focuses on providing tools for reading and studying the Bible, preparing Christians to have more confidence when interacting with God’s Word.

In 1998, the first national youth conference was held in the city of Matanzas. This soon became an annual event. Later, a men’s conference and a women’s conference were added. These conferences have been instrumental in edifying the church and strengthening ties between congregations in different provinces.14 They have also been important sources of training for the churches. Because of space restrictions, a limited number of participants can attend. Those who do attend typically take copious notes, returning to their home congregations and sharing what they’ve learned. I have had Cubans come up to me to discuss conferences I’ve given several years previously.They remember more about the content of these talks than I do!

One unforgettable moment in the history of the Church of Christ in Cuba occurred in 2001, when the Cuban government allowed the church to use the National Capitol Building in Havana for a national preachers meeting. It was the first time in recent history, and possibly in the entire history of Cuba, that a religious conference was held in the Capitol. Five hundred and fifty church members participated in the event, coming from all parts of Cuba as well as the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico, Spain, the United States, and Venezuela. High-ranking members of the Cuban Communist Party were present to welcome the group and to recognize the work being done by the Cuban churches.15

“This Is Cuba”

In October 2022, I made my thirty-eighth trip to Cuba. I’ve visited every province in Cuba. I co-authored a book on the history of Churches of Christ in Cuba. Yet, I will never present myself as an expert on the subject of Cuba nor of the church in Cuba; the situation is too complex for an outsider to understand. I have learned from my colleague and friend, Tony Fernández, a preacher in Cuba, that if someone asks why things have to be done a certain way, the best answer is: “This is Cuba.”

Four elements combine to make the situation of the churches in Cuba unique when compared with other Latin American contexts. Cuba’s political situation is the first element. At first glance, it would seem that what makes Cuba unique is the socialist system they have been under since 1959. However, I think we need to look back to Cuba’s colonial days: first as an official colony of Spain for 400 years and later as an unofficial colony of the United States for 60 years. The international community has viewed Cuba as a property to be possessed by others, and this outlook has influenced how Cubans view themselves and their country.

In addition, the socialist system in Cuba can be hard for foreigners to understand. It is difficult for Cubans to grasp as well, but they have learned to accept it and adapt to it. For 500 years, they have been forced to deal with regulations and restrictions enforced by foreign powers. When their own government creates seemingly irrational bureaucratic procedures, Cubans have learned to work within that system.

The second element is the proximity of Cuba to the United States. There is an expression used in Cuba (and Mexico): “Poor Cuba. So far from God; so close to the United States.” This proximity, combined with the colonial attitude of the United States toward Cuba, has led to a love-hate relationship. The antagonism between the two governments dates back to the founding of the independent Cuban state, when Washington’s diplomats, backed by US warships, rejected the first Cuban constitution and forced the Cuban delegates to write a new one granting the United States special privileges in Cuba (including the leasing of the Guantanamo Bay naval base). After the Cuban Revolution of 1959, Cuba worked with the Soviet Union to oppose the United States. In response, the United States government has maintained a policy of economic aggression toward Cuba for the last 60 years.

In contrast, the peoples of each country view their neighbors favorably. Research by the Pew Research Center in 2016 indicated that 73% of the United States population wants to see an end to the economic embargo of Cuba.16 For many Cubans, the United States represents an escape from their current difficulties. At one men’s conference, a church leader said of another Christian: “He’s gone to a better place. . . . he moved to Miami.” Everyone laughed at the joke while generally agreeing with the sentiment.

The third element is one that can be easily overlooked: the strong influence of the Afro-Cuban religions, often collectively called santería. In February 2021, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom observed that approximately 70 percent of Cubans observe at least one practice based on Afro-Cuban religions.17 These religions are a syncretistic mix of African spiritism and Catholicism. They mainly developed within the slave culture, as slaves needed to appear to embrace their masters’ religion while desiring to maintain their heritage. These slaves accomplished this by assigning the names of Catholic saints to African gods, masking the true nature of their worship. For example, the patroness of Cuba is Our Lady of Charity (La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre). For Catholic authorities, she is a manifestation of the Virgin Mary, who appeared to two Cuban fishermen in the city of El Cobre. For followers of santería, however, she is a representation of the African fertility goddess Oshun (for whom the Osun River in Nigeria is named). The Catholic virgin and the African goddess Oshun are both celebrated on September 8 in Cuba; for many Cubans, they are one and the same.

The ethical dilemmas created by the ongoing economic crisis represent the fourth element that needs to be considered. For many people, the harsh realities of life in Cuba force them to choose between following the letter of the law (civil and religious) and providing for those they care for. As is true in many places, the poor often define ethics and morality in relative terms rather than absolutes. The black market, prostitution, taking advantage of foreigners—all of these are seen as what has to be done to survive. Emigration is an accepted practice, even when it involves abandoning family members. In the last two years, the situation has become more extreme. Many traditional social safeguards have ceased to exist. Shortages of food and basic necessities have become more common. Desperation has grown, leading to an escalation in crime, an increase in family violence, and a rise in suicide.

Together, these four elements work together to create a situation that requires much forethought. For example:

Cuban officials may be somewhat uncooperative in light of the fact that we (United States citizens) come from a country that has the stated goal of overturning their government.

  • Travel to Cuba and work on the island has to be done within legal frameworks established by two governments that are antagonistic toward one another.
  • Non-Cuban Christians must accept that Cubans may have ulterior motives in their dealings with foreigners. These people may be looking for a way to escape to the United States. They may be seeking financial help. They may be working for the government, observing the movements and actions of foreigners.
  • Non-Cuban Christians must remember that Cubans have a long history of accepting one religion on the surface while clinging to their traditional religion.
  • Christians from other countries must keep in mind the economic differences between them and many of the Cubans they meet. This socio-economic distance is often much greater than the physical difference between individuals from the two homelands.

These elements come together to create a situation in which even the most experienced observer of Latin American affairs can feel a bit lost. Many church leaders with a history of working with Christians in other parts of Latin America have made serious mistakes in Cuba, because they have not recognized the unique nature of Cuba. For example, one biblical institute has been labeled as a human trafficking organization in Cuba because their representative in Cuba does not follow proper procedures when helping students leave the country. Since some of those students (who leave Cuba on tourist visas) have not returned to Cuba, the government feels this institute is engaged in illegal emigration.

Implications Of This Unique Cultural Setting

Far too often, non-Cuban Christians approach the Cuban churches with a lack of cultural sensitivity. Rather than learning about the complexities of the Cuban context, these Christians suppose that what has been true elsewhere will be true in Cuba. In addition, Cuban Christians are often treated as if they were children in the faith, although Churches of Christ in Cuba have existed for at least 85 years.

For the work of Churches of Christ to thrive in Cuba in the coming years, we have to let Cubans lead the way. The creative response of the Youth Conference team to the COVID crisis is an excellent example. At the height of COVID quarantines, Cuban national Liudmila Bencosme and her daughter Susana had the idea of using WhatsApp for the annual youth conference. The young people could not gather, but they could listen to audio files via WhatsApp and share messages of encouragement with one another. The virtual event was so successful that the Jóvenes de la Iglesia de Cristo (Church of Christ Youth) WhatsApp group is still active.

The later adaptation of that model to the work of the Texas International Bible Institute (TIBI) shows that Cubans can take resources provided by Christians in other countries and adapt them to their needs. Bencosme, who had taken on the responsibility of coordinating TIBI’s activities in Cuba, began distributing course materials to students via WhatsApp. Internet bandwidth is expensive in Cuba and connection speeds are often slow. Yet, in March of 2022, TIBI reported that 62 students had completed ten or more courses via WhatsApp.18

Just as Cubans across the island can maintain cars from the 1950s with little to no access to parts for those cars, so Cuban churches can lead the way in adapting Christianity to their context. One example of what this can look like is the support the University Church of Christ (UCC) in Abilene, Texas, provides to the Versalles congregation in Matanzas. Rather than supporting an individual preacher, UCC has come alongside the Versalles church to support the outreach efforts of this local congregation. The Versalles church regularly sends out teaching teams to more than fifty congregations in their province. UCC provides funding for this effort without stipulating how the money is to be used. The Versalles church reports how they’ve used the resources but does not have to ask permission to use them as they see best. Sometimes the money goes toward fuel so that members can visit the different mission points. Some of the funds help cover the expenses for preachers who go from place to place. Sometimes, especially during COVID, the money was invested in the church’s farm so that food could be produced to feed needy church members.

Christians from other countries also need to give the Cuban church freedom regarding the doctrine of the church. On the Mission Resource Network blog, Dan Bouchelle quoted an elder from Botswana as saying, “When the Missionaries came, they brought us the Bread of Life in the plastic bag of western culture. We ate it in the bag, never really tasted it, and now we are constipated.”19 Churches that support works in Cuba must allow the Cuban church to take the Bread of Life and put it in a Cuban bag, which may or may not look like the bag we are using. As non-Cuban Christians, we need to let them strip away the trappings of US culture and apply the gospel to their own context.

Far too often, foreign Christians seek to strip away the plastic bags others have provided, seeing them as legalistic and rigid. But instead of then serving the Bread by itself, we repackage it into a new, shiny, more progressive plastic bag, one that fits our views and interpretations.

Too many teachers go to Cuba wanting to push agendas of change instead of providing the Cubans with the tools they need to decide for themselves how the gospel fits in their situation. They may reach the conclusions that we have reached about, for example, the role of women, the use of instruments, and a hundred other topics. Or they may reach different conclusions. As North American Christians wishing to partner with Cuban Christians, our job as outsiders is not to decide for them. Our job is to equip them with the tools they need to study and decide for themselves.


The Lord is doing great things in Cuba. As the number of trained Cuban leaders grows, they are taking more responsibility for the direction of the future training of the church in Cuba. Given the complexities of the situation there, this truly seems to be a positive development. It is now up to Christians in other countries to step into an auxiliary role, providing resources as needed but allowing the Cubans to make their own determinations about the future of the work on the island. To God be the glory!

Timothy Archer is the Director of International Ministries for Herald of Truth, where he has worked since 2006. He has spent three decades working in Spanish ministry, including 15 years in Argentina. He has authored or co-authored six books in English and three in Spanish. Tim is an elder at the University Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas, where he attends with his wife Carolina.

1 J. W. Treat, “The Work In Latin America” in The More Abundant Life: Being the Abilene Christian College Annual Bible Lectures 1961 (Abilene TX: Abilene Christian College Students Exchange: 1961), 264.

2 Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, n.s., 19 (Philadelphia: Office of the General Assembly, 1919),

3 La Revista Cristiana 1, no. 1 (1950).

4 Personal correspondence with José Antonio Fernández, preacher in Cuba.

5 Ibid.

6 J. R. Jimenez and Ernest Estevez, “A Brief Report on the Cuban Situation,” Firm Foundation (June 2, 1959): 341.

7 Jose Antonio Fernandez and Timothy Archer, A History of Churches of Christ in Cuba (Abilene, TX: Herald of Truth Publications, 2015), 43.

8 Erik Tryggestad, “Cuban Officials Recognize Work of U.S. Churches,” The Christian Chronicle, June 2002.

9 Monroy, Juan Antonio, Juan Antonio Monroy: An Autobiography (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2011), 165.

10 Fernandez and Archer, 45.

11 Ibid., 46–47.

12 Ibid., 49.

13 Fernández and Archer, 50.

14 Ibid.

15 Ibid., 49.

16 Alec Tyson, “Americans Still Favor Ties with Cuba after Castro’s Death, U.S. Election,” Pew Research Center, December 13, 2016,

17 Kirsten Lavery, “Factsheet: Santería in Cuba—UCIRF,” United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, February 2021,

18 Steve Austin, “Progress in Cuba,” Texas International Bible Institute, March 2022,

19 Dan Bouchelle, “Taking the Bread of Life out of Its Plastic Bag,” Mission Resource Network, April 25, 2022,