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Reading about Gladys

This past week I have been reading the books from my library about Gladys Aylward.  I’m working on a series of missionary stories Gladys Aylwardfor kids, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but am realizing I won’t always be able to whip out a story a week as I had hoped.  Though I am using only the books from my own personal library as source material, I have multiple books on some of the missionaries and it takes time to read or re-read these books.

So many books, so little time

I have read seven books and three articles on Gladys this past week and have two more books to go. One of the benefits of doing this concentrated reading on one subject is that you can understand the person from more than one perspective.  I love seeing how God uses such a wide diversity of people to accomplish His purposes!

Gladys loved God

So what have I learned from reading about Gladys Aylward?  I have been reminded that it is not education, station in life or natural giftedness that God is looking for.  Gladys was a terrible student and may have possibly had a learning disability.  She was from a working class family and was unremarkable in appearance and abilities.  But she loved her God and obeyed His leading. Her friends thought she was crazy, the mission board she wanted to work under rejected her, and most in her circle of acquaintances thought she was irresponsible for heading off to serve God in China with little more than her certainty that God wanted her there.

Child-like faith

Over and over again in her life Gladys demonstrated sincere child-like faith in God and His abilities.  And over and over again God proved Himself faithful to Gladys.  Her story is remarkable and I have been blessed by reading it.  And remember, her God is our God and He is the same today as He was in her lifetime.

So I will soldier on reading my Aylward books and hopefully soon write a kid’s missionary story as well as an overview of her life for adults.  Thanks for sticking with me!!

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20130720_200311 - CopyGod’s provision

Years ago God gave me the opportunity to purchase second-hand missionary biographies very inexpensively.  We had a wonderful used book store in our city run by two retired sisters who had formerly served as missionaries in Africa.  Their burden was to get good resources into the hands of local pastors.  News spread, books were donated, and many, including my husband and I, were blessed and helped in ministry because of these dear ladies.

Church library

As a child I ransacked our church library and read as many missionary books as possible.  I loved reading about people from all walks of life, with all kinds of personalities, and many different skills and hindrances whom the Lord used to spread the gospel across the world.

Gleaning gems

When I learned that the used bookstore carried not only commentaries, but also biographies, I was thrilled.  Initially when I visited the bookstore I would stand and stare at the hundreds of missionary titles and wonder how to separate what was good from what was fluff.  A dear missionary mentor, Bettie Dreisbach, helped guide me in my selections.  She told me that reading missionary books was like mining for precious gems; sometimes you would come away with a gem or two, but sometimes you would glean a whole vault of gems from these books.

Family devotions

My husband and I had family devotions with our five children and would often read missionary stories in conjunction with Bible reading.  My husband would stop mid sentence at an exciting part or give a dramatic pause and finish with a cliff hanger so the kids would squirm in their seats and beg him to read more.  We discovered some good biographies written for youth, but not many written for preschoolers and very young readers, and so we compromised and edited as we read to keep our children’s attention.

Missionary stories for toddlers

A couple of years ago I was challenged by some friends, young couples with small children, to use my missionary books as references to write missionary stories for young children.  Tomorrow will be the first in what I hope will be a long series of stories written with my grandchildren and other toddlers in mind.  If you use these in family devotions or to teach your children, please pass on any feedback so that I can improve and refine the process as I write.

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Reading Which Glorifies God part 2 – Missionary Biography Suggestions 

The missionary biographies below are among my favorites. I have a list of “Fifty Favorite” missionary biographies which I have read, learned from, and recommend to others.  Some overviews are posted in the Book Blurbs section of this blog with more coming in the future.  God has taught me a great deal through reading about struggles and victories these godly men and women experienced.  Many of these books are currently available in e-book format, some of them offered without charge.  I hope you will be able to find and read these books, or others like them, to the glory of God!

To the Golden Shore by Courtney Anderson

To the Golden Shore by Courtney Anderson chronicles the life of Adoniram Judson, one of the first missionaries to leave North American in obedience to God’s call.  He and his wife left New England in the early 1800’s with no promise of ever seeing home or family ever again.  Modes of communication were limited to letters or word of mouth; a letter could take up to a year to reach its intended recipient.  The Judsons ministered over six years to the Burmese people before one professed Christ.  All of the Judson’s children died due to illness or harsh living conditions, none of them surviving to school age.  Adoniram painstakingly learned the language, wrote it down, worked on a dictionary and laboriously translated the scriptures into the Burmese language so that these people could know the truth.  He was falsely imprisoned as a spy and tortured during a war in 1812.  Adoniram, starving, ill, and completely worn was released from prison just a few short weeks before his wife died.  After a period of great despair, new avenues of ministry were opened up to him and many confessed the Lord.

The life of Adoniram Judson reminds me of the following verses: Luke 14:26  If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he  cannot be my disciple.  Luke 14:27 “And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”  Luke 14:33 “So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”

How I Know God Answers Prayer by Rosalind Goforth

How I Know God Answers Prayer is a poignant, personal account of God’s direct dealing with the Goforth family during their years of missionary service in China.  Mrs. Goforth honestly lays out her own struggles with sinful attitudes that quenched or grieved the Holy Spirit and hindered prayer.  She reverently wonders at miraculous deliverance from the hands of murderous Chinese rebels (Boxers) bent on eliminating all foreigners.  God literally stayed the hands of these murderers on several occasions as the Goforths traveled by cart in their escape from the interior of China.   Weapons aimed directly at them glanced off, leaving little more than a scratch; when attacked by the rebels, Mr. Goforth was saved from a final death blow by a horse collapsing to the ground in front of him and separating him from his attackers. Strangers offered them protection knowing they would be killed instantly if caught aiding the “foreign devils.”  God did answer prayer and brought them safely through this ordeal.

On furlough in Canada, Rosalind recounts the many provisions of food, clothing, accommodation and unexpected gifts for herself, her husband and her six children.  At the turn of the century tinned foods and store bought clothes were expensive, so clothing was generally sewn at home and fruits and vegetables home canned.  Repeatedly God laid it on the hearts of various people to give clothes to, or offer to sew for, the Goforths as well as give them fresh and canned fruit and vegetables.  Both Mr. and Mrs. Goforth were engaged as speakers in various churches.  This schedule prevented Rosalind from sewing and canning as she needed so these provisions were a specific answer to prayer for her.

A particular time of testing came for Rosalind when her husband proposed moving their work further into the interior of China. Four of their children had already died and fearful for the lives of her remaining children in an unsanitary, disease-ridden area, Rosalind refused her consent.  Her husband admonished her and reminded her that the safest place for their children was in the will of God.  When she continued in her refusal, Jonathan warned her that he feared for the children. The next day a son became seriously ill, rallied, and then another child grew ill and died.

“In the moments that followed God revealed Himself to me in such love and majesty and glory that I gave myself up to him with unspeakable joy.  Then I knew that I had been making an awful mistake, and that I could indeed safely trust my children to him wherever he might lead.  One thing only seemed plain, that I must follow where God should lead.  I saw at last that God must come first.”

They began preparations for the move right away.   From that moment on her family suffered little sickness and the lives of their other children were spared.  We read in Matthew 6:33 “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.”  Rosalind learned this lesson through these experiences.

Rosalind Goforth penned several other books which are well worth reading including among others:

1.  Goforth of China

2.  Climbing

3.  Miracle Lives of China

4.  Chinese Diamonds for the King of Kings

By Searching by Isobel Kuhn

By Searching opens to us the struggle of Canadian Isobel Miller as the world entices her from one direction and the Lord calls from another.  A bright intelligent girl, Isobel attempted to lead a worldly life and still have a Christian testimony. She learned through many hardships that God expects the believer to be holy and dedicated solely to Him without divided loyalties.  God brought a lovely older Christian lady into Isobel’s life.  This woman encouraged her in the things of the Lord, prayed constantly for her, gave her a godly example and kindly admonished her when necessary.  Isobel was able to attend a Bible college and had to trust the Lord to provide to pay her bills while there.  She felt this exercise in faith laid the groundwork for trusting the Lord while engaged in missionary service in China.  God called Isobel to China and later called her to marry fellow missionary candidate John Kuhn.  Isobel’s books are engaging compilations of her work among the Lisu tribe on the Chinese boarder.  Isobel learned as a young woman that “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Luke 16:13

Isobel’s other books include:

1.  Precious Things of the Lasting Hills

2.  Nests Above the Abyss

3.  Stones of Fire

4.  Ascent to the Tribes

5.  Green Leaf in Drought Time

6.  In the Arena

John Paton – an Autobiography

John Paton-An Autobiography is a two-volume read which allows us to look into the life of this Scottish missionary to the cannibals of the South Seas Islands.  Fervently believing God wanted him to give the gospel to those who had never heard, John Paton embarked on his missionary endeavors with great intensity.  His attempts to win the natives to the Lord were met with suspicion.  Repeatedly his life was threatened, his goods stolen, his health broken.  His first wife and son died from the tropical fevers so common in the area.  Various traders in their ships tried to stop Paton from evangelizing the islanders fearing it would affect their opportunities to trade on the islands. Yet John persevered and after a number of years many came to know the Lord.

Hudson Taylor by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor

Hudson Taylor by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor in its original form is a two-volume detailed account of the life of the founder of the China Inland Mission, James Hudson Taylor.  In a time when Europeans dressed and acted as Europeans wherever they lived in the world, Taylor’s decision to dress, eat and live as the Chinese was shocking.  Also shocking to some was his concept that God and God alone should be consulted for the means to live.  While still in medical school Hudson determined to live as ascetically as possible and to ask God only for things he needed.  He felt that he must learn to live by faith first in England or he would never be able to trust God in far-away China.  Taylor’s faith was stretched as he waited upon God to provide for him, and he found God faithful to meet every need.  From this early lesson grew the understanding that God could and would do amazing things for those who believe wholeheartedly in Him. Hudson Taylor reflected the truths found in Hebrews 11:6 “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”

Other good books by or about Hudson Taylor include:

1.  Hudson Taylor and Maria by J.C. Pollock

2.  A Retrospect by J. Hudson Taylor

3.  It Is Not Death to Die by Jim Cromarty

4.  Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret by J. Hudson Taylor

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Part of this session was recently presented to the pastors’ wives at the National Church Planters’ Conference in Mentor Ohio, sponsored by ARCH Ministries.

Never in the history of mankind has there been such a proliferation of written materials so readily accessible to the general public.  Written works are available on every hand, clamoring for our time and attention, luring us with slick covers, or bold advertising, available in popular platforms and applications enticing the reader.  We as Christian women need to have some guidelines for selecting good reading materials.  In this busy age it is not even a choice between good and bad, but rather selecting what is best, to fill our allocated reading time.

Some books, especially novels, and including many published by Christian publishing houses, are written primarily to stir the emotions as opposed to glorifying God.  Tragedies, affairs of the heart, missed opportunities, all tug at our hearts, but do these stories glorify God?  There are varying degrees of effort toward accomplishing this on the part of the authors.  No matter how engrossing a story may be, we should set the book aside if the main gist of the book does not direct us to bring glory to God

When I was a young woman I used to read Christian romance novels.  I was swept away by the pathos, drawn in by tragic circumstances, and enamored by the rugged hero riding in to rescue the helpless (or tragically treated, or abandoned etc.,) heroine of the story.  Slowly and almost imperceptibly I found myself growing discontented with my real life husband (compared to these men he was so flawed!) and comparing him to these fictional characters who were merely words on a page.  At times these “paper men” seemed more real and desirable than my own flesh and blood husband.

God helped me to identify my crooked thinking by reading His Word.  A favorite Bible verse of mine is 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”  Our reading should be done to the glory of God.  It does not glorify God for a wife to compare her husband with other men, even fictional ones, and God helped me to see that, confess my sinful thinking, and change my thoughts. Part of this change was my decision to set aside the reading of romance stories and fill my mind with more wholesome reading.

One of the biggest changes I made was to resume regularly reading Christian biographies and classic Christian literature.  Who can forget the wonderful allegory spread out for us in Pilgrim’s Progress as Christian’s heavy burden rolls from his back when he stands at the foot of the cross? How many of us have been humbled and shamed as we read of the courageous believers who peacefully stood fast for Christ in the face of torture and death introduced to us in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs?  Or were pricked to evaluate our motives and actions by Amy Carmichael’s If?  These and other classic books encourage us in a holy walk with God.

We find great encouragement in reading about godly people in church history who have helped lay the groundwork for our faith and freedoms.  Men and women from the pages of Christian history lived lives that challenge and encourage us to godly living.  Many saints have lived by faith, taken strong stands, and encouraged others by their Christ-honoring lives. In Martin Luther God used a simple priest to break the stranglehold of Romanism and show people the way of salvation.  John Bunyan was a tinker by trade, but was wholly given over to learning about truth and teaching others through his writings.  George Muller lived his life by absolute faith in God to provide every need and is a shining example to us of what simple faith can accomplish.

As a child I was a voracious reader.  Our church had a small library that contained a selection of children’s books. There I first discovered missionary stories.  Within the pages of these books were heroes of the faith–men and women who in obedience to God traveled to far-away places in order to tell others about Christ.  I held my breath as I read of dangers and hardships faced by fellow believers.  I wept as I learned of Christians who died for their faith.  I rejoiced as an embittered antagonist surrendered to the claim of Christ on his sin-darkened life.  Not stuffy or boring, but full of challenges and adventure, these books helped me focus on God and His glory.

I would like to recommend several classic missionary biographies for your consideration.  These are among my favorites because the missionaries described are regular people just like us who struggled but also saw victories in their Christian lives.  Of course, not all books are equally helpful to us.  A missionary mentor told me that if she can get one gem from each book then it is worth reading. In all of these stories God is the focus and God receives the glory for anything special that is done.   In my opinion all of these books contain not just one gem, but a whole mine full of benefits and examples for us.

Next Post:  Reading Which Glorifies God – Missionary Book Suggestions

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