Missionary Biographies that Inspire and Encourage

Mahmud Fajar RosyadiPerhaps you find yourself in a difficult season of life right now—you’ve been having puzzling health problems, seen people leave your church or had a close family member pass away.  Maybe you just feel lonely or spiritually dry. Reading about Christians from the past can be one way to find encouragement and to give your spiritual life a boost.

Today’s blog comes from my lovely daughter, Lisa Bolton. She has always had a special interest in missionary biographies and found great encouragement from them. Consider choosing a biography written for children to read aloud to your family. I’m using my September blogs to feature ideas that help us get ready for Christmas. A missionary biography would make a great Christmas gift, and this gives you a wide range to choose from. Now back to Lisa.


I began reading missionary biographies as a preteen. I saw how these men and women trusted God to save their souls and to provide for their needs. I watched as God comforted them through Scripture. Sometimes, he saved them from certain death; other times, he allowed them to glorify Him through suffering. Reading about these men and women as an adult has brought different lessons. I’m amazed at the sacrifices their families made to spread the gospel to others. Again, I am reminded of God’s faithfulness to sustain them through horrific circumstances.

Some famous missionaries of the past include:

Adoniram Judson (Burma),

John Paton (New Hebrides),

Hudson Taylor (China),

Amy Carmichael (India),

Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth (China),

John and Betty Stam (China),

J.O. Fraser (China),

Isobel Kuhn (China),

Gladys Aylward (China),

Eric Liddell (China) and

Jim Elliot (Ecuador).

Judson, Paton, Taylor traveled into uncharted territory to reach people hostile to outsiders. They, and many others, lost wives and children to disease. The Goforths lost five children due to disease and lack of medical care. Gladys Aylward and Eric Liddell continued serving others amidst the dangers of war and violence. The Stams and Jim Elliot were killed.

The following list of biographies places a special emphasis on autobiographies and books written by those who knew these men and women best.

To the Golden Shore (Judson) by Courtney Anderson

Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor

A Chance to Die by Elisabeth Elliot

Jonathan Goforth and How I Know God Answers Prayer by Rosalind Goforth

Behind the Ranges (Fraser), by Isabel Kuhn

Mountain Rain (Fraser) by Eileen Crossman

By Searching, In the Arena, and Second-Mile People by Isabel Kuhn

The Little Woman by Gladys Aylward with Christine Hunter

Eric H. Liddell: Athlete and Missionary by D.P. Thomson

Shadow of the Almighty by Elisabeth Elliot

Many other good missions books are available. Two lesser-known first-person accounts that have really blessed me are:

Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Diebler Rose (imprisoned in Asia during WWII)

A Path Not Lined with Roses by Peter, Pavel and Luba Rumachik (a Russian pastor and his family dealing with persecution and imprisonment.)

Many of the missionaries listed here have been featured in children’s series like Christian Heroes Then and Now and Men of Faith/Women of Faith. Biographies don’t have to be a solitary event, either. Recently, the adult Sunday School teacher at my church took several Sundays to highlight several missionary biographies, which was a blessing to our congregation.


Several famous missionaries from the past wrote devotional books that are still available today.

Toward Jerusalem—one of several poetry books by Amy Carmichael

Rose from Brier—Amy Carmichael’s words of encouragement for other invalids

The Disciplines of the Christian Life—practical Christian advice from Eric Liddell

Streams In the Desert—words of encouragement from Lettie B. Cowman, missionary to the Orient and caregiver to her ailing husband

Note from Lisa Bolton: I’ve read most of the books I’ve cited, though not all of them. Several book titles came from friends. The great missionaries of the past did much to serve the Lord, but they were still flawed and human; some of their choices and interpretations of Scripture I might not agree with.

Note from Deb Brammer: the list of books about Chinese culture that I promised last week will be featured on October 15. Sorry about the confusion.

[Image by Deposit Photos/Mahmud Fajar Rosyadi.]