Voices from the Past: Historical Reflections on Christian Missions in China


“This booklet is an attempt to share . . . lessons from history with other expatriates around the world who are committed to building God’s Kingdom in China.”

This selection of thirty short excerpts from the letters, diaries, and writings of outstanding missionaries and leaders is meant to be read one at a time. “Readers are expected to linger over each quotation, perhaps reading only one quotation a day, and to spend time afterward in prayer, reflecting on them in light of their own experiences,” explains the author, a veteran Christian worker in China.

With a PhD from Edinburgh and years of living and serving among the Chinese, Andrew Kaiser brings impressive qualifications to compile such a treasury of wise advice for foreigners from those whom he calls his “spiritual ancestors.” He knows the temptations, weaknesses, and silly presumption of even the most well-meaning people. From the outset he makes it clear that he chose these words out of his own experience.

In these pages we hear from men and women; Europeans, Americans, and Chinese; pioneer missionaries and administrators; practitioners and theorists. Their lives span more than two centuries, and they represent sharply divergent points of view. They speak with one voice, however, urging those who would serve well among the Chinese to assume the posture of learners and servants, not lords and masters; to make the effort to understand the Chinese, their language, culture, and manners; to eschew hasty superficiality and instead to pursue depth and lasting fruit; and to rely on God rather than on their own resources.

My first reading reminded me that I must ask God to transform me from the inside out, so that those whom I assist in knowing God better won’t be distracted or even discouraged by my conduct. For that, I shall need that constant work of the Holy Spirit that several of the writers rightly regarded as the most essential “equipment” of Christian foreigners living among the Chinese.

I found Voices from the Past so engaging that I read it through in less than half the time it took to fly from Charlotte, North Carolina to Austin, Texas, but I plan return to it many times and follow Kaiser’s advice to ponder these little gems, turning them over to consider them from different perspectives, and making them fuel for self-reflection, repentance, renewed resolve, and prayer that God would change me from the inside out.

The thin-skinned, faint-hearted, and self-confident may find Voices from the Past a bit too bracing. It will irritate their egos, challenge their lack of courage, and expose their pride in ways they may not welcome. For those who are willing to hear and heed what their forerunners have to say, however, the booklet will furnish sage advice, profound encouragement to trust God, and needed rebuke.

ReviewsG. Wright Doyle