Part 3: The Broader Vision
This is a reprint of The Haystack Prayer Meeting. It was written by Edward Warren Capen, PH.D. president of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, now Global Ministries, and published as one of the 1906 Envelope Series. Subscribers paid 10 cents per year for the series.
PLEASE NOTE: This piece was written in 1906 and therefore reflects the language of that time.
Thus, throughout the colonial period, there was missionary interest in the Indians. The fact that the colonists had heathen at their very doors, and that the means of intercourse with the Orient were so poor and so expensive, they confined the work to this side of the Atlantic. Yet there were not wanting those whose vision crossed the ocean and who longed for the day when American Christians would carry to others the Gospel which had done so much for them. Cotton Mather’s “Essays to Do Good,” first published in 1710, was one of the famous religious books of the eighteenth century. It passed through edition after edition in the colonies and in England. Among the things to be desired he mentioned: “The propagation of the holy and glorious religion of Christ. Why is this no more attempted by its professors? Protestants! Will you be outdone by Popish idolaters? .. No less than six hundred clergymen, in the order of the Jesuits alone, have, within a few years, embarked for China, to win over that mighty nation to their bastard Christianity. No less than five hundred of them lost their lives in the difficulties of their enterprise; and yet the survivors go on with it, expressing a sort of regret that it fell not to their share to make the sacrifice of their lives in attempting the propagation of their religion. O my God! I am ashamed, and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God. Who can tell what great things might be done if our trading companies and factories would set apart a more considerable part of their gains for this work and would prosecute it more vigorously? The proposal which Gordon has made at the end of his ‘Geography,’ that all persons of property would appropriate a small part of their wealth to this purpose, should be more attentively considered. What has already been done by the Dutch missionaries at Ceylon, and the Danish at Malabar, one would imagine sufficient to excite us to imitate them.”
With the few years just preceding the outbreak of the War of Independence began a new phase in the missionary interest in the colonies. This may be said to form a third period. It prepared the way directly for the work of Mills. The two chief features in this period were the first actual attempt to send missionaries abroad and the organization of missionary societies to carry on home missionary work. In these were trained those who were to organize and maintain the missionary movement started at the call of the students. In connection with them also were published missionary periodicals, which told the story of the work abroad, supported by Christians beyond the Atlantic.