Taking the Perspectives on the World Missions class in 2009 gave me a renewed understanding of God’s heart for the unreached and the priority of praying for those working cross culturally and in difficult places. David Platt calls it “the great imbalance” as most resources are directed to already reached peoples when many have never heard.

This page lists  some of my favorite biographies of missionaries from older generations as well as today. Also listed are a few books that deal well with missionary care and understanding cultural differences in sharing the gospel. You can see this page for a list of mission organizations that I am personally connected with.

Mission Biographies

Listed here are some of my favorite biographies of well known and not-so-well known missionaries. Each has blessed my life and helped me understand a little better what it means to “fill up that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.” Col. 1:24

I have a spreadsheet that lists the books I have related to missions, outreach to Islam, and the cultural heritage of specific countries. Most of my books on cultural background are related to African countries. You can search the sheet by country or continent. Contact me if you would like to borrow a book or know more about it.

View my List of Books

To the Golden Shore: the Life of Adoniram Judson by Courtney Anderson

On February 12, 1812, Ann and Adoniram Judson sailed from Salem aboard the brig Caravan as two of the first missionaries to go out from North America. This book begins with chronicling their early life and how the Holy Spirit drew them and prepared them for their calling. The author understands the importance of theology in their lives and draws out the impact of doctrine on their outlook and approach to ministry. But the most compelling aspect of this wonderful biography is the persistence of the man himself…enduring prison and torture and death of two wives and many children. Nothing deterred him from the call. The single most amazing event in the book is the way God preserves the first translated version of the Bible in Burmese as it is packed in a pillow case and hidden in plain view in a prison, protected from prying eyes. The combination of an amazing pioneer missionary and a great author makes this book impossible to put down. Amazon…  I also recommend John Piper’s discussion of Judson’s life and ministry.

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

This book about the great pioneering missionary to China’s inland regions is written by his son and wife, who had a deep and personal knowledge of events in Hudson Taylor’s life that lend richness and credibility to the content. But even without this, Hudson Taylor’s life stands on its own as a magnificent testimony to the faithfulness of a mighty God who never disappointed the one who put his trust in Him. You don’t have to even be interested in missions to love this book, because it has so much to say about the power of an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ that applies to all of us wherever we are in life. But seeing this relationship played out against the backdrop of cultural contrasts and conflicts in an unevangelized country such as China brings faith issues into vivid and compelling immediacy. Amazon

A Chance to Die by Elizabeth Elliot

A Chance to Die is a wonderful portrayal of Amy Carmichael, the beloved Irish missionary and writer who spent fifty-three years in south India without furlough founding the Dohnavur Fellowship and mothering countless children, including many young girls rescued from temple prostitution. Elizabeth Elliot, an amazing missionary and writer herself, is well suited for the task of describing Amy’s life, honestly looking at both her strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately rejoicing in the faith that kept Amy’s heart focused on her Heavenly hope. Amazon

For the Glory: Eric Liddell’s Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr by Duncan Hamilton

This is a marvelous biography of the Olympic runner featured in Chariots of Fire, but in this book you will read the real backstory to his famous Olympic win. In the end this run was only a small part of the “race set before him.” Eric Liddell was born in China, the child of missionaries. After graduating college, he returned to China with the London Missionary Society to serve as a teacher at a mission school. Eventually married, he lived through the turmoil of the Sino-Japanese war. His pregnant life and two daughters returned to Canada before Pearl Harbor, but Eric stayed, eventually being interred in a Japanese camp. The description of his final days in that camp demonstrates the mighty heart of this faithful man, serving others to the end. You will be changed by this book, encouraged to be braver, stronger, and more faithful yourself. Amazon...

Dr. Ida: The Inspiring Story of Dr. Ida Scudder, Fifty Years a Medical Missionary in India by Dorothy Clark Wilson

This book is out of print but you can find inexpensive used copies on Amazon. Dr. Ida’s father was an early medical missionary in India and she grew up watching him serve the people of India. But as a young woman at boarding school in the US, she wanted to leave all this behind. It is wonderful to see how God worked to turn her heart around and called her as a woman to become a doctor to treat women who were dying because their husbands would not allow them to be seen by a man. Dr. Ida was a pioneer in so many ways: one of the first women to attend medical school, she eventually founds a medical school in India and enables many young women in India to follow in her footsteps. Amazon...

Bruchko by Bruce Olson

This amazing story is almost too dangerous to recommend. Who would want their 19 year old child to follow the model of Bruce Olson’s life? In getting to the mission field, he breaks every rule about being submitted to a sending organization, having prayer support, raising finances. But he seems to have kept the rules God is looking for: trust and obey. On one level, Bruchko is a great adventure story, but it will challenge your obedience to the core. Amazon

A Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter by Miriam Huffman Rockness

I had never heard of Lilias Trotter (1853-1928) before I bought this book (on the recommendation of a friend). I was not disappointed either in the person of Lilias or in the book that reveals her sensitive heart and rock solid faith. Her life cut across many currents of Christian history: a child of wealth and privilege in London society, she served under DL Moody, attended Spiritual retreats with George MacDonald, worked in London in a hostel that became part of the YWCA movement, and through her artistic talents, developed a deep friendship with John Ruskin, the premier art critic in Victorian England.

But despite her many abilities and opportunities, the true love of her life was Jesus Christ, and He led her to leave everything behind and go to Algeria with two female colleagues These unlikely ladies—knowing no Arabic and none in robust health—pioneered a work in some of the hardest ground imaginable. The author combines an artistic flair for description with many quotes from Lilias’ journals, resulting in an evocative picture of the love affair this woman had both with her God and the beauty of the dessert and the tenacious people that live there. Amazon

On the Far side of Liglig Mountain and Don’t Let the Goats Eat the Loquat Trees by Dr. Thomas Hale

These two books document the adventures of Dr. Tom Hale who, with his wife (also a doctor) and 2 sons, went in the 1970’s to remote areas in Nepal as missionary surgeons. Dr Hale writes with humor and an engaging style about the ensuing culture clashes and the challenges of raising two small children in a vastly different culture. The best quality of these books is probably simply that they are great stories, told with warmth and love, about real people. By making this life reachable, some of the strangeness of “being a missionary” is removed, while the joy of simple successes gives hope that even small efforts will bear lasting fruit. Amazon

There’s a Sheep in My Bathtub by Brian Hogan

This book isn’t really a biography, but a first person narrative about church planting experience in Mongolia involving an American family with three small children.. I’m including it in this list because it demonstrates so well many of the mission principles that are taught in the Perspectives class regarding contextualization and people movement.

The story is well written, funny, and personal, and deals in a straightforward manner with the challenges of cross-cultural living and stress on the field. The best part about this book is that the resulting church is truly Mongolian. As one church planting trainer has said, if the church planters are successful, the churches that result will make them uncomfortable because of the indigenous character. Amazon

The Hospital by the River: A Story of Hope by Dr. Catherine Hamlin

Catherine Hamlin and her husband, Reg, came to Ethiopia on a short-term contract and remained for life. Having a baby in Ethiopia is often a life threatening experience for poor rural women. Many experience prolonged labor that results in internal tears, called fistulas, causing the women to be incontinent and suffer social rejection. The Hamlin’s life work became centered in a hospital providing hope to these women. This is a great biography because it showcases not only the quiet faith of these two doctors, but also helps to understand the price of poverty, especially in the life of women. Amazon

In the Presence of My Enemies  by Gracia Burnham

Gracia Burnham and her husband Martin were missionaries in the Philippines when they were captured by Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group, and held hostage. Only Gracia survived. This book recounts her story of God’s sustaining grace and provides an illuminating insight into the minds of her captors.  Amazon

At the Foot of the Snows: A Journey of Faith and Words among the Kham-Speaking People of Nepal by David E. Watters

David took his wife and two small sons on a great adventure during the 1960’s when a door was opened for Wycliffe’s linguists to help document disappearing tribal languages in Nepal. The Watters ended up in the remote north among hardy mountain sheepherders.  When you read this book you will discover along with the Watters the intense spiritual warfare over the hearts and minds of the Kham and how God had prepared one special “man of peace” to be His leader in the community. This is a classic missionary story at its best. Only available on Kindle.   Amazon


Missionary Care and Cross-Cultural Understanding

Serving As Senders: How to Care for Your Missionaries While They Are Preparing to Go, While They Are on the field and When They Come Back by Neal Pirolo

This is a well-respected classic in missionary care covering all phases and all aspects of need. Pirolo divides missionary care six areas: moral support, logistics support, financial support, prayer support, communication support, and reentry support. He provides lots of practical suggestion for how a team can operate well in each area. Amazon

Serving with Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence by David A. Livermore

Short-term mission trips can be great ways to impact the kingdom but often lack effectiveness because of mistakes or naiveté on the part of participants. This book is a great introduction to cultural intelligence both for those who go and those who send them. Amazon

Foreign to Familiar; A Guide to Understanding Hot- and Cold-Climate Cultures by Sarah Lanier

This helpful book categorizes cultural differences so senders and goers can be more sensitive the people around them. Amazon

Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility by Duane Elmer

Duane Elmer asked people around the world how they felt about Western missionaries. The response? “Missionaries could be more effective if they did not think they were better than us.” He wrote this book to show missionaries how to overcome this problem. Amazon…