Ruth Tucker’s biographical masterpiece, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, plates the vast and flavorful feast of missionary history so expertly that the reader, though entirely satisfied, still craves more. The only flaw of Tucker’s work ironically works to her advantage, for while she did not go into the greater depths of each missionary’s life, the very brevity with which she shares their lives moves the reader quickly from giant to spiritual giant, so that, in a matter of pages, full centuries have passed and entire regions and people groups have been snatched from the inevitable fires of Hell. Therefore, the following review will discuss only the positives of Tucker’s work by identifying the wisdom in her formatting and the dexterity with which she handles the contentious issues of missionary history.
Tucker’s formatting in Jerusalem differs from that of many other history books, for while she opens by following the chronological vein of missions history from the early church, through Catholic and Moravian advances, and up to missions in North America (Tucker, Part I), she formats the majority of her book in other ways, bringing to bear the truly extra-cultural nature of the missionary endeavor. One format she employs is regional, splitting up missions history into the various districts of infiltration (Part II). Another format is that of the diversity seen among missionaries beginning in the early nineteenth century as more women, students and “faith” missionaries began sacrificing all for overseas evangelism (Part III). She follows this format with another, describing specialized mission endeavors employed by medical, aviation, and linguistic teams (Part IV), and she completes her book with a format that describes what has become the goal of many missionaries today, the nationalization of the missions work (Part V). This unique categorization serves a greater purpose than simply breaking material up into smaller portions: it also educates Tucker’s readers on the numerous methods of missions available to the missionary today, a matter important so the missionary’s focus resides more on the ministry than on the means.
Tucker’s dexterity in dealing with the contentious issues of missionary history also proves to be a major asset of Jerusalem. Three issues that have seemingly tainted missions history are these: the disparity between Catholic and Protestant missions, racism, and gender discrimination.
First, Tucker deals with the disparity between Catholic and Protestant missions. She reasons well throughout Jerusalem that the goal of missions is evangelism by faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and when chronicling famous Catholic missionaries, she differentiates between missionaries such as Boniface who emphasized “Church more than Christ, sacrament more than Scripture,” (46) or Francis Xavier whose “evangelism in India was superficial at best” (61), and missionaries like Raymond Lull whose message was “orthodox and evangelistic to the core” (55). Throughout her book, Tucker chronicles the efforts of Protestant missionaries, those, it seems, whose message is Truth backed by divine power.
Second, Tucker deals with the racism common to modern Western thinking. For example, she notes about nineteenth-century missionaries to Africa: “There is little doubt that they were racist (by twentieth century standards), but…they never attained the degree of racism that was so prevalent in their day” (140). She goes on to describe that the Christian missionary’s racism was founded on the idea that the African’s inequality stemmed from his lack of Christian moral teaching, and his animalistic nature is no better than they themselves once had (140). It seems from Tucker’s interpretation that, just as the nineteenth century majority would have considered a man who bathed once a week as unnecessarily clean, the nineteenth century majority considered any missionary contemptible who viewed blacks as animals worth redeeming. Arguments against missions are only valid when made in context.
Third, Tucker brings to light the historical discrimination against women in missions. With great boldness, Tucker digs into the heart of the issue, immediately questioning Who calls whom to service in God’s Kingdom. She notes Betsy Stockton, a former slave in 1823 who, feeling God’s call to serve as a foreign missionary, moved to Hawaii as the servant of another missionary couple at the behest of her mission board and forged a ministry despite her humble position (232). She notes Amy Carmichael who formed the Sisters of the Common Life in India, a “spiritual and mystical alternative to married life” for single women who could devote themselves to the care and training of the rescued children at Dohnavur (241). She notes also Lottie Moon who fought within her own board for gender equality, stating: “What women want who come to China is free opportunity to do the largest work possible…what women have a right to demand is perfect equality” (236). Throughout Jerusalem Tucker records the slow but developing changes in Christianity’s attitude toward female missionaries.
Ruth Tucker has provided students and pleasure-readers alike a gratifying record of missionary history in her work, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya. Through her stirring, topical formatting and her bold approach to challenging issues, Tucker has shown herself to be an exceptional historian and biographer, one who can be trusted and enjoyed by readers of all ages and creeds.
Tucker, Ruth. From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1983.