The title of my forthcoming biography David Livingstone: Missionary, Explorer, Abolitionist (to be published this July) indicates the three primary focuses of Livingstone’s storied career. In this Perspective, I’d like to highlight the first two of those primary emphases in his ministry.

Livingstone’s thirty-two-year career as a missionary and explorer in Africa was reflective of a unique personal “wiring” that God had given him and a special set of purposes the Lord had for him to fulfill. Perhaps Livingstone’s example will encourage us to reflect on the unique wiring God has given us and the special purposes He would have us fulfill in serving Him.

Livingstone initially went to Africa in 1841 as a missionary with the London Missionary Society (LMS). At that time the LMS mission station of Kuruman, located about 500 miles north of Port Elizabeth on the coast, was the northernmost station of any missionary society in southern Africa. Livingstone arrived in Africa with the desire and determination to carry the Gospel of salvation further inland and to establish a new mission station there.

David Livingstone preaching to Africans

During the next eight years, he conducted several missionary journeys hundreds of miles to the north and northeast of Kuruman and planted a succession of three new mission stations 220-300 miles north of it. He had the mindset of the Apostle Paul not to build on another man’s foundation but to take the Gospel where it had not been previously heard (Romans 15:20). He once stated that he was willing to go wherever the Lord would lead, provided it was forward.

From Livingstone’s earliest months in Africa, it was also clear that he had a natural affinity for travel and exploration, not as ends in themselves, but ultimately as means for taking God’s Word to previously unreached areas. While venturing for the first time from the coast to Kuruman (by ox-drawn wagon at a top speed of just two miles per hour), Livingstone wrote enthusiastically of the enjoyment and freedom of that mode of travel. By contrast, most such travelers complained much of the many discomforts and inconveniences as well as of periodic dangers. During that same initial trek to Kuruman, Livingstone was already writing of his desire to take the Gospel to people at a large lake (later identified as Ngami) which was reported to be several hundred miles beyond Kuruman and which had never before been reached by Europeans.

David Livingstone meets Chief Shinte

Throughout his entire career in Africa, Livingstone repeatedly endured extreme difficulties, deprivations, and dangers in prosecuting his numerous journeys. Yet he was able to maintain a remarkably positive outlook on his many travels, and even derive a good degree of enjoyment from them, despite the fact they often proved to be so extremely trying.

Victoria Falls, Discovered by David Livingstone

After his first eight years in Africa, Livingstone began a series of exploratory journeys that led not only to his discovering Lake Ngami but also to his learning about and eventually visiting a number of sizable tribes that populated a large region containing many substantial rivers, far north of the Kalahari Desert and Ngami. Always before that, Europeans thought that vast inland region was nothing more than an enormous unpopulated desert, like the Sahara Desert in northern Africa.

Over the course of seven years (1849-1856), Livingstone explored and was the first European to discover Lake Ngami and the northern reaches of the Zambesi River, including his most outstanding geographical discovery ever, the mighty Victoria Falls on the Zambesi. In addition, during the last two and a half of those years, he became the first European ever to carry out a transcontinental journey across Africa.

While such exploration and geographical discovery were very appealing to Livingstone, they were never his chief objectives. Rather, he was always motivated primarily by his desire to help bring the message of Christianity to formerly unreached people groups. One of his most oft-quoted statements was: “The end of the geographical feat is but the beginning of the missionary enterprise.”  

David Livingstone and Africans attacked by a hippopotamus

Livingstone’s discoveries provided Britain and other Western nations with a largely revamped understanding of the interior of southcentral Africa, including its: peoples and their customs; geography and geology; animal and plant life; climate and natural resources. His extraordinary accomplishments and discoveries brought him widespread acclaim throughout Britain and high honors from officials in the British Government and Britain’s Royal Geographical Society.

During the second half of his career, Livingstone served in the employ of the British Government (as Commander of the Zambesi Expedition, 1857-1864) and of the Royal Geographical Society (exploring the watersheds of southcentral Africa, 1865-1873). In those capacities, Livingstone continued to make many significant geographical discoveries and to add much more to Britain’s and the world’s understanding of various aspects of southcentral and southeastern Africa as already mentioned.

Some criticized Livingstone with forsaking his original call to missionary service. But even while serving with the British Government and the Royal Geographical Society, he always viewed himself first and foremost as a Christian missionary. Thus while planning to head up the Zambesi Expedition, Livingstone declared: “I don’t mean to be a whit less a missionary than heretofore.” And when about to set out on his final explorations of the watersheds of southcentral Africa he wrote: “I mean to make this a Christian expedition, telling a little about Christ wherever we go. His love in coming down to save men will be our theme.”

Throughout the latter half of his career Livingstone continued to have as his chief motivation the opening of southern Africa to Christianity. Helping bring Christianity to Africa was one of the primary objectives which was repeatedly and publicly stated of the Zambesi Expedition and of Livingstone’s role in leading it. He believed he was pioneering the way into that portion of the continent, and other Christians would follow behind, spreading the spiritual light of God’s Word throughout that desperately benighted region of the world. During his lifetime he heartily supported the initial attempts that were made by others along that line in the inland areas where he served.

With the bright eye of strong, unwavering faith Livingstone clearly foresaw and foretold the much fuller Christian endeavors and harvest that would take place in the years after his death. His writings are replete with statements that, though he might not live to see it, “the good time is coming” when God’s spiritual kingdom would be established and triumph throughout Africa and the world. His positive predictions were fulfilled (1) with the introduction of Christianity throughout the regions where he had served in the decades immediately following his death and (2) in the continued phenomenal growth of Christianity throughout all southern Africa to this day.

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Here’s a link to the information the publisher has posted online about the Livingstone biography:

Copyright 2023 by Vance E. Christie

This coming Monday – May 1, 2023 – marks the 150th anniversary of the death of David Livingstone, the eminent missionary-explorer of southern Africa and truly one of the most consequential individuals who lived in the nineteenth century (1800s). When Livingstone died on May 1, 1873, at a small, isolated village south of Lake Bangweulu in the country today named Zambia, he considered his work as a missionary, explorer and slavery abolitionist as being unfinished and not having fulfilled its intended objectives. But within a few short years of his death and owing to the unparalleled exertions and sacrifices of his life, his noble aims of preparing the way for Christianity and commerce to be established in southern Africa as well as for slavery to be abolished there were brought about by others who followed his pioneering lead and vision.

David Livingstone, near death, carried by Africans assistants

In the providence of God, the comprehensive biography I have had the privilege of writing about this towering historic figure – David Livingstone: Missionary, Explorer, Abolitionist – is set to be published just two months after the sesquicentennial of his death. July 11, 2023 has been designated as the book’s official release date. I cannot take any credit for the fortuitous timing, as it took me years longer than I ever imagined it would to research and write this volume. But I think it tremendous and significant that in God’s perfect timing the publication of this substantial Livingstone biography coincides with the sesquicentennial of the completion of his extraordinary life and ministry.

It seems tricky to share commendations of one’s own work, because doing so can easily appear to be self-serving, even when that is not intended. But at the same time, the commendations of others are important to lend credibility to one’s work, to verify that others (not just the writer) see marked value in the book. So in that spirit and for that purpose, thanks for permitting me to share some of the positive perspectives that others have written about the forthcoming biography.

David Livingstone found dead kneeling at his temporary bedside in Ilala, modern Zambia

Here’s how the publisher, Christian Focus Publications, is describing the volume at its website:

“David Livingstone was one of the most consequential individuals who lived in the nineteenth century. An unpretentious Scottish missionary doctor, explorer and abolitionist, he opened the door for Christianity in southern Africa. Vance Christie’s biography is the most comprehensive and accurate ever written about Livingstone.”

“During his lifetime he was a hero in Britain and beyond, and gained a degree of respect, trust, appreciation and even affection with many African people. He was a man who overcame many deprivations and discouragements, and displayed the utmost measure of courage, self-control, faith, wisdom and ingenuity. Christie takes a balanced look at Livingstone’s amazing achievements, but also at his very real flaws. This gripping in-depth biography is a must-read insight into a fascinating man.”

I am deeply grateful that several noteworthy individuals have kindly provided endorsements to be included in the book. None of them receive any remuneration for doing so, except the sincere gratitude of the author and publisher, as well as the appreciation of those who consider their perspectives in deciding whether or not to read the book.

Leeta Christie at David Livingstone monument, Glasgow, Scotland

Vance Christie’s careful chronicle gives readers a three-dimensional David Livingstone: pioneering missionary, dedicated opponent of slavery, ceaseless explorer of an Africa unknown to Europeans, a person of unusually forceful character though far from flawless. By setting Livingstone in the context of his times and through exhaustive, scrupulous reliance on well–attested primary sources, Christie brings “the Doctor” to life as a historical figure, but also as a worthy example for our times as well.

Mark A. Noll, Author of ‘America’s Book: The Rise and Decline of a Bible Civilization, 1794-1911’

I thank God for this fresh biography of David Livingstone, the pioneering missionary explorer of central Africa. He died in 1873 and his heart was buried in Zambia. On the centenary of his death, Zambians held commemorative events in several stadia in honour of this man. Also, the only town in Zambia that remains with a foreign name after its political independence from Great Britain is Livingstone. If you want to understand why a people who were once steeped in spiritual darkness should honour a Christian missionary in this way, read this definitive biography!

Conrad Mbewe, Pastor, Kabwata Baptist Church, Kabwata, Zambia; Founding Chancellor, African Christian University, Lusaka, Zambia

David Livingstone was truly one of the towering figures of his time. And though the times have changed, his name lives on. That makes him a fitting subject for a biography of this magnitude—one that recounts his story and considers his impact on his nation, on this world, and on the history of Christian missions.

Tim Challies, Blogger at

This is a fine Christian biography of a flawed, world-famous, philanthropic evangelist, explorer and physician. Comprehensive and judicious, intended for edification, it is now the best place to start for people looking for a detailed description of this titan’s life and work interpreted in relation to the history of the modern British Empire and Western colonialism.

Douglas A. Sweeney, Dean, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama

Vance Christie takes us into the fascinating life and world of David Livingstone in this comprehensive new biography, utilizing Livingstone and his colleagues’ missionary letters and reports. While sympathetic to Livingstone, Christie provides us with an honest portrayal of the renowned missionary–explorer of southern Africa, and through Livingstone, gives a window into 19th century African history, colonialism, and wider missionary endeavor. Readers will grieve brokenness and sin, while simultaneously marveling at the gracious work of our Lord in advancing his gospel and kingdom through weak means. Highly recommended.

William VanDoodewaard, Professor of Church History, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Greenville, South Carolina

Numerous biographies (and at least one ‘meta’-biography!) have been written about David Livingstone. Vance Christie now offers a substantial retelling of the life of the famous Scottish missionary which is both detailed and readable. Providing extensive citations from primary sources (both Livingstone’s published works and his correspondence) and drawing on the work of previous biographers, Christie presents the life of a remarkable man in a fresh and engaging way and deals with available evidence carefully and honestly. For all the faults of Livingstone and those around him, the story speaks of a man who sought to serve God faithfully and the impact that his life had on Africa.

Alistair Wilson, Lecturer in Mission and New Testament, Edinburgh Theological Seminary, Scotland

Here’s the link to the information the publisher has posted online about the Livingstone biography:

Copyright 2023 by Vance E. Christie

While visiting Scotland in 2019 my wife Leeta and I were treated to a half-day “wee ecclesiastical tour” of several noteworthy sites in the eastern Scottish Highlands area by William and Carine Mackenzie of Christian Focus Publications. One of our first stops that day was at an unpretentious monument overlooking the Moray Firth in the village of Balintore.

John Ross monument at Balintore, Scotland

The monument memorializes John Ross, a once-prominent, now little-known Scottish Presbyterian missionary. The monument reads: “John Ross (1842-1914). A native of this place, minister, missionary in China and Korea, and the first to translate the New Testament into Korean.” (Ross actually died in 1915.)

During our visit to Scotland I was told that a biography on Ross was then being written, and I have looked forward to its publication ever since, desiring to learn more about Ross’s life and ministry. Late last year Christian Focus published that biography, the first-ever extensive work on Ross. Written by a contemporary minister-missionary, John Stuart Ross, who happens to share the same first and last names as the individual about whom he has written, the book is entitled The Power and the Glory, John Ross and the Evangelisation of Manchuria and Korea.

Ross served as a missionary with the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland. His missionary career spanned the better part of four decades, from 1872 to 1910, and was characterized by diligent service, not a little sacrifice and a number of significant accomplishments.

John Ross

Shortly after arriving in China, Ross and his newlywed wife Mary Ann Stewart settled in the port city of Newchwang in Manchuria, to help establish a beachhead for missionary enterprise in that northeast region of China. Only five days after their first wedding anniversary, Mary Ann died unexpectedly of an unspecified chest ailment, leaving Ross a grieving widower with the care of their son Drummond, who had been born just a few weeks earlier.

Eight years later, while on furlough in Scotland, Ross married Isabella Macfadyen. They served together in Mukden, the capital city of Manchuria, 120 miles from Newchwang, for nearly thirty years. Of the eight children born to them, four died in infancy.

Ross actively discipled and recruited Chinese converts to help carry out and advance evangelistic and teaching ministries in Manchuria and northern Korea. Such training and utilizing of native Christians to advance Christ’s Kingdom work became one of the hallmarks of Ross’s ministry career. His philosophy of ministry was a key factor in the indigenous churches in Manchuria and northern Korea becoming largely self-directing and self-supporting.

Ross carried out a few itinerations to spread the Gospel and build up new Christians in Korea. He formed a team of Korean believers to assist him in translating the New Testament gospels and epistles into the common Korean dialect. This led to the publication of the first-ever complete Korean New Testament in 1887. Through the powerful work of God’s Spirit, thousands of Koreans came to saving faith in Christ Jesus and numerous Christian congregations were formed.

In addition to his extensive Bible translation endeavors, Ross was a prolific writer of other works throughout his career. His published volumes included language primers on Mandarin Chinese and Korean, as well as books about Chinese and Korean history and religion. He also penned many articles and scholarly papers.

Ross and his fellow missionaries helped guide and care for the Manchurian Christians and churches throughout the tumultuous decade of 1894-1905. Those years saw the region ravaged by two wars involving foreign occupations by Japan and Russia, as well as China’s anti-foreign Boxer Rebellion. In those conflicts countless thousands of Chinese, including numerous indigenous Christians, were attacked, had their property destroyed or were killed. The missionaries, to the full extent of their abilities, provided spiritual and medical care, along with food, clothing and lodging for local residents trying to rebuild their lives and for a flood of refugees. Through those horrific trials the Church in Manchuria was both purified and strengthened. It grew to have 20,000 or more official followers of Jesus Christ.

During the closing several years of his missionary career, Ross primarily devoted himself to establishing a theological college in Mukden, to offer advanced training and education for Chinese Christian leaders, evangelists and Bible women. He served as the theological college’s first and primary full-time instructor.

One interesting feature of this biography is that only about half of it is about John Ross himself. That is because relatively little detail was preserved by Ross or his contemporaries concerning his boyhood, college and seminary years, family, specific ministry events, final decline and death. The author, John Stuart Ross, has done exhaustive research and presents all there is to know from available resource material about his biographical subject. The other half of John Stuart Ross’s extensive volume presents a wealth of information that fills out the historical, cultural, ecclesiastical and political backdrop of John Ross’s life and ministry. The book also introduces the reader to a number of the significant individuals from Scotland, China, Korea and elsewhere whose ministries intersected with Ross’s.

In recommending this overall-fine volume, I do feel compelled to mention one aspect of it which from my perspective is most unfortunate. Chapters 19-20 of the book present a prevailing negative portrayal and analysis of Jonathan Goforth and his role in the revival that took place in Manchuria in 1908. (John Ross was on furlough in Scotland at that time). Because of Goforth’s appreciation for some of Charles Finney’s teachings on revival and some emphases of the Higher Life Movement, he is misrepresented in this book as being suspect, misled and unbiblical in some of his revival perspectives (especially his marked emphasis on the need for repentance as an essential part of revival) as well as in certain other aspects of his theology.

John Ross’s History of Corea

But when one reads the biography Goforth of China and Goforth’s accounts of various God-wrought revivals he had the privilege of playing a part in (“By My Spirit” and When the Spirit’s Fire Swept Korea), the serious accusations leveled against him in the John Ross biography are simply not borne out. Rather than automatically accepting the negative characterizations of Goforth found in the Ross biography, Goforth deserves to be evaluated on the basis of his own beliefs and practices as revealed in the books on his life and ministry just mentioned. The latter provide a balanced, positive perspective on Goforth that has been generally affirmed by evangelical Christians from his day to our own.

Copyright 2023 by Vance E. Christie

Frances Ridley Havergal

We live in a day when more and more people seem increasingly skeptical toward the Christian faith. The positive personal example of Frances Havergal, an eminent nineteenth century English hymnwriter, has a lot to teach us about bearing an effective witness to such skeptics.

Frances Havergal (1836-1879) was a best-selling author of devotional literature, poetry and hymns. She was also a skilled musician who was often asked to sing solos and take a lead in choral ministries. She participated in and promoted a wide range of other ministries including children’s Sunday school and Bible clubs, women’s prayer and ministry groups, meeting the material needs of the underprivileged, community evangelistic meetings, and missionary endeavors.

Frances was an ardent personal evangelist. She actively sought to use her varied ministry opportunities, both public and private, to point people to Christ Jesus.

In April 1872 Frances visited her sister and brother-in-law, Ellen and Giles Shaw, at their country home of Winterdyne near Bewdley, England. One Sunday Frances was unwell so did not attend church with them. When the Shaws returned home from church that day, Giles was surprised to find her at the piano and exclaimed, “Why, Frances, I thought you were upstairs!”

“Yes,” she replied, “but I had my Prayer-Book, and in the psalms for today I read, ‘Tell it out among the heathen that the Lord is King’,” (citing Psalm 96:10). She continued on to explain: “I thought, what a splendid first line! And then words and music came rushing in to me.” Motioning to a sheet of newly-composed lyrics, along with a complete set of melody and harmony lines, she concluded, “There it’s all written out.”

Winterdyne House near Bewdley, England

That song was subsequently published with the title of “Tell It Out!”  Frances often used it to bear witness to others of her Savior and King, Jesus Christ, and to encourage her fellow Christians to do the same.

On one such occasion at a social gathering she visited with a young man who was a strong opponent of religion and denounced it as “all humbug and mere profession.” Rather than being put off by him, Frances later said, “I had no end of fun with him, and got on thoroughly goods terms.”

Then she was asked to sing for the gathered guests. She afterward reported of her musical witness and its effect on the young skeptic:

Frances Ridley Havergal

“I prayed the whole time I was singing and felt God very near and helping me. After a Handel song or two which greatly delighted him, I sang ‘Tell It Out!’ I felt the glorious truth that He is King, and couldn’t help breaking off in the very middle and saying so, right out! Then I sang, ‘Whom having not seen, ye love,’ and felt as if I could sing out all the love of my heart in it.”

“Well, this young infidel, who had seemed extremely surprised and subdued by ‘Tell It Out!’, completely broke down, and went away to hide his tears in a bay window. And afterwards we sat down together, and he let me ‘tell it out’ as I pleased, and it was not hard to speak of Him of whom I had sung. He seemed altogether struck and subdued, and listened like a child. He said, ‘Well there is faith then. You have it anyway—I saw it when you sang. And I could not stand it, and that’s the fact!’ He was anxious for me to come again.”

May our faith in Jesus Christ and our love for Him similarly be so strong that they will shine through us to others, leading us to readily testify about Him to them. Such a compelling, winsome witness will be used of the Lord to soften even some skeptical hearts and to draw unbelievers to Himself.

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This Perspective is based on information gathered from Janet Grierson’s substantive biography Frances Ridley Havergal, Worcestershire Hymnwriter (The Havergal Society, 1979). Copyright 2023 by Vance E. Christie

William Borden headlines in 1912 Chicago Tribune Newspaper

William Borden (1887-1913) had a privileged upbringing in a wealthy Chicago family. As a young boy he dedicated his life to serving Christ, and at age seventeen determined to pursue a career as a Christian missionary.

In Borden’s freshman year of college at Yale University, his father died, leaving an enormous inheritance of five million dollars (worth at least twenty-five times that amount by today’s standards) to his family. When Borden turned twenty-one years of age during his senior year at Yale, he received his personal inheritance of one million dollars.

Borden’s tremendous wealth did not deflect him in the least from his whole-hearted consecration to Jesus. Instead, he remained wholly devoted to serving Christ and His Kingdom with his time, talents, energy, intellect and treasure.

William Borden

 After graduating from Yale, Borden attended and graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary. During his three years at Princeton, though still only in his early twenties, he served as a Trustee of the Moody Bible Institute and a Director of the National Bible Institute (an evangelistic association that actively ministered to people who had no church affiliation). He also continued to help oversee the Yale Hope Mission ministry which had been established during his college years.

Borden’s service in those responsible positions often required him to be away from Princeton for board meetings and other ministry opportunities in Chicago, New York and New Haven. Despite those demands, he continued to energetically prosecute his seminary studies with distinction, earning the high regard of fellow students and professors alike.

When Borden, at twenty-two years of age, was first approached by D. O. Shelton about the fledgling National Bible Institute ministry, he listened intently to what Shelton had to share, then said quietly: “I want to help you in the work you are doing, and will send you $100 a month for the next year.” That day Borden wrote Shelton an initial check for twice that amount and, in the seven months that followed, continued to send him a check for $200. In eight months Borden gave $1,600 to Shelton’s ministry, equaling at least $40,000 today. Shelton later wrote: “I was learning to know Will Borden, one of whose characteristics was always to do better than promised—more, and not less, than he led you to expect.”

Borden did more than financially support the National Bible Institute and serve on its Board of Directors. He played an active role in the NBI’s summer street preaching meetings that reached thousands. During his senior year at Princeton he taught a weeknight course on the Epistle to the Galatians in the NBI’s School for Christian Workers.

Financially speaking, Borden contributed regularly and generously to the ministries he helped direct and other Christian endeavors he supported. However, he felt led of the Lord not to single-handedly bail out those ministries when they faced tight times, even though he possessed the resources to do so. Rather, he thought it important that together they earnestly seek God’s supply then fervently praise the Lord when He provided.

While Borden gave generously, he did so in the spirit of Matthew 6:3: “But when you give …, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” He always insisted that his identity be kept anonymous in connection with any donations he made. He did not even allow his initials to be used when his donation appeared in a list of donors.

1912 Ford Model T Touring Car

One Sunday evening while in Princeton, Borden invited a friend, C. F. Vale, to walk home with him for dinner. A big touring car passed them as they walked along Stockton Street, and Vale asked, “Why don’t you get a car, Bill? You would never miss the money.”

Borden turned to Vale with a good-natured smile and said, “Get thee behind me, Satan. I settled that long ago. I cannot afford it—when the price of a car will build a hospital in China.”

Borden planned to minister to Muslims in northwest China after completing his seminary training then studying Arabic in Egypt for a year and medicine in London for a year. The standard price for a good, though not extravagant, touring car in Borden’s day was $5,000, a considerable sum back then. Though he was keenly interested in automobiles, he did not think that he could justify buying one when he could instead use the money to build an entire hospital on the mission field.

When the time drew near for Borden to depart for a year of language study in Egypt, he was widely heralded in American newspapers as “The Millionaire Missionary” who intended to give up promising financial and social prospects in his homeland to go serve as a missionary in China. One prominent newspaper quoted Borden as saying: “The rewards of missionary effort are incalculably greater than any rewards that can follow social achievements. I never had any craving to enter society. I prefer the missionary field.”

Kevin Belmonte’s outstanding biography Beacon-Light, The Life of William Borden contains many more uplifting instances of Borden’s generous financial support of various ministries. Belmonte’s work also details the noble and touching events that took place at the close of Borden’s life before it seemingly (from our limited human perspective) ended much too soon.

Following his death, newspapers and other publications across the U.S. and in different parts of the world announced Borden’s passing and the plans he had made for the distribution of his inheritance. Borden left only keepsake gifts for his family members whom, it will be remembered, had been abundantly provided for themselves through four million dollars from his father’s estate (not including the one-million-dollar inheritance William himself had received). Of the remainder of his own inheritance which he possessed at the end of his life, Borden left the entirety of it to Christian religious and missionary work.

William Borden’s gravesite in Cairo, Egypt

The amounts he bequeathed to different ministries (with their equivalent worth today indicated in parentheses) were: The Moody Church and Moody Bible Institute, each $100,000 ($2,500,000 each); the National Bible Institute, $100,000 ($2,500,000); China Inland Mission, $250,000 ($6,250,000); the various departments of Presbyterian foreign missions, $150,000 ($3,750,000); Princeton Theological Seminary, $50,000 ($1,250,000); Chicago Hebrew Mission, $50,000 ($1,250,000); the Chicago Tract Society and the American Bible Society, each $25,000 ($625,000 each); African Inland Mission and the Nile Mission Press in Cairo, Egypt, each $25,000 ($625,000 each). Those bequests would total some $22,500,000 today.

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The contents of this article were gleaned from Kevin Belmonte’s fine biography Beacon-Light: The Life of William Borden (Christian Focus Publications, 2021). In case you missed them earlier, you may also be interested to read two other Perspectives I wrote on Borden: “William Borden’s Boyhood of Material Privilege and Spiritual Development” and “William Borden’s Impactful College Years for Christ.”

Copyright 2023 by Vance E. Christie

William Borden

William Borden’s example during his years as a student at Yale University (1905-1909) serves as a reminder that a young person whose life is fully dedicated to Christ Jesus can have a tremendous spiritual impact on others. May many consecrated Christian teens and young adults be encouraged in their own spiritual life and service by Borden’s outstanding example.

Borden’s years at Yale were active and well-rounded. As a sports enthusiast, he participated in football, baseball, wrestling, crew (rowing), and track. He excelled academically and as a senior was elected as president of Yale’s Phi Beta Kappa academic honor society. As an elected Class Deacon he was responsible for helping to encourage the spiritual wellbeing and service opportunities of his fellow classmen. His final year at Yale he was also a member of the Senior [Student Government] Council and served on the committee that produced the Class Book of the graduating class.

Borden was seventeen years old when he entered Yale as a freshman. One of his classmates wrote of him: “I first met Bill Borden in the fall of 1905, at the beginning of my freshman year in Yale. What struck me then and during my entire acquaintance with him, was the amazing maturity of his character. Though almost a year older than he was, I felt that in character, self-control, and measure of purpose, he was many years my senior. In many ways, I should say, he was the most mature man of his class.

“I do not mean to imply that he was ‘oldmannish’ in the least. He had a keen sense of humor, could let out a most uproarious war whoop of a laugh, and was a famous ‘rough-houser’.”

Another classmate of Borden’s testified of him: “He served on the committee in charge of the religious work of our class, and soon stamped himself as a leader in the Christian activities of the college. In spite of his younger age, he was far more mature in faith than many considerably older. His grasp of the essentials of faith was, even at this time, firm and assured.

“He had already decided to become a foreign missionary. A fixed purpose of this sort gives a man a great singleness of aim that steadies not only himself, but those he meets; and Bill’s character had a solidity about it, directly traceable to his surrender to Christ for a life of service. Interested as he was in football and many other activities, Bill let it be known that his heart was first in the service of the Savior, ever watching for opportunities for spreading the faith he believed so firmly himself.”

Shortly after arriving at Yale, Borden became involved with the university’s chapter of the Young Men’s Christian Association. At that time Yale’s YMCA enjoyed great importance and effectiveness on campus, promoting a high standard of scholarship and Christian endeavor. Often hundreds gathered for its Sunday evening services.

Dwight Hall where YMCA met at Yale 1905

But many students did not attend the YMCA meetings, and Borden became burdened to reach them as well. As the first school term progressed, he and a likeminded friend began meeting each morning for prayer before going to breakfast. Soon two other students joined them.

One related: “The time was spent in prayer, after a brief reading of Scripture. Our object was to pray for the religious work of the class and college and also for those of our friends we were seeking to bring to Christ.

“I remember so well the stimulus Bill gave us in those meetings. His handling of Scripture was always helpful. From the very beginning of the years I knew him he would read to us from the Bible, show us something that God had promised, and then proceed to claim the promise with assurance.”

That freshman prayer group continued to grow and needed to divide into two groups during their sophomore year. It was further reported: “By the end of that year, there were similar groups in each of the classes. It was not passed down from the seniors to the juniors; it came up from the freshmen to the seniors. And very real blessing was given in answer to our prayers – quite a number were converted.”

William Borden (2nd from right) and Fellow Students

Borden was also instrumental in the establishment of student-led Bible study groups.  Beginning with the Gospel of John, they discussed one chapter of Scripture per meeting. The purpose of these groups was not only to build up believers in their Christian faith but also to point non-Christian students to the Savior. In time around 1,000 students were participating in the groups.

Borden’s father died in the spring of his freshman year, leaving an enormous fortune to him. Receiving this inheritance did not alter young Borden’s personal devotion to Jesus or his determination to serve Him with his life. Instead, in the years that followed, he began to use his wealth to support Christ’s Kingdom work in a number of substantial ways.

William Borden at Yale Hope Mission

An early instance of that occurred during Borden’s sophomore year. On his nineteenth birthday – November 1, 1906 – he was approached by John Magee, the graduate Secretary of the YMCA. Magee had a vision for the founding of a Gospel Rescue Mission to minister to the spiritual and material needs of the considerable number of alcoholics, vagrants and ex-prisoners to be found in New Haven, Connecticut, the city in which Yale was located. The mission could minister to those needy individuals, while at the same time having a positive influence on the college community by providing a witness to the living, saving power of Christ to transform lives.

Borden immediately came to share Magee’s desire to see such a ministry established. When it was decided to proceed in doing so, Borden promptly donated $20,000 to singlehandedly purchase outright the Hotel Martin, a four-story building with twenty-eight rooms to be used as the Yale Hope Mission. (Some have estimated that $20,000 in 1907 would be worth $500,000 today.) The Hotel Martin directly adjoined the congregation room of the mission, where nightly preaching services were held.

The stated purposes of the mission were to provide food and lodging for the destitute men who came to the meetings, as well as a place where a man could stay and receive the moral support he needed until he could find employment and get back on his feet. The mission also had a well-outfitted workshop where men could work in upholstering and repairing furniture. Men were also sent out to do odd jobs in the community until they could find permanent employment.

Yale Hope Mission

By a conservative estimate some 10,000 people were helped at Yale Hope Mission each year. In 1909, the year Borden graduated from Yale: about 12,000 men heard the Gospel preached at the mission; 846 “made an open confession of sin by coming forward to prayer”; 3,848 were “sheltered and fed”; much clothing was given to the needy; employment was found “for a number who are today earning an honest living.”  Yale Hope Mission continued to operate for at least four decades after it was established.

In addition to financially supporting the founding of the mission in a major way, Borden was actively involved in the carrying out of its ministry. He regularly took part in helping to conduct the Gospel services that were held at the mission. A foreign visitor at Yale said that what had impressed him the most during his time in New Haven was seeing “William, this wealthy undergraduate, with his arm around a ‘down-and-outer,’ kneeling with him as he sought forgiveness and prayed the prayer of the publican: ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner’.”

Many other Yale students participated in the mission’s ministry as well. Some of them traced their initial call to vocational Christian ministry back to their service at Yale Hope Mission.

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The contents of this article were gleaned from Kevin Belmonte’s outstanding biography on Borden entitled Beacon-Light: The Life of William Borden (Christian Focus Publications, 2021). Belmonte’s work presents a detailed and attractive account of Borden’s life as well as his Christian service and influence.

Copyright 2023 by Vance E. Christie

William Borden

William Borden (1887-1913) is unknown to most Christians today. But his untimely death at age twenty-five, before he could reach the mission field to which he had been preparing to go for eight years, was mourned by believers in several parts of the world when it occurred. In his short lifetime he blessed many by his inspiring, consecrated service of the Lord Jesus and did much to help advance Christ’s Kingdom work at home and abroad.

Kevin Belmonte has written an outstanding biography on Borden entitled Beacon-Light: The Life of William Borden (Christian Focus Publications, 2021). It presents a detailed and attractive account of Borden’s service and influence.

Here is the first of two or three feature articles I’d like to share about Borden, and which are summarized from Belmonte’s fine work. This first Perspective focuses on the important spiritual developments that took place in Borden’s boyhood years. They remind us to be mindful and encouraging of similar spiritual developments in the lives of our own children and other young people during their growing-up years.  

William Borden's boyhood home, Chicago
William Borden’s boyhood home, Chicago

William Borden was born into a wealthy family in Chicago, Illinois. He was not connected with the well-to-do family that produced Borden milk. Rather, his paternal grandfather became rich through investments he made in Chicago real estate after the Great Fire of 1871. William’s father was a successful attorney. The Bordens lived in an elaborate four-story castle-like house made of sizeable stone blocks and featuring prominent turrets and many large windows. It was one of the premiere homes in Chicago at the time.

William was the fourth of his parents’ five children. His father, after whom he was named, possessed a sterling character, a brilliant mind and “wonderful business capacity.” The senior William was a great reader and devoted much time to his children by helping them with their school lessons, playing after-dinner games with them and taking them on interesting outings.

R. A. Torrey

William’s mother Mary was likewise deeply devoted to her children.  It appears that hers was the strongest spiritual influence on young William. When he was around seven years old, she experienced a conversion to evangelical Christianity that brought her deep and abiding peace with God. She transferred her church membership to the Chicago Avenue Church, which had been founded by Dwight Moody and was now pastored by another prominent evangelist, Dr. R. A. Torrey. Mary began taking her children to that church with her.

William heard many sermons at the church about Jesus Christ’s love and death on the cross to redeem people from sin. One Sunday about a year after Mary and her children started attending the church, Dr. Torrey began to lead the congregation in a communion service. “Is it not time that you were thinking about this yourself, William?” Mrs. Borden whispered to her son.

The youngster surprised her by replying, “I have been.” He then participated in the communion service by partaking of the bread and the cup when they were distributed to the congregants.

The following day Torrey himself met with William to determine his level of understanding about the sacred ceremony in which he had taken part. It became clear that William understood that the bread and cup represented Christ’s body and blood sacrificed on the cross, and that he trusted in Jesus as his Savior from sin and its judgment.

Around that same time Torrey gave an invitation at the close of a Sunday service, in which he invited all who wished to dedicate their lives to the service of God to indicate their intention to do so by standing for prayer. Torrey urged them to take “a step of life-consecration,” thus affirming their wish to serve Christ and always follow the ways of Christian faith.

Again Mrs. Borden was surprised when eight-year-old William silently stood, and remained standing for several long moments until the invitation was concluded. She always treasured the sight of her young son standing to make that commitment. And though only a young boy at the time, William went on to fulfill that commitment in the years of his life to follow.

The Hill School, Pottstown, Pennsylvania

William received his early education at three of the finest schools in Chicago. Then at age fourteen he was enrolled at The Hill School, an elite college prep boys’ school in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. In addition to carrying out his demanding studies, William participated in football, debate team and meetings of the Young Men’s Christian Association. At graduation he ranked fourth in his class of forty-eight boys, being at age sixteen the youngest student in his class.

His parents then sent him on a year-long world tour to broaden his education. He was chaperoned throughout the trip by Walter Erdman, a scholarly graduate of both Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary. Erdman, ten years older than Borden, also possessed a “fine Christian character” and was “full of humor.”

Throughout the year they visited some of the world’s most notable sites in terms of natural beauty and historic significance. In addition, in a number of different places William met dedicated Christian missionaries and witnessed their fruitful work. His interaction with those earnest servants of Christ began to have a significant impact on his thinking.

Two days after his seventeenth birthday he wrote his mother from Kyoto, Japan: “I think this trip is going to be a great help in showing things to me in a new light. I met such pleasant young people on the steamer who were going out as missionaries, and meeting them influenced me. Walt [Erdman] has so many friends here, whom we meet in nearly every city, that I have seen a great deal of the [missionary] work that is being done. Talking with them, we learn of the work and the opportunities … so that I realize things as I never did before.”

“I look ahead, [and] it seems as though the only thing to do is to prepare for the foreign field. Of course, [I’ll need] a college course, [and] perhaps some medical study, and certainly Bible study—at Moody Institute perhaps.”

William and Mary Borden intended their son’s world tour to further his education. God also providentially used the tour as His missionary call in William’s life, a divine calling that Borden actively and faithfully pursued to the end of his abbreviated earthly journey. Copyright 2022 by Vance E. Christie

I am delighted to share with you the title and book cover that have been decided upon for my comprehensive David Livingstone biography. That volume is slated to be published by Christian Focus Publications sometime next year, 2023.

The book’s title is David Livingstone: Missionary, Explorer, Abolitionist. That title succinctly indicates the primary subject of the biography – Livingstone, the eminent nineteenth-century Scottish ambassador for Christ to Africa – as well as the three key aspects of his career and service carried out there. Livingstone always viewed himself fundamentally as a Christian missionary, even when carrying out other major responsibilities that did not always seem explicitly missions-related. Among those other significant emphases were conducting extensive explorations of south-central and south-eastern Africa, and sounding the alarm concerning the horrors of the Portuguese and Arab slave trades taking place in that portion of the continent. Those tireless efforts, in turn, prepared the way for slavery to be abolished and Christian missionaries to enter that vast region of Africa in the years immediately following Livingstone’s death.

I think Christian Focus Publication’s intended cover for the book is splendid! It is attractive, striking and fitting. The portrait of Livingstone (part of a fuller oil painting of him produced by Frederick Havill in the late 1800s) depicts his earnest, resolute spirit. The map is of a system of lakes and rivers that Livingstone discovered and explored in the closing years of his life while seeking to determine the headwaters of the Nile. The painting below the book’s title is of the scenic, dramatic Victoria Falls, which is commonly considered the greatest of Livingstone’s geological discoveries.

My entire Livingstone manuscript has already been taken through its initial editing process by the publisher. Other production aspects of the book are also underway at Christian Focus. In the coming months leading up to the book’s publication, I plan to share periodic additional features to spark further interest in this remarkable man and his extraordinary life and accomplishments.

Copyright 2022 by Vance E. Christie

Sometimes God’s sovereign will seems inscrutable, especially when it involves His allowing overwhelming trial or crushing disappointment. Or when He permits the thwarting of what consecrated Christians had become thoroughly convinced was in keeping with His plan and would bring great glory to Him.

Elisabeth Elliot (1926-2015), a prominent American missionary, writer and speaker, as well as one of the most influential Christian women in the second half of the twentieth century, experienced God’s imponderable sovereign will more than once in her life and ministry. To follow is an account of an early occasion when that happened to her. It has some important lessons to teach us about responding properly to God’s will in the midst of our own distressing, perplexing circumstances of life.

In 1952 Elisabeth went to Ecuador as a single missionary. There she joined three other single lady missionaries in seeking to minister to the Colorado Indians from a ministry base in San Miguel. The Colorado Indians lived nearby in the jungles of Ecuador’s western rainforest.

Elisabeth (Howard) Elliot saiIling to Ecuador, 1952
Elisabeth (Howard) Elliot sailing to Ecuador, 1952

Elisabeth, a trained linguist, had as her primary objective there to render the Colorado language into written form. She needed to hire a Colorado Indian language “informant” who could patiently work with her in learning the vocabulary and phonetics of their native tongue. But none of the Indians she met had any interest in doing so. They were proud, independent and a bit disdainful of the white women’s presence in their world.

Colorado Indians of Ecuador

Elisabeth, however, was confident that God would answer her prayers and grant her success in learning the Colorado language, harnessing it into an alphabet, and teaching the Indians to read and write in their own tongue. They would then be able to read the Bible for themselves, thus facilitating their coming to saving faith in Christ and their subsequent Christian growth and service. Great glory would be brought to God.

The Lord provided an even better informant than Elisabeth could have imagined in an Ecuadorian named Don Macario. He had grown up on a hacienda with Colorado children, and was completely bilingual in Spanish and Colorado. He was a Christian and was willing to work with Betty for what she could afford to pay him.

Colorado Indians of Ecuador

The Colorado Indians called their own language Tsahfihki, “the language of the people.” Macario taught Elisabeth Tsahfihki vocabulary, vowel pronunciations, inflections, parts of speech and sentence structure. She created detailed notecards and charts as well as orthography (spelling) lists, using phonetic symbols that represented Tsahfihki sounds. For several months the language work progressed well.

Then suddenly, tragically Don Macario was murdered! He had been clearing brush on a piece of property when a group of men showed up, claiming the land belonged to one of them. When Macario insisted the property was his, one of the men pulled out a gun and shot him in the head several times at point-blank range.

Elisabeth heard the gunshots that ended Macario’s life. Later that same day she witnessed the autopsy that was performed to remove bullet fragments from his skull, fragments that would be used in prosecuting the perpetrator of the murder. Since Macario had no family nearby, the small Christian community in San Miguel held a wake throughout that night then buried his body the next morning.

Elisabeth wrote her parents that the day Macario was killed had been the most nightmarish day of her life. Elisabeth’s biographer Ellen Vaughn states: “She could not quite grasp the sudden horror of her friend’s death, the rank injustice of it, and what his loss meant for the Colorado translation of the Bible.”

Language Study

Eventually Elisabeth was able to continue her Colorado language work in the early months of 1953 with the help of Samuel, the brother of the chief of the Colorado tribe. She completed a phonemic alphabet of Tsahfihki.

By then Elisabeth had become engaged to Jim Elliot, and anticipated their wedding and joining him in ministering to Quichua Indians in eastern Ecuador later that same year. Early in the summer she moved to a mission station at Dos Rios in the eastern jungle to study the Quichua language.

Elisabeth Elliot studying in a hammock

Before leaving San Miguel, Elisabeth carefully packed all her linguistic papers, notecards and charts into a suitcase, so the material would be readily available to others all in one place. Her fellow missionaries at San Miguel often consulted the materials and began to make a bit of progress in the Colorado language. In time other Christian linguists could build on Elisabeth’s initial research materials to translate the New Testament into Tsahfihki.

But some time after moving to Dos Rios, Elisabeth received a shocking letter from her former colleagues in San Miguel. It informed her that some of their luggage, including Elisabeth’s suitcase containing all her linguistic papers, charts and notes of the Colorado Indian language, had been stolen while being transported by truck. No copies had been made of any of those language materials. Everything she had done in nine months of diligent linguistic work at San Miguel was gone.

Again Elisabeth was stunned by this development and could not comprehend why God had sovereignly permitted it. And there would be other occasions in the future when she would experience stunning, tragic loss that defied comprehension and simplistic explanation.

However, in time Elisabeth reached a number of solid conclusions about such incomprehensible developments: (1) Sometimes God’s sovereign will is inscrutable and defies easy explanation. Our “why?” questions may not be satisfactorily answered for a very long time, or perhaps not ever in this life, although they doubtless will be in eternity. (2) Such situations provide Christians with the opportunity to continue trusting and obeying God even in the face of incomprehensible, painful developments and stubbornly-persistent questions about them. (3) When believers choose to respond in these commendable ways, “God gives Himself”—that is, He grants the opportunity to experience and know Him more fully in the midst of such overwhelming, perplexing circumstances.

Other positive purposes and results of these kinds of experiences are also rightly mentioned. God uses them: to forge a more Christlike character in us as His children; to deepen our dependence upon Him; to use us as a powerful positive testimony to others; sometimes to prepare us for even greater challenges to be faced in the future.

An uplifting postscript to this difficult learning episode in Elisabeth’s life and ministry is related by Ellen Vaughn. It reminds us that another important aspect of God’s inscrutable sovereign will is that sometimes He does grant the blessings His people originally sought—only in His time and ways. Ms. Vaughn writes:

“More than forty years later, Betty [Elisabeth] visited her dear old friend Doreen [one of the lady missionaries at San Miguel] and her Ecuadorian husband, Abdon. Doreen and Abdon were still faithfully working with the Colorados. Some had become dedicated believers and were part of a small church. The New Testament had been translated into the Colorado language by Bruce Moore and his wife, Joyce, translators with the Summer Institute of Linguistics. Bruce and Joyce had helped to disciple Colorado leaders within the church, including a former hostile witch doctor who decided to follow Jesus, with no small ripple effect in the rest of the community.”

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This Perspective article is gleaned from Ellen Vaughn’s outstanding biography of the first thirty-six years of Elisabeth’s life, Becoming Elisabeth Elliot (B&H Publishing, 2020). If you haven’t already done so, you may be interested in reading my October 26, 2022 blog “A Highly-Recommended Elisabeth Elliot Biography,” which provides a review of that book.

Copyright 2022 by Vance E. Christie

Review by Vance Christie

This past summer I read Ellen Vaughn’s outstanding biography Becoming Elisabeth Elliot and would like to heartily recommend it.

Elisabeth Elliot (1926-2015) was one of the most influential Christian women in the second half of the twentieth century. She was well known as the author of Through Gates of Splendor, which chronicled the short ministry careers and martyrdom of five missionaries (including her husband Jim Elliot) at the hands of Waodani Indians in Ecuador early in 1956. After Jim’s death Elisabeth carried out further ministry to the Waodani, wrote a number of other best-selling books, was a popular Christian conference speaker and had a widely-broadcast daily Christian radio program.

Elisabeth Elliot with two Waodani women

Elisabeth was a rather private person who did not share a great deal about much of her own life and ministry. During her lifetime she declined a number of requests to write her autobiography or to have a thorough biography of her life published. As a result, for several decades unnumbered thousands of people who greatly appreciated and admired her significant spiritual insights and ministries were disappointed not to be able to learn more about her.

Happily, the first of a comprehensive, two-volume biography of her life and ministry has now been published in Ellen Vaughn’s book Becoming Elisabeth Elliot. The front dustcover of this first volume promotes it as “The Authorized Biography”of “Elisabeth’s Early Years.” Published by B&H Publishing in 2020, this work relates the first thirty-six years of Elisabeth’s life, beginning with her birth on December 21, 1926, in Brussels, Belgium, where her parents then served as missionaries. It ends with her return to the United States in June 1963, after eleven years of her own missionary service in Ecuador.

Jim and Elisabeth Elliot

Some of the many highlights of this book include: Elisabeth’s formative upbringing in her parents’ consecrated Christian home and at the Christian boarding school she attended as a teen; her years at Wheaton College where she was called of God to serve as a missionary and entered a romantic relationship with her future husband Jim; her four patience-trying years in various ministries after college before she was able to go as a missionary to Ecuador; her ministry trials among the Colorado Indians of Ecuador; her joys and concerns of marriage, motherhood and ministry to Quichua Indians with Jim; a detailed account of the events leading up to and immediately following the martyrdom of the five missionaries by the Waodani; Elisabeth’s seven subsequent years of ministry to the Quichua and Waodani Indians in Ecuador.

Ellen Vaughn has provided an honest and realistic rather than idealized and artificial account of these early decades of Elisabeth’s life. Elisabeth is certainly not portrayed as a perfect saint who had no faults of her own and who never had any doubts or struggles through the various trials and perplexities of her life. Rather, her personal shortcomings, relational struggles, unanswered questions, frustrations, disappointments, misgivings and the like are candidly shared, often in Elisabeth’s own words through citations from her personal journals.

Elisabeth Elliot with her daughter Valerie

But through the marked challenges, trials and tragedies that Elisabeth experienced, she remained strong and steadfast in her Christian consecration. Her trust in God and His Word in the midst of life’s sometimes-overwhelming problems and perplexities never wavered. Even in the most trying circumstances, her perspectives and conduct were uniformly spiritual, or at least sought to be so.

It seems important to bear in mind that in this book we do not have Elisabeth’s final, fully-matured outlook on all subjects. This volume ends with Elisabeth still processing some extremely challenging issues and experiences. Ellen Vaughn acknowledges this when she reveals (page 232): “Many years later, when Betty [Elisabeth] read journals from her youth, she sometimes cringed. Perhaps the ‘honest inquiry’ of her younger years seemed merely immature, or overly dramatic to the older, seasoned Betty. Perhaps she no longer asked such questions.”

If you have not already done so, I think you would find it enlightening and spiritually beneficial to read Becoming Elisabeth Elliot.  And we will look forward to learning much more about the final five decades of Elisabeth’s life (as well as to reading her fully-developed perspectives on various issues) in the second of Ellen Vaughn’s two-volume biography.

Copyright 2022 by Vance E. Christie