I was very interested to read Katherine Hu’s ’21 piece, “Race and Christianity,” in the Sept. 19 News. It seems we both grew up hearing sermons preached in Asian languages — she in Chinese, here in the U.S., and I in Japan, where I grew up as an M.K. (missionary kid). My parents followed the call to reach those “from every nation,” per verse from Revelations that Hu quoted. Among other endeavors, my father started several churches and translated books into Japanese and English, while my mother started one of the first kindergartens for hearing-impaired children in northern Japan. When they returned to the States 20 years later, he worked for Wycliffe Bible Translators as she headed an international prison reform organization that worked to improve prison conditions in South America and Southeast Asia.
I have seen firsthand the good works that Christian missionaries have accomplished in my parents’ generation and read about the good works of Christians in generations past, including William Borden, class of 1909, who started the Yale Hope Mission, an outreach program for alcoholics and marginalized New Haven residents. Following graduation, Borden studied Arabic at Princeton Theological Seminary in preparation for a mission to the Muslims of Gansu province in China, but died in Cairo while completing his language studies. I have also read of the harm missionaries and other Westerners caused. However, my conclusion is that those accounts receive disproportionate focus, nearly obscuring, for example, Christianity’s support and encouragement of many aspects of indigenous culture, especially languages. That should not be the case here at Yale, considering that the acknowledged expert on the positive effects of World Christianity, teaches at both Yale Divinity School and the University. Lamin Sanneh, the D. Willis James Professor of Missions and World Christianity at the Divinity School and Professor of History at Yale, highlights the effects of translation begun by previous generations of missionaries. This has led to literacy and social change, enabling groups of people in Africa, and elsewhere, to break the West’s monopoly on Christianity.
A history teacher by profession, I always tell my students that history cannot be contained in one textbook, not even, to use Hu’s analogy, in an “attic” full of books. History is happening now, all around us, and if you confine your attention to any one selection of sources, you will be left behind.
But if you are looking for insight into the good works of Christian missionaries and how they are reflected in the world of Christianity today, you need not take this M.K.’s word for it – I encourage you to read Sanneh’s books for yourself.
Angela Grant, DIV ’20
Contact her at email@example.com .