All such persons as now are, or may hereafter become members of the American Baptist Home Mission Society, formed in the city of New York, in the year one thousand eight hundred and thirty- two, shall be, and hereby are constituted a body corporate, by the name of the American Baptist Home Mission Society, for the purpose of promoting the preaching of the Gospel in North America.
These were the opening words of the charter that founded the American Baptist Home Mission Society. During the early 1800s, America began to see a major expansion into the West. Cities began to grow up overnight. Thousands began to make the long exodus to the new frontier. The massive, sudden growth of the west began to concern many of the Baptist. What would happen to these new cities if they were started without any churches or Biblical teaching?
Several Baptist were already working to make a difference. John Peck, after hearing Luther Rice preach at a meeting, invited Rice to his home, where the two men spoke late into the night. That night, Peck dedicated his life to Foreign Mission work. But just a few weeks later, Rice sent Peck a letter, urging him to look to Western plains of his own land, which threatened to become as heathen as any foreign nation is men didn’t act soon. Peck agreed and soon headed to Saint Louis to start the first Baptist churches there. In his diary, he wrote:
I have now put my hand to the plow. Oh Lord, may I never turn back, never regret this step. It is my desire to live, to labor, to die as a kind of pioneer in advancing the gospel. I feel the most heavenly joy when my heart is engaged in this work.
Isaac McCoy was another early Baptist pioneer in the west, working among the settlers and Indians of Michigan and Missouri. These men, along with a few others, worked tirelessly to spread the Gospel among the rapidly growing population. But it proved too great a task for so few men. They needed help! Peck wrote to Baptist churches along the Eastern United States, urging for action to be taken. In one of his letters, he predicated that although the population of Missouri and Illinois was only 400,000 at the time, in fifty years, it would be over 3,000,000 (In fact, it was almost five million when the census was taken). All Peck could see was millions dying without every hearing of Christ if the Baptist Churches didn’t act soon.
Peck returned east for nine months to promote the need of his field. While traveling through Massachusetts, he meets Jonathan Going, a very influential Baptist minister who was well educated and had pastored several churches in New England. Going joined the cause for West and became a powerful force in creating the Society. Along with several other influential minister friends, Going petitioned to extend the Baptist General Meeting on Foreign Missions to include a meeting on the need for work among the Western frontier. The petition was gladly accepted and during the meeting, the Baptist churches agreed to join together to form the American Baptist Home Mission Society, with the purpose “to preach the Gospel, establish churches and give support and ministry to the unchurched and destitute.”
Susan was born in Cork, Ireland, where she was baptized into the Church of Ireland as a baby. But as a young lady, she attended a small gathering of believers, where she heard the true Gospel for the first time and accepted Christ. Soon, she decided to give her life to serve as a foreign missionary in the Congo. She went to study at Harley College in London, where she met a man named Harry Strachan, who was also preparing to serve in the Congo. However, when the two young people separately went before their board for review, they were both rejected for work in the Congo due to medical issues.
Susan was instead appointed to work in Argentina after finishing her studies. A year later, Harry also arrived in Argentina to work as a missionary. Reunited, the two friends were married. But before the marriage, Susan, having realized that she had never been baptized according to the scriptures, was baptized.
After the wedding, the couple was sent to Tandil, where they worked for the next fifteen years. While working in Tandil, the Strachan began to realize that their job was to reach more than their city. They needed to reach the entire continent! This soon became their ministry focus and consuming desire.
When their mission board in England refused to work with the Strachan in their new goal, they resigned and formed the Latin America Mission, which had the goal of reaching all of Latin America with the Gospel. Together, this couple used their new organization as a tool to reach the vast number living within Latin America. Their work continues until today. Over 200 missionaries work with LAM, and they have started seminaries, a hospitals, camps, schools, radio stations, a publishing house, and Christian bookstores. But the most important legacy that the Strachan’s left behind to their board was how to do the work. There were five major principles that they lived by and that they taught their missionaries to live by. The following principles is taken from a book written by Dayton Roberts, a missionary with LAM:
1. Identification with the culture and the people. Harry and Susan showed a deep sense of identification with the Latin American people and culture. The local newspaper was as important to them as their morning coffee, and they followed local politics avidly. They embraced local customs and concerns with genuine involvement and appreciation.
2. The priority of evangelization. The mission was born in the heyday of Protestant liberalism in America. The mainline thrust of evangelistic mission had peaked at about the turn of the century, and the early decades of the 1900s were characterized by events such as the 1910 conference in Edinburgh, which described Latin America as already Christianized, a 1914 consultation in Cincinnati that gave rise to a comity agreement that restricted evangelistic outreach in Latin America, and another conference in Panama in 1916 that gave birth to the liberal Committee on Cooperation in Latin America. The climax of this wave of Protestant liberalism came with the publication in 1932 of Re-thinking Missions: A Laymen’s Inquiry, edited by W.E. Hocking, criticizing evangelistic mission and seeking a more tolerant, nonproselyting objective for the Christian church overseas. These factors undoubtedly sharpened the Strachans’ sense of the priority of evangelization, but it was something they were already committed to, and it brooked no discussion. Kenneth emphasized the evangelistic campaign ministry after his father’s death by initiating the Evangelism-in-Depth movement, thereby giving maximum expression to his parents’ priorities.
3. Compassionate response to human need. Nothing illustrates this quality better than the reaction of the Strachans to the miserable street urchins they encountered in San Jose. Ragged, dirty, and sickly, the street children begged, occasionally worked at selling newspapers or shining shoes, and more frequently resorted to theft and violence to secure a living. Susan wanted to do something about it immediately. Harry reminded her – and she agreed with him – that God had led them to Costa Rica to start a ministry of campaign evangelism, and until the Lord should lead them explicitly in other directions, they must not allow themselves to get diverted from this purpose.
4. Willingness to break new ground. “Is there a better way of doing it?” This is a question Harry asked himself frequently. He was certainly quick to experiment with different methods and venues, traveling local trains back and forth to give out tracts and a word of witness and converting a horse-drawn coach into a bookmobile.
5. Personal passion for Christ. The ultimate goal in life for Harry and Susan was to love, obey, and exhibit the person and gospel message of their Lord. In the long run, nothing else mattered.
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