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  • Eric Rutherford

Missionary Biographies - The Need for Hero Stories

Updated: Aug 5, 2020

We need hero stories. We may not think we want heroes, but as we read and watch stories about them, we are motivated to do more, live better, and show courage. It is hard to look past the success of the Marvel Universe these last 10+ years and not think hero stories tap into some deep part of our minds. I think back to my childhood, emulating what I saw and heard as characters – some historical, some fictional – played out before me. As an adult, I still do this. Biography and history books take up several bookshelves in my home. Among them are several books on World War II ranging from Winston Churchill biographies to his six-volume account of the war. I find the stories of the war and the people who lived it motivating, challenging, and humbling.

When I was in college, I would stop by my grandparents’ house once a week for breakfast. Over the course of those years, my grandfather sometimes shared stories about his experience in the South Pacific campaign during WWII. I remember him telling me how at 19, he joined the Navy, left a small farming town in Indiana, and hopped on a train for San Diego. From San Diego, he traveled to Honolulu, Sydney, New Caledonia and other parts of the South Pacific.

He told me how in boot camp, the instructors asked them all to line up at the side of a pool and swim across. He and a bunch of other guys swam across the pool, racing each other to the far side. Afterward, everybody who showed they could swim spent time learning how to march while the others learned how to swim. He laughed and said he would not have tried so hard during that swim test had he known the result for going slow would have been swim instruction and no marching,

Other stories he told were not so light. He shared about riding out typhoons on the ship when 35-foot waves were battering it near Okinawa and the men were just trying to keep it afloat. He told me how he quit looking at his food when he ate because they could not keep the insects out of the biscuit dough. He told me how good the milk tasted (real milk, not powdered) after his ship limped back to Honolulu for repairs after the refrigeration had been damaged by Japanese planes. Only once did he speak about when the kamikazes came at the end of the war. I listened intently as he spoke – I will not share the details here – and I saw a tear slide down his cheek. It was the only time I ever saw him tear up about anything.

I often wonder whether I could have done what he and countless others have done throughout history over thousands of years. I tell you this not to promote war or patriotism, but to show how history and stories about real people experiencing serious challenges can have a huge impact on us and motivate us to live differently.

Biblical Hero Stories

Each year, as I teach a sixth grade class at our church, I make it a point to read Hebrews 11 aloud to the students because I want them to hear and understand the faith of the people listed there. I get choked up each time I read it aloud because part of me longs to have the faith that those people demonstrated and to live faithfully like they did.

This is one of the many reasons that missionary biographies are so helpful and necessary. Missionary biographies remind us that people have read Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations and then through the power of the Holy Spirit, acted upon what they knew from Scripture. Reading these books, especially reading them with our children, makes us aware of the vast darkness in the world and the great void of Christ throughout much of the globe.

While reading them, we must remember that missionary life is not all excitement, and if you talk with missionaries in the field, they will be happy to regale you with the same mundane challenges that you and I face each day, from how to get groceries to teaching our children to simply getting along with believers around them. They are not super-spiritual and they are not perfect, but they have been faithful to obey the call of Christ on their lives.

Suggestions for Reading

If you are looking for a biography to read, here are a few that I would recommend:

George Mueller: Delighted in God by Roger Steer

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

Ten Who Changed the World by Daniel Akin (this provides shorter mini-biographies of ten missionaries)

I would also encourage you to check out YWAM publishing. They have produced dozens of biographies of missionaries written for children ages 9 to 12 and 13 and up. The links below will take you to their site.

I have read three and would recommend each of them:

Amy Carmichael: Rescuer of Precious Gems by Janet and Geoff Benge

Gladys Aylward: The Adventure of a Lifetime by Janet and Geoff Benge

William Carey: Obliged to Go by Janet and Geoff Benge

Histories and biographies are helpful in general, but of even greater urgency, we need to be reminded and inspired to live lives that stretch us in our walk with Christ. Missionary biographies (true hero stories) lend themselves to this endeavor. Broaden your families’ view of God’s world by going on a journey with a missionary!

(Any book with a link may contain an affiliate link. I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you, but I only recommend books and resources I would use.)

P.S. Check out my new book Leading Well at Home: How Husbands and Fathers Can Biblically Lead Their Families. You can find it in our store at

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