Monday, October 24, 2011
In the early 1800s there wasn't a single foreign missions board in the United States. American foreign missions began in an unlikely place...a haystack.
The Second Great Awakening reached Williamson, Massachusetts in 1805. Williams College was twelve years old when the awakening occurred.
Samuel Mills was the son of a Congregational minister. He joined the freshman class of Williams College in the spring of 1806. Mills had a dynamic passion to spread the gospel around the world. Mills became the leader of a group of four students who were touched by God's fire ignited during the Second Great Awakening.
This group of radical young Christians began to meet three times a week in a maple grove of Sloan''s Meadow. A violent thunderstorm interrupted their prayer meeting on a sultry day in August of 1806.
The small groups of young Christians took refuge on the sheltered side of a large haystack. Mills directed their prayers toward each of their personal missionary obligations. As they prayed, God spoke to these young people; four of whom chose to commit themselves to serve God on the mission field overseas.
The first American student mission society began during that thunderstorm beside that haystack. This event was also the birth of the American foreign missions movement. Two years would pass when this groups of young Christians would choose to name themselves “The Society of the Brethren.” Furthermore, they adopted the motto, “We can do it if we will.”
In two years, many of the group enrolled in Andover Seminary of Andover, Massachusetts. At Andover, they were joined by Adonriam Judson and other like minded Christians interested in foreign missions. They firmly believed that God was calling them to the mission field although there was no foreign missions board in North America to send them.
The seminary students spoke with member of the faculty at Andover as well as with pastors in the region. Moses Stuart was a member of the faculty of Andover. They pastors and teachers met in the homes of Stuart to discuss the situation presented to them by the students. They came to the conclusion that the students should submit their case to the General Association of Congregational Churches in Massachusetts. The General Association would meet in Bradford, Massachusetts on the following day.
The students gathered together to compose a letter to the General Association soliciting their help. Adoniram Judson, Samuel Mills, and two other students signed the letter. Luther Rice and James Richards originally signed the letter but chose to remove their names for fear that the number of potential missionary candidates which needed support might scare the General Association.
The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions became the first foreign missions board in American. The board was formed by the General Assembly on June 29, 1810; two days after the submission of the students written appeal. Adoniram Judson and three other men, as well as their families, were sent out as the first missionaries a year after the General Association's decision to create the board.
The American foreign missions force has grown to over sixty thousand missionaries sent to foreign mission fields by hundreds of mission boards.