The best books about missionaries

12 authors have picked their favorite books about missionary and why they recommend each book.

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The Poisonwood Bible

By Barbara Kingsolver,

Book cover of The Poisonwood Bible

This book would stand out because of the gorgeous prose alone. But when you add in a multi-layered story of an American family torn apart by hubris in the African jungle, you get a true masterpiece. The novel’s premise is provocative—a family of daughters living in post-colonial Africa with a narcissistic father intent on converting the natives to his perverse, non-yielding brand of religion. And as expected, this is a story that is tragic and epic in a way that makes you question the arrogance of humanity in all its iterations. But what makes it especially memorable is how it provokes a grim satisfaction when the four daughters make lives out of the mess of a patriarchal disaster, while having little impact on the beautifully indomitable Africa.

The Poisonwood Bible

By Barbara Kingsolver,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked The Poisonwood Bible as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

**NOW INCLUDING THE FIRST CHAPTER OF DEMON COPPERHEAD: THE NEW BARBARA KINGSOLVER NOVEL**

**DEMON COPPERHEAD IS AVAILABLE NOW FOR PRE-ORDER**

An international bestseller and a modern classic, this suspenseful epic of one family's tragic undoing and their remarkable reconstruction has been read, adored and shared by millions around the world.

'Breathtaking.' Sunday Times
'Exquisite.' The Times
'Beautiful.' Independent
'Powerful.' New York Times

This story is told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959.

They carry with them everything they believe they will…


Who am I?

Why do we love immersive novels? Maybe it's because we relate to them, because they explore issues or circumstances that resonate with us. Or it could be a need for escape, to imagine a life different from our own. But I believe the underlying truth is this – we all share a deeply rooted need for human connection. And when we read fiction that truly makes us imagine another person's life, it touches us profoundly, leaving a forever mark. It is the reason I love immersive novels that make us feel and experience the unexpected. And also why I endeavor to write them, sometimes winning awards, often making people cry – in the best way!


I wrote...

A Whisper of Smoke

By Angela Hoke,

Book cover of A Whisper of Smoke

What is my book about?

In 1960s Kentucky, Susanna Braden’s caught between protecting her younger siblings from her mother’s perniciousness and other lurking dangers, and battling the growing love she feels for her best friend, Calvin. But when family secrets emerge that threaten to destroy her carefully cultivated illusion of safety and Calvin is deployed to Vietnam in love with someone else, Susanna is forced to reexamine the concepts of love, honor, and forgiveness — and it just may be the key to redemption for them all.

For fans of Sue Monk Kidd, Wally Lamb, and Kristin Hannah, four-time award winner A Whisper of Smoke delivers a "beautiful, heart-wrenching story” that "reminds us how exciting, beautiful and painful growing up really is."

God's Smuggler

By Brother Andrew,

Book cover of God's Smuggler

Brother Andrew’s story is astounding. He was probably one of the least likely candidates to be used by God in such a way, but God always picks those the world would not. The founder of Open Doors Ministries, Brother Andrew’s adventures will leave you in awe of what a life well lived for the gospel can do. It encouraged me to stand for what the Lord says in spite of circumstance. It reminded me of the Biblical truth that God always makes a way, and inspired me to continue to blaze the trail God has for me.

God's Smuggler

By Brother Andrew,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked God's Smuggler as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A True-Life Thriller That Will Leave
You Breathless!

In the anniversary edition of this electrifying real-life story, readers are gripped from the first page by the harrowing account of a young man who risked his life to smuggle Bibles through the borders of closed nations. Now, sixty years after Brother Andrew first prayed for God's miracle protection, this expanded edition of a classic work encourages new readers to meet this remarkable man and his mission for the first time.

Working undercover for God, a mission that continues to this day, has made Brother Andrew one of the all-time heroes of…


Who am I?

I'm a huge self-proclaimed history dork. I love reading real stories of how God uses the ones that no one would expect in extraordinary ways. I love hearing how God turns horrible situations around. Even in my own manuscripts, from a historical fiction perspective, I love to immerse it in such truth that you think, “That couldn’t really happen... Could it?” I have an ongoing phrase in ministry and life that you need to take “The poo you walk through and let God turn it into fertilizer.” These book recommendations definitely do that. Bad things do happen. They don’t come from God but through Him we can overcome them.


I wrote...

An Ember In Time

By Anna M. Aquino,

Book cover of An Ember In Time

What is my book about?

In a time where Pastor Jon Stevens feels like he has lost his hope... One Divine Encounter, will change his life. One mistake that started with A simple flower, will begin to unravel history. And one spark will illuminate the way home.

Picture Quantum Leap meets Back to the Future saturated in Biblical History and Christian truths.

The Call

By John Hersey,

Book cover of The Call

I know I said in my introduction that there are too many books from the missionary perspective and not enough from a Chinese point of view, but I’m going to make an exception here with the only novel, too, in the group. In this 1985 title, the extraordinary John Hersey captures the urge of American missionaries to proselytize in China, as well as their complicated relationship with Chinese Christians. This sweeping fictional biography of David Treadup, whose character is a composite of the lives of actual missionaries, including Hersey’s father, carries the reader from New York state in the early 1900s to the People’s Republic of China in the 1950s.  

The Call

By John Hersey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Call as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Told in the form of a fictional biography, this account of the life and vocation of David Treadup, a New York farm boy who becomes a missionary to China, portrays the history of China in this century


Who am I?

I come from a long line of Chinese Christians. My grandfather, the Rev. Lin Pu-chi, was an Ivy League-educated Anglican minister, and my grandmother’s brother was Watchmen Nee, a leading Chinese Christian whose legacy lives on around the world. Library shelves are filled with books by missionaries. But where are the stories of the Chinese people they encountered? That’s the starting point for my family memoir, which spans five generations, starting with the first convert, a fisherman from Fujian. These are the books I relied on to place the family story into the broader context of what was happening in China from the period after the Opium Wars until today.


I wrote...

Shanghai Faithful: Betrayal and Forgiveness in a Chinese Christian Family

By Jennifer Lin,

Book cover of Shanghai Faithful: Betrayal and Forgiveness in a Chinese Christian Family

What is my book about?

Through the 150-year saga of the Lin clan, Shanghai Faithful vividly dramatizes the remarkable religious evolution of the world’s most populous nation. This book is both a family memoir and a chronicle of the astonishing spread of Christianity in China. The depiction of five generations of the Lin family, buffeted by history’s crosscurrents and personal strife, brings to life an epoch that is still unfolding.

The Last Aloha

By Gaellen Quinn,

Book cover of The Last Aloha

Laura’s fiancé and father die, and she travels from San Francisco to Hawaii to live with missionary relatives. It’s 1886, and Honolulu is the sophisticated bustling capital of a prosperous modern kingdom. Laura’s missionary relatives actively work to bring down the monarchy while Laura goes to work for the royal family. She builds quite a bond with the last queen, Lili`uokalani, who is trying to save her kingdom. This book tells the compelling story of the Hawaiian kingdom’s last days from a point of view inside the royal family. 

The Last Aloha

By Gaellen Quinn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Aloha as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

BAIPA Award Winner: Best Historical Fiction.
How did Hawaii become part of America? This story, inspired by true events suppressed for nearly 100 years, is the one James Michener never wrote. In 1886, Laura Jennings travels to Hawaii to live with missionary relatives. She imagines she'll live in a grass hut, ministering to savages. When she arrives in Honolulu, she's surprised to find her relatives are among the wealthy elite plotting to overthrow the Hawaiian monarchy. And, far from being savages, the Hawaiians have developed a charming and prosperous Victorian kingdom. To avoid her conniving uncle's control, Laura leaves to…


Who am I?

I live in California and write novels based on my grandmother’s stories of our female ancestors. I love tales of everyday women who lived normal lives (according to them) but were quite remarkable to my 21st-century eyes. I wrote The Aloha Spirit about my husband’s grandmother, who was an amazing woman. His family is from Hawaii, and we visit there frequently. Anyone who spends time in the islands experiences the warm welcome of the people, which we know as the aloha spirit. I know Grandma had a difficult life, and I wrote the novel to explore how she might have overcome those difficulties to find her aloha spirit.


I wrote...

The Aloha Spirit

By Linda Ulleseit,

Book cover of The Aloha Spirit

What is my book about?

The spirit of aloha is found in Hawaii’s fresh ocean air, the flowers, the trade winds…the natural beauty that smoothes the struggles of daily life. In 1922 Honolulu, unhappy in the adoptive family that raised her, Dolores searches for that spirit early on. At sixteen, she marries Manolo. His large Portuguese family embraces her, but when his drinking leads to physical abuse, only his relative Alberto comes to her rescue—and sparks a new passion within Dolores. After the Pearl Harbor attack, Dolores flees to California. Both men follow—Manolo’s drinking problems continue and Alberto’s begin. Outraged, Dolores doubts her feelings for Alberto. Is he only going to disappoint her, as Manolo has? Or is Alberto the embodiment of the aloha spirit she’s been seeking? 

Across the Shaman's River

By Daniel Lee Henry,

Book cover of Across the Shaman's River: John Muir, the Tlingit Stronghold, and the Opening of the North

In the fall of 1879, when John Muir arrived among Alaska’s Chilkat Tlingits, he charmed them with his stories but also unwittingly acted as an agent of Manifest Destiny and opened the floodgates of the Klondike Gold Rush. This is an important story of first contact and fresh perspectives, thoroughly researched and compellingly told. There’s no other book like it.

Across the Shaman's River

By Daniel Lee Henry,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Across the Shaman's River as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Across the Shaman's River is the story of one of Alaska's last Native American strongholds, a Tlingit community closed off for a century until a fateful encounter between a shaman, a preacher, and John Muir. Tucked in the corner of Southeast Alaska, the Tlingits had successfully warded off the Anglo influences that had swept into other corners of the territory. This tribe was viewed by European and American outsiders as the last wild tribe and a frustrating impediment to access. Missionaries and prospectors alike had widely failed to bring the Tlingit into their power. Yet, when John Muir arrived in…


Who am I?

Kim Heacox has written 15 books, five of them published by National Geographic. He has twice won the National Outdoor Book Award (for his memoir, The Only Kayak, and his novel, Jimmy Bluefeather), and twice won the Lowell Thomas Award for excellence in travel journalism. He’s featured on Ken Burns’ film, The National Parks, America's Best Idea, and he’s spoken about John Muir on Public Radio International’s Living on Earth. He lives in Gustavus, Alaska (next to Glacier Bay Nat’l Park), a small town of 500 people reachable only by boat or plane.


I wrote...

John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire: How a Visionary and the Glaciers of Alaska Changed America

By Kim Heacox,

Book cover of John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire: How a Visionary and the Glaciers of Alaska Changed America

What is my book about?

John Muir, America’s foremost wild lands preservationist, lived a large life. He changed the maps of America, and how we see ourselves in the American landscape. Most people associate him with California’s Yosemite. But Muir made seven trips to Alaska over a 20-year period, 1879-99, during which he explored tidewater glaciers by foot and canoe, befriended indigenous Tlingits, and returned home with a renewed commitment to speak and act on behalf of wilderness and beauty – to protect every acre he could. In short, the glaciers of Alaska changed Muir, and Muir in turn changed America.

Reforming the World

By Ian Tyrrell,

Book cover of Reforming the World: The Creation of America's Moral Empire

Reforming the World sees Ian Tyrrell, the master practitioner of transnational approaches to US history, at the peak of his powers. After tackling the world temperance movement, and US-Australian environmental connections, Tyrrell here turns to the “soft power” of Christian missionaries and evangelicals as they proselytized around the world and hoped to remake it in their image. You cannot fail to be gripped by the idiosyncratic personal histories of Tyrrell’s protagonists which he captures with characteristic attention to detail, humanity, and clear-eyed analysis. This is an important story in its own right, but what’s important is the way in which it sets the scene for US power in the twentieth century.

Reforming the World

By Ian Tyrrell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Reforming the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Reforming the World offers a sophisticated account of how and why, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, American missionaries and moral reformers undertook work abroad at an unprecedented rate and scale. Looking at various organizations such as the Young Men's Christian Association and the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, Ian Tyrrell describes the influence that the export of American values had back home, and explores the methods and networks used by reformers to fashion a global and nonterritorial empire. He follows the transnational American response to internal pressures, the European colonies, and dynamic changes in global society.…


Who am I?

I am a historian of the United States' global pasts. What excites me most in both research and teaching is approaching familiar topics from unconventional angles whether through unfamiliar objects or comparative perspectives. To do so I have approached the US past from the perspective of its emigrants and the global history of gold rushes, and am doing so now in two projects: one on the ice trade and another on the United States’ imperial relationship with Africa between the Diamond Rush of 1867 and the First World War. I currently teach at the University of Oxford where I am a Fellow in History at St Peter’s College.


I wrote...

Made in Britain: Nation and Emigration in Nineteenth-Century America

By Stephen Tuffnell,

Book cover of Made in Britain: Nation and Emigration in Nineteenth-Century America

What is my book about?

The United States was made in Britain. For over a hundred years following independence, a diverse and lively crowd of emigrant Americans left the United States for Britain. From Liverpool and London, they produced Atlantic capitalism and managed transfers of goods, culture, and capital that were integral to US nation-building. In British social clubs, emigrants forged relationships with elite Britons that were essential not only to tranquil transatlantic connections, but also to fighting southern slavery. As the United States descended into Civil War, emigrant Americans decisively shaped the Atlantic-wide battle for public opinion. 

Blending the histories of foreign relations, capitalism, nation-formation, and transnational connection, Stephen Tuffnell compellingly demonstrates that the United States’ struggle toward independent nationhood was entangled at every step with the world’s most powerful empire of the time. With deep research and vivid detail, Made in Britain uncovers this hidden story and presents a bold new perspective on nineteenth-century trans-Atlantic relations.

History of the Pirates Who Infested the China Sea from 1807-1810

By Yuen Yung Lun, Charles Friedrich Neumann (translator),

Book cover of History of the Pirates Who Infested the China Sea from 1807-1810

The original chronicle of the massive pirate outbreak along the China coast in the early 19th century. Written by a Chinese amateur historian, he makes his patriotic agenda clear on every page: to boost the maligned reputation of China’s imperial navy in allegedly quashing the pirates (by twisting the historical truth, to put it mildly). The main characters and incidents are based on fact, while he fills in the gaps with private conversations and meetings that no one could have been privy to. Translated into English by a German missionary in 1835, this mix of fact and speculation is the ur-document on which every western account of these pirates is based. Newer editions include an eyewitness narrative by a British sailor who spent six months as a captive of the pirates. Essential and entertaining reading which should be taken with large pinches of (pilfered) salt.

History of the Pirates Who Infested the China Sea from 1807-1810

By Yuen Yung Lun, Charles Friedrich Neumann (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked History of the Pirates Who Infested the China Sea from 1807-1810 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This Is A New Release Of The Original 1831 Edition.


Who am I?

For half my life I’ve lived on an island near Hong Kong, walking distance from former pirate havens. I made my career as a cartoonist and published numerous satirical books about Hong Kong and China. Recently, I've spent years deeply researching the pirates of the South China coast, which culminated in writing an utterly serious book about the most powerful pirate of all, a woman about whom the misinformation vastly outnumbers the facts. I made it my mission to discover the truth about her. The books on this list hooked me on Chinese pirates in the first place and are essential starting points for anyone prepared to have their imaginations hijacked by Chinese “froth floating on the sea”.


I wrote...

The Flower Boat Girl

By Larry Feign,

Book cover of The Flower Boat Girl

What is my book about?

This is a historical novel based on the life of Zheng Yi Sao, the legendary 19th-century Chinese prostitute who became the most powerful pirate in history. Sold as a child to a floating brothel, kidnapped by pirates, and forced to marry their leader, she must survive a world of violence, treachery, and greed, until she faces a choice between two things she never dreamed might be hers: power or love. Exhaustively researched, her story has never been fully told until now.

Hawaii

By James A. Michener,

Book cover of Hawaii

Michener published Hawaii in 1959, the same year that Hawaii became the 50th U.S. state. Michener traces Hawaii’s epic history in a set of episodes that begins with the physical birth of the islands as volcanos. From there, in succession, the story follows the Polynesian seafarers who made the perilous 1,300-mile journey in canoes, then the arrival of American missionaries in the 19th Century. Further episodes include the arrival of the Chinese and then the Japanese and in the final chapter, "The Golden Men," we see how intermarriage of all of these ethnicities produces the modern ‘golden Hawaiian.'

In 1966, parts of the book were made into the film, Hawaii, starring Max von Sydow as the American missionary, Abner Hale, and Julie Andrews as his wife. The film covers the book’s third chapter, the settlement in the island kingdom by its first American missionaries and their crusade against Hawaiian…

Hawaii

By James A. Michener,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hawaii as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Pulitzer Prize–winning author James A. Michener brings Hawaii’s epic history vividly to life in a classic saga that has captivated readers since its initial publication in 1959. As the volcanic Hawaiian Islands sprout from the ocean floor, the land remains untouched for centuries—until, little more than a thousand years ago, Polynesian seafarers make the perilous journey across the Pacific, flourishing in this tropical paradise according to their ancient traditions. Then, in the early nineteenth century, American missionaries arrive, bringing with them a new creed and a new way of life. Based on exhaustive research and told in Michener’s immersive prose,…


Who am I?

"There is no frigate like a book"—my grade school teacher, Mrs. Gundy, liked to quote Emily Dickinson as she encouraged us to read. I became a novelist because I found imagination has the power to transport a reader across centuries and perhaps national boundaries and into a character’s heart and soul. After growing up in the Mennonite/Amish culture of Pennsylvania I published four novels, three of them three historical novels that present that culture. What do I look for in good historical fiction? An unforgettable character and a good capture of the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the times in which that character lives. The five books I recommend all do that.


I wrote...

Both My Sons

By Ken Yoder Reed,

Book cover of Both My Sons

What is my book about?

Both My Sons opens in media res style—the plot is already in progress when the story begins. A band of militia riders interrupts the Saturday morning Lancaster market by throwing down their scalped and murdered leader—Bod Greenywalt, the favorite son of the immigrant. How did it happen? Who is Bod? Who is Greenywalt? How did he become a member of the outlawed and despised Mennonite group in Europe and then a wildly successful mill owner in the New World? How did this faithful Christian end up fathering sons by two mothers, who will never let him lead a life of peace? Can he join the frontier settlers in celebrating his murdered son as a hero, when the boy has betrayed Greenywalt’s deepest beliefs?

Book cover of Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret

After the death of our daughter, shortly after birth, I felt abandoned by God and lost all desire to serve in any form of ministry. This book, above all others that I have read, helped me personally and spiritually to not only move on with my life, face new and challenging adversities, but to return to ministry; a ministry that has drawn in thousands from across the U.S. and from twenty-five foreign countries for a week of intensive counseling.

Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret

By Howard Taylor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the classic biography of Hudson Taylor, the missionary to China and the founder of the China Inland Mission. This is a must read for anyone considering missions or already engaged in it and encouragement to any Christian.


Who am I?

When writing about sexuality it is important to me to write about true intimacy. Especially for those who have broken their wedding vows and for those who have been betrayed, who still long for real intimacy with spiritual and sexual maturity. My book, False Intimacy: Understanding the Struggle of Sexual Addiction (1992), was the first Christian book published on the subject of sexual addiction. I have for over thirty years counseled 1000s of sexually broken people from all across the U.S. who came to see me for a week of intensive counseling. I have taught on the subject of sexuality in all fifty states as well as over twenty foreign countries. No subject is more important to our spiritual maturity and sexual maturity.


I wrote...

Undefiled: Redemption from Sexual Sin, Restoration for Broken Relationships

By Harry Schaumburg,

Book cover of Undefiled: Redemption from Sexual Sin, Restoration for Broken Relationships

What is my book about?

We are living the chaos of cybersex, impersonal sex, adultery, prostitution, pornography, incest, gender confusion, sexual dysfunction, and sexual dissatisfaction in marriage. Undefiled offers readers an opportunity to find spiritual, relational, and sexual maturity. Sexual impurity creates a cycle of destruction, that comes from a serious misunderstanding of our sexuality. Yet real change is possible, where there is sexual redemption with sexual and relational maturity.

When sexuality is practiced as our Creator designed it, we not only grow relationally and sexually but we draw ourselves closer to God. Spiritual, relational, and sexual maturity must be brought together for restoration after the damage brought by unfaithfulness. There is hope for real change and true intimacy is available. The sexually broken can be undefiled and find a new level of intimacy.

Book cover of The Book of Strange New Things

I love books that are not just set in haunted or “alternate” places but also books set in space. It seems to me as both a reader and a writer I am attracted to stories that are set in worlds that are both imaginable and “strange.” Faber’s book is strange in the best possible ways. A husband and wife are separated when he goes to another planet to work for a corporation that wants religious teachings to take root on the planet. The “natives”—who can be wounded but can’t heal—embrace these new teachings eagerly, at the same time Earth, the world the religion came from, is collapsing (as the wife desperately reports) into utter chaos and ruin. This is a novel about love and separation and fear and harm and good, an imaginative and not-at-all-preachy book that will still have you looking up at the stars and wondering: if we…

The Book of Strange New Things

By Michel Faber,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Book of Strange New Things as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'I am with you always, even unto the end of the world . . .'

Peter Leigh is a missionary called to go on the journey of a lifetime. Leaving behind his beloved wife, Bea, he boards a flight for a remote and unfamiliar land, a place where the locals are hungry for the teachings of the Bible - his 'book of strange new things'. It is a quest that will challenge Peter's beliefs, his understanding of the limits of the human body and, most of all, his love for Bea.

The Book of Strange New Things is a wildly…


Who am I?

I am a writer of speculative novels, captivated by fictional worlds that resemble ours and don’t, stories that travel to places we find strange (sometimes even unsettling) but can’t look away from, tales we feel in our minds and in our guts. For me writing and reading, though they seem sedentary activities, are actually physical acts we experience with our entire being and body—before I became a writer I was a professional ballet dancer, and I’ve never lost the sense that stories are movement, making you feel like you’re flying even if you’re sitting still. I’ve written seven books, and love that my job is leaping with readers.


I wrote...

Our Eyes at Night: The Last Ghost Series, Book Three

By M. Dressler,

Book cover of Our Eyes at Night: The Last Ghost Series, Book Three

What is my book about?

In a remote town in the desert Southwest, a house appears to remodel itself, a cemetery is rearranged, and an ancient valley is suddenly haunted by a glimmering visitor. Called in to “clean” the unwanted dead, ghost expert Philip Pratt finds himself in territory at once familiar and unfamiliar, stalking the spirit of Emma Rose Finnis—a ghost who has come to this harsh place to see just how far a soul can go. In a cat-and-mouse game between the living and the dead, Pratt and Emma must each confront how far they are willing to travel into this stunning landscape, already filled with the people and spirits of the past. As their encounters become more and more dangerous, the living and the dead each become more certain they must control their own destinies—even if it means risking their souls.

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