1810 A Board to Fund American Missionaries
Americans became interested in foreign missions in the early nineteenth century when the Second Great Awakening revitalized evangelical activity. As church membership swelled, many Americans were inspired by the activities of the London Missionary Society. Interdenominational groups were formed to support missionaries serving, first, among American Indians and on the Western frontier, and then overseas.
Young people powered much of the missions movement. On a summer evening in 1806, five students from Williams College met in a grove to discuss the theology of spreading Christianity. When thunder clapped overhead they took refuge under a haystack. Later in their meeting they resolved to devote themselves to pursuing missionary work abroad, and what is now called the Haystack Prayer Meeting led to creation of a society that prepared students for overseas missions.
The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, created in 1810 out of the effort of these students, was America’s first charitable agency focused on needy persons in other lands. The group’s first fundraising appeal produced $1,000, and a $30,000 bequest from the widow of a wealthy Massachusetts merchant allowed the board to plan its first mission to India, which commenced in 1812. Popular support and individual donations for U.S. foreign missions grew steadily over the coming years and decades.
In its first 50 years of existence, the board sent more than 1,250 mission parties overseas. The hard-laboring young women and men it funded brought more than Christianity to the people they encountered. They served as schoolteachers, builders, health-care providers, farming instructors, translators, and human-rights advocates. They were often the first Americans many foreigners met, and helped form lasting friendly relations with the residents of many foreign lands.
- Timeline of events in the first 125 years of the ABCFM, globalministries.org/resources/mission-study/abcfm/abcfm-in-history.html