Protestants were slow to embrace the missionary cause. In the sixteenth century, they struggled to liberate themselves from moribund Catholicism. The seventeenth century was consumed with bloody efforts for liberty within the state. Not until the eighteenth century could their attention be drawn overseas. The Moravians were the first, sending missionaries to such fields as the West Indies and Labrador. But still there was no organized missionary enterprise supported by a strong home base.
Then came a failure-prone shoemaker named William Carey. His sermons, conversations, and his book, Enquiry, finally nudged his fellow Baptists to adopt this resolution at an associational meeting: Resolved that a plan be prepared against the next Ministers’ meeting at Kettering, for forming a Baptist Society for propagating the Gospel among the Heathen.
Five months later, on Tuesday, October 2, 1792, 14 men huddled in the back parlor of widow Wallis’s house in Kettering, in a room 12 feet by 10. There were 12 ministers, a student, and a deacon. Carey, 31, reviewed the achievements of the Moravians and recounted the Bible’s missionary mandate. By and by, a resolution was worded: Humbly desirous of making an effort for the propagation of the Gospel amongst the Heathen, according to the recommendations of Carey’s Enquiry, we unanimously resolve to act in Society together for this purpose; and as, in the divided state of Christendom, each denomination, by exerting itself separately, seems likeliest to accomplish the great end, we name this the Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Heathen.
Andrew Fuller passed around his snuff box with its picture of Paul’s conversion on the lid, taking up history’s first collection of pledges for organized, home-supported Protestant missions.
Suddenly missionary societies popped up everywhere, especially in London: in 1792 the British Missionary Society; in 1795 the London Missionary Society; in 1799 the Religious Tract Society and the Church Missionary Society. In 1804 the British and Foreign Bible Society came into being. The era of missions had begun, making the nineteenth century the “Great Century” in the advancement of the gospel around the globe.
Afterwards, Jesus appeared to his eleven disciples as they were eating. He scolded them because they were too stubborn to believe the ones who had seen him after he had been raised to life. Then he told them: Go and preach the good news to everyone in the world. (Mark 16:14,15)