Book Review: Sent from Reading

Sent from Reading

Reading’s part in overseas missions 1790-1950

John Dearing

self-published, 2021 (ISBN: 978173993802, 180pp, £10)

The hugely popular 2002 BBC series 100 Greatest Britons featured those leaders known for their statesmanship, charisma, celebrity, and ingenuity. There was however, of the entire list of 100 figures, not a single British overseas missionary. William Tyndale who endured for the sake of the name a Flemish exile in his final years did enter the list at no.26 but this was minimal concession to the religious spirit which has drawn so many thousands of Britons to intentional foreign mission over the centuries. Despite their storied history, the greatest glory of the home nations has never been their political, military, or scientific leaders, but the gospel. The real ‘greatest Britons’ therefore have been the foot-soldiers of that spiritual army whose lives were so transformed by the living Christ that they lay all before His feet upon the altar of sacrifice.

John Dearing performs a marvellous service in this book, memorialising a handful of those soldiers. The common theme is the links of those surveyed with the Berkshire town of Reading (where the author resides). Some of the links are remote, others profound, but most substantive. The consideration of the interrelation of missionary commission with the evolving ecclesiastical life of the town represents a very important example of firmly contextualised history in which the local impacts crucially on the global. Dearing’s knowledgeable familiarity with all manner of mission societies, congregations, foreign fields, and ministers and missionaries themselves is put to good service, with a well-judged volume of footnotes furnishing extra colour throughout. Would that many equivalent iterations of such a work emerge from other British towns and cities. 

Even in our modern age of advanced healthcare and of instant online global communications, where a video call to family and friends may be made almost as easily and cheaply from the far side of the world as from the neighbouring house, service in a foreign field is a hardship. How much more so when the average life-expectancy of a new missionary could be measured in weeks and the best hope of ongoing contact was a short telegram every six months. Yet take up this hardship did such young people as James Redman, who in October 1891 was sent by Castle Street Chapel and sailed under the CMS for Mombasa. By the following February Redman was dead, having caught a fever en route to his first stationing, at Mamboia. Although his only direct positive contribution to the CMS work in East Africa seems to be have been briefly nursing a fellow missionary, Redman’s experience did not deter further volunteers from Reading, but rather encouraged them all the more. The dozens who followed from Reading in Redman’s path, whether to Africa, China, India, or even Australia, are chronicled. Dearing admits that the history is ‘episodic’ but none-the-less important for it and deserves a wide reading among residents of Berkshire, missiologists, potential missionaries, and indeed anyone wishing to be reminded of true ‘greatness’.

Edward Keene, Little Shelford