Almost as long as paid-television subscription services (aka cable TV) have existed, there have been round-the-clock news programs. Now the Christian Broadcasting Network has launched the first 24-hour Christian television news channel.
But this is not the first time Christians have shared and shaped the content of world news. As human history moved toward the “information age,” Christian missionaries served as some of the first foreign correspondents all over the world—from wherever God planted them.
In fact, for much of the 19th century, Christian missionaries were essential sources of information for the public in the United States and Western Europe. Field missionaries kept churches and missionary societies updated on the areas in which they served—first by letter and later with photographs. Missionary letters were often reprinted in pamphlets and newsletters. They were shared informally through extensive church networks. Prior to the existence of national and international news media, Christian missionary correspondence served as a medium for communicating global events.
One notable example is how missionaries revealed the atrocities enacted in the Congo Free State under King Leopold of Belgium. Leopold ordered the extraction of natural resources from the region. One of those resources was rubber. Following a boom in rubber prices, Leopold’s agents used violence against the Congolese to make them harvest and process rubber for Belgium’s profit.
In 1904, a Protestant missionary in the Congo named Alice Harris took a photograph. Her image showed a stunned Congolese father. He was gazing at a physical horror that had been done to his daughter.
The image was reproduced in pamphlets, books, and newspapers in both Britain and the United States. It—along with other images and reports—helped build an international reaction against Leopold’s brutal reign.
Around the same time, missionaries in the eastern Ottoman Empire told of genocidal violence against Assyrian and Armenian Christians. Evangelical missionaries from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions were among the first to report on mass violence by the Empire in 1915. Their reports prompted an international relief effort for the persecuted Christians.
Missionaries first and foremost go into the world to take the good news of eternal salvation through Jesus to others. But missionaries also share in the kingdom goal of bringing God’s will to Earth—in the form of justice against evil and mercy for the suffering.
Missionary media began to provide information to supporters. But it became foundational in exposing oppression and suffering around the world. In response, Christians began to see the world as a globally connected community—one body of believers, despite geographical expanses.
Even scholars in a broad range of disciplines relied on missionary updates for expanding their knowledge of world conditions. Not all of those scholars recognize Christ’s preeminence in all things (Colossians 1:18). But despite their skepticism, the role of the missionary in doing the Lord’s work and spreading knowledge of needs and progress is undeniable.