Five Challenges for Missionaries from the Life and Diary of David Brainerd

The missionary task is replete with significant challenges, yet it is being accomplished by those walking in the footsteps of David Brainerd.

When Brainerd moved in among the Native Americans, he made significant changes to his standard of living. Physical discomforts abounded. Early in his journals, he lamented that the food available to him was poor sustenance. He was able to procure improved lodging when he built a small cabin for himself among them. At first, however, he slept on the ground in a tent-like shelter. While traveling, he regularly had to sleep outside exposed to the elements. And on a few occasions, he had to traverse treacherous forests on foot.


While reading the missions classic The Life and Diary of David Brainerd, I was struck by David Brainerd’s perseverance through great hardships. He endured them all to accomplish one transcendent cause: to lead Native Americans to Christ. His short life (1718–1747) was devoted entirely to the establishment of a church among the natives of America’s Northeastern region. Early on, he boasted that God supported him in his difficulties so he “never entertained any thought of quitting.”

Yet, only a matter of months later his tone changed: “I was ready to look upon myself as a burden to the Honourable Society that employed and supported me in this business, and began to entertain serious thoughts of giving up my mission . . . .” If David Brainerd was moved by his difficulties, so will be missionaries in our time. Brainerd’s life and writing warn us of five inevitable challenges awaiting today’s missionaries in their work and testifies that the costs are worth paying.

1.Tick of the Clock

Brainerd was possibly too fixed on time’s passing. He wrote honestly about “how guilty it makes me feel when I think I have trifled away and misimproved [time].” This theme was consistent through many diary entries and journals of his ministry. He obsessed over not wasting his days.

Modern missionaries experience a similar perplexity, and for good reason. Missionaries are keenly aware of the shortness of life. They recognize that eternity is pressing hard against the walls of temporality. It is not uncommon for missionaries to be familiar with the rate of deaths per minute among their people. Their work always deals in terms of life and death. The emotional challenge this presents is often missed. Missionaries must learn to live with the tension between working hard and resting.

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