In the Footsteps of Great Missionaries and Explorers

‘Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony’ (Hebrews 11:1).

Some of the greatest explorers in history were Christians, sent out by a call from God and anointed by the Holy Spirit to change the destiny of nations. That was the legacy of the missionary and explorer David Livingstone in Africa, William Carey in India and Hudson Taylor in China.

“If we forget our shared Christian history, we lose the testimony of miracles, struggle, faith and the outpourings of the Holy Spirit,” said Paul Backholer. “We cherish the past because these pioneers took the gospel to unreached lands and lit a fire of faith for Jesus. They taught us we live in a world where anything is possible for God.”

Hebrews 11 documents those who by faith ‘conquered kingdoms, administered justice and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.’

Christians in recent history have also overcome doubt, explored the unmapped world, conquered kingdoms for Christ and achieved the impossible. Their experience matches the faith of the ancients who changed the world. We must never forget their legacy.

Brothers Paul and Mathew Backholer are passionate about knowing and sharing our common Christian heritage. In their mission outreaches, they’ve always made time to follow in the footsteps of Christian pioneers and missionaries including: William Carey, the Father of Modern Missions, Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission, David Livingstone, explorer of sub-Saharan Africa, Robert Morrison, translator of the Chinese Bible, General Gordon, who saved an ancient Chinese Empire and the Roman martyrs Perpetua and Felicity who stayed faithful unto death.

“We tell their stories because we must never forget,” said Mathew Backholer. “God did it before and He can do it again. To raise our faith, we must know of the achievements of actual people of faith who transformed the world around them.”

The books, documentaries, writings and YouTube videos produced by ByFaith Media proclaim these often-forgotten heroes of faith to encourage a new generation to know anything is possible with God.

Beginning in 2000, the brothers entered the Garden Tomb in Israel, which was popularised by the adventurer General Gordon (1833-1885), who was an evangelical explorer and military man. “Gordon is almost forgotten,” said Paul, “but he explored Christian sites in the Holy Land, saved the Chinese Empire from collapsing and died as a martyr having freed slaves in Africa. To the Victorians, he was a great Christian hero known to all.”

Still respected in China for his role in protecting the Chinese Empire during the Taiping Rebellion beginning in 1850, Gordon received honour personally from the Emperor of China in 1864.

“In Beijing and other parts of China, we stood where ‘Chinese Gordon’ once stood,” said Mathew, “previously we followed in his footsteps in Egypt and Sudan, down to Khartoum, where he died refusing to abandon local people to an Islamic extremist who reintroduced slavery.”

In India, the brothers followed the trail of William Carey (1761-1834), the famed Father of Modern Missions. His life and testimony restarted the missionary movement from the West and led to hundreds of millions receiving Jesus.

“Some Christian leaders thought the Church didn’t need to share Christ with the unreached abroad,” said Mathew. “Famously a young Carey received rebuked from an elder saying, ‘Young man, sit down; when God is pleased to convert the heathen world, He will do it without your help or mine.’ Carey ignored the advice, followed God and founded the first Christian college in Asia. We toured the college and church in India and we found the spot where Carey baptised his first Indian convert.”

In North Africa, the brothers recalled the suffering and martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity from the third century. In China, they searched out the smashed and restored grave of Hudson Taylor, who founded a mission to reach millions of Chinese people in inland China. In Macau, they honoured the memory of Robert Morrison, first Protestant missionary to China and translator of the Chinese Bible.

Interested in archaeology and history, the brothers studied how an ancient form of Christianity arrived in China. “We examined an ancient stone in Xi’an, China which proves Christianity was present in China in the seventh century,” said Paul. “The Tang Chinese stele contains Chinese and Syriac text, erected in 781 it chronicles one and a half centuries of a form of Christianity in China.”

“The Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) was the first European to enter the Forbidden City in Beijing,” said Mathew Backholer. “We were conscious of his legacy when we entered the ancient city.“ Ricci’s understanding of science opened doors for him in the imperial court and the instruments the Jesuits made for China, resulted in China’s first opening up to outside influences and founded modern astronomy in China.

“Father Ferdinand Verbiest (1623-1688) was a skilful mathematician and astronomer,” said Paul, “who proved to the Chinese Court of Emperor Kangxi that the Chinese calendar needed correcting. They asked him to build modern scientific equipment for the Beijing Ancient Observatory and it thrilled us to study them on our visit.”

The brother’s studies have resulted in books, documentaries and opportunities to share on Christian TV, radio, print and online media.

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