Friday, September 25, 2009

God Made Them Great

In God Made them Great, Scottish minister John Tallach presents the lives of five lesser-known Christian missionaries. He chose to feature George Muller, Isobel Kuhn, Billy Bray, David Brainerd and Robert Annan because they "were each like little children." In his preface, Tallach quotes Jesus' words, "Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven." He continues, "How strange. . .. Of course, Jesus was not telling His disciples that they must stop being grown up, that they must become childish again. Rather, He was telling them this: The Christian life is. . . a life of dependence on God, a life like that of a little child who depends on his parents for everything."

Tallach devotes between six and 12 chapters to each missionary's life, and he begins each story with that missionary's conversion. Most of the missionaries found faith in Jesus after a period of hardship or wild living. They then devoted the rest of their lives to telling others about the love of Christ. Sadly, several of the missionaries died young, but Tallach continually reminds us how happy they were to be going to their eternal home in Heaven.

The text is supplemented by ink line drawings every 15-20 pages, which give us glimpses of the time periods in which the missionaries lived and worked.

What I Like: I like the way Tallach presents his heroes as authentic people with real struggles, who were committed to following Jesus anyway. Though all of the missionaries experienced powerful, meaningful conversions and were grounded in their faith, becoming a Christian did not solve all of their problems. They still wrestled with doubt and had to make major sacrifices. Billy Bray had to resist the Devil more than once after becoming a Christian. Once, the Devil challenged Billy, ". . .if your Father loved you, Billy Bray, He'd give you a pretty yield of potatoes, as much as ever you want, and every one of them as big as your fist." Billy responded, "I used to have a personal acquaintance with you some years since. . . and all you gave me was nothing but rags to my back, and a wretched home, and an aching head, and no potatoes, and the fear of hellfire to finish up with." He then told the Devil everything Jesus did for him, and the Devil left him.

Isobel Kuhn had to give up her love of pretty things and allow her children to be taken to boarding school, in order to continue serving the Lisu people in China and Thailand. Robert Annan spent an entire evening drinking in a bar some time after his conversion. He then had to repent and allow God to forgive him before he felt worthy to continue life as a Christian.

Despite their struggles and failures, each of these missionaries profoundly impacted the world for the Gospel of Christ. Their lives show us that we all can serve God, wherever we are, and God can use our struggles and failures. Most of all, we see how He'll use our commitment and love for Him to spread His good news.

What I Dislike: Written in 1973, God Made them Great relies on some stereotypes and descriptions that would not be thought acceptable today. People are often called "drunkards," and the "Red Indians" David Brainerd ministers to are described as ". . . quite dark. Their faces were a dingy brown, and their eyes and hair were black like coal. . .the average Indian was actually shorter than the white man." Tallach also says, "David was used to living in a well-built, cosy house, and he must have found the Indian wigwam very draughty and cold. When Indians built their homes, they never thought of erecting a good, permanent building." These characterizations are not particularly positive or flattering.

I also have a hard time with the idea of sending one's own children to boarding school in order to minister to others, but I realize this has been common practice among many missionary groups until fairly recently.

Tallach's writing is very conversational , but a bit old-fashioned and refers often to the British pound when discussing God's provision for His people. It would be nice to translate the values given in the book into today's values.

Overall Rating: Good

Age Appeal: 9-12 (Although I think high school students would be interested as well.)

Publisher Info: The Banner of Truth Trust (Bell and Bain, Ltd), 1998; ISBN: 0-85151-190-2 Paperback, $10.00

Buy it Now at for $10.00

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Steven Burlew said...

Thanks, Erin. I'm glad you've come into contact with Tallach's book, "God Made Them Great." Have you also see the other one, "They Shall Be Mine"? You might like that one, as well. I appreciate your comments, too. We are always open to receiving such here at The Banner.
Steve Burlew, Manager
The Banner of Truth, North America
Carlisle, PA, U.S.A.

Erin said...

Mr. Burlew,

I will indeed look for "They Shall Be Mine." I really enjoyed learning more about George Muller and Isobel Kuhn, and I wasn't familiar with the other 3 men. Thank you for your work at The Banner.