Friends as missionaries: contemporary reports, newsletters and magazines

This blog post introduces some of the periodicals that document British Quakers’ activity in the foreign mission field from the second half of the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. Mission work was reported and promoted through annual reports, newsletters, and circulars. These are today an invaluable resource for anyone wanting to find out more about the work and the individuals involved.

As the nineteenth century progressed, Friends became more interested in evangelisation both at home and abroad. To this end in 1868 British Friends founded the Friends Foreign Mission Association (FFMA). The FFMA started out with 20 missionaries in 1868, reaching a peak by 1917 with 120 missionaries. By the time it became Friends Service Council in 1926, a total of 345 people had served with the organisation. Friends were active in China, India, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Pemba and the Middle East. This work was not without its controversies with the Society of Friends, as described by John Ormerod Greenwood in Vines on the mountain (volume 2 of his Quaker encounters trilogy, York, 1977).

The Library holds annual reports of the FFMA for its entire history (1868-1926). These often feature photographs from the mission field (including mission buildings and British and local missionaries).

FFMA annual report 1881

FFMA annual report 1881, with map showing Hoshangabad District

Our missions (its magazine published 1894-1917) looked at the work of Friends Foreign Mission Association, featuring reports on specific mission projects and discussion about mission work. It is important to bear in mind, as Greenwood points out in Vines on the mountain, that the accounts in these periodicals deliberately downplayed the controversies, difficulties and hardships of missionary life.

Photograph of FFMA workers in Madagascar, from Our Missions, no. 144 (December 1905)

Photograph of FFMA workers in Madagascar, from Our missions, no. 144 (December 1905)

In 1911 foreign mission work began to be reported in another periodical, The Quaker at home and abroad.  In 1913 it became Workers at home and abroad, and absorbed FFMA’s Our missions in 1918. In 1922 Workers at home and abroad changed its title again to become The Wayfarer (which continues today as Quaker voices). The Wayfarer continued to cover the work of the FFMA and later Friends Service Council. FFMA’s work also got coverage in the Monthly record, which started out as a periodical covering “home and foreign missions, first-day schools, temperance and other other Christian work in the Society of Friends”, and later focused more extensively on adult schools, illustrating the overlap between “home” mission work and work abroad.

The Friends Foreign Mission Association and its successor, Friends Service Council, published a periodical for children called Here & there (1920-1942). Attractively illustrated with photographs, stories and activities, many of its articles were aimed at giving children an idea of daily life and customs in the countries where the FFMA worked.

Here and there (June 1922)

Here and there (June 1922)

Substantial projects run by or assisted by the Friends Foreign Mission Association, such as the Medical Mission at Antananarivo (Madagascar) and the Friends’ Syrian Mission run by Theophilus Waldmeier, often produced their own annual reports, which provide valuable insight into the work.

Friends Syrian Mission report 1895

Friends Syrian Mission report 1895

The Library also holds reports of projects independent of the FFMA, such as the Friends Mission in Brittany run by Charles D. Terrell , the Friends Armenian Mission in Istanbul established by Ann Mary Burgess, and Henry Gurney’s refuge in Tangiers.

The Missionary Helpers Union founded in 1882 helped support the work of the FFMA. Among publications relating to the Missionary Helpers Union are annual reports for 1884-1911. Some of its publications were aimed at children and young adults, and some focused on work in specific countries (China, Syria, and India).

As a result of the First World War, Friends became increasingly concerned with issues around international conciliation and peace building. The experience of Quaker organisations in providing relief during and after the war (and the formation of the American Friends Service Committee) also had an influence on this change in direction. The Council for International Service was formed in 1919 to support projects promoting international understanding, such as the Quaker International Centres that flourished in the interwar period. The Library holds annual reports of the Council for International Service between 1919 and 1927 as it worked alongside the FFMA. The two bodies merged to form the new Friends Service Council in 1927. Quaker world service, the new monthly published by Friends Service Council between 1927 and 1934, reflects this change in focus.

Quaker World Service (September 1932)

Quaker world service (September 1932) – title and contents illustrate the focus

Last, but not least, it is also worth noting that the Quaker weekly magazine The Friend also included current news of Friends’ foreign mission work, particularly letters from those engaged in the field.

Selected periodicals on Friends’ foreign missions

Friends Foreign Mission Association. Annual reports (London: Friends Foreign Mission Association, 1868-1926)

Monthly record (Birmingham: White & Pike, 1869-1891)

Missionary Helpers Union. Annual reports (Leominster: Orphans Printing Press, 1884-1911)

 Our missions: a magazine of foreign mission work carried on by Friends (London: West, Newman and Co., 1894-1917)

The Quaker at home and abroad (London: FFMA; Friends Home Mission & Extension Committee, 1911-1913)

Workers at home and abroad (London: FFMA, 1913-1921)

Council for International Service. Annual reports (London: Friends Council for International Service, 1919-1927)

The Wayfarer (London: Friends Home Mission & Extension Committee; Friends Service Council, 1922-1964)

Here & there (London: FFMA; Friends Service Council, 1920-1942)

Quaker world service (London: Friends Service Council, 1927-1934)

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3 Responses to Friends as missionaries: contemporary reports, newsletters and magazines

  1. Adrian Dolling says:

    Does the library have holdings on the work of evangelical Friends, for example, in Kenya or Bolivia, or are those records mostly stored in the USA?

    Thank you for these occasional snippets of knowledge – often fascinating

    • Eden Grace says:

      One of the most complete collections regarding American Friends’ mission work is at Earlham College, under the care of Tom Hamm. Well worth a visit!

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