Mangosteens, Veranda Chairs, and E.P Dunlap’s Itinerant Evangelism in 19th Century Siam

Written by Karl Dahlfred on .

E.P. DunlapDuring the second half of the 19th century, most of the missionaries in Bangkok had given up hope of seeing much evangelistic fruit from the current generation.  Thus, they poured the majority of their time into the development of schools, with the philosophy “Educate to evangelize.”  If the parents were too hard to reach, then perhaps the children would be easier to reach.... if they can just get the Gospel early enough.  So even though the number of Christians in Siam (now Thailand) was very tiny, many missionaries spent an equally tiny amount of time sharing the Gospel.  Bucking that trend was Daniel McGilvary who opened up Northern Thailand for the Gospel, and E.P. Dunlap who traveled tirelessly sharing the Gospel in Petchburi and along the coast of Southern Thailand.

While missionaries in Bangkok were lamenting how hard it was to reach people, Dunlap was out there doing it.  In his schooner, “The Kalamazoo,” Dunlap sailed up and down the Thai coast, stopping at islands, and sailing up rivers sharing the Gospel.  Inland, he traveled by elephant, by buffalo cart, by foot, and by any other means that he could.  Several months per year were spent almost entirely in itinerant evangelism.  

Who was this man? The following excerpt from a news report just after his death in 1918 gives some insight into what drove him and made him so different from his contemporaries:

"In a pamphlet published some years ago, entitled, 'How Shall We Persuade the Siamese to Accept the Gospel?' he opened his heart to his missionary brethren. The following extracts eloquently testify to the spirit of the man:—

“‘If we would persuade this people to accept the gospel, we must
live the gospel1. How much we shall achieve if we can truly say to them, Follow me as I follow Jesus. If the love of Jesus constrains me, then the love of Jesus working through me will constrain others. ...

Jesus desires to go, through us, into the homes of the people. . . . Then let us keep this high ideal before us: "In Christ's stead." That means that we are to talk to them in the same spirit in which He talked.    So must we love to tell men about Jesus far more than we love our meat and drink.

No half-hearted entreaty will persuade men... We should not turn away from the most sinful.  We may be weary, but we should love such souls more than we love ease in our long veranda chairs. We may be hungry, but if we would persuade poor sinful ones to accept the gospel, we must love them more than we love our good food and luscious mangosteens. . . ."'It is not science nor intellect nor eloquence that win souls, but love to Christ pouring over in love to men. Love will give you a delicacy of perception and ingenuity of persuasiveness which no heart shall be able to resist.  Love will reconcile the profound scholar to a life among savages, and it will carry us through the jungles of Siam to the regions beyond. It will carry the refined and cultured woman with the precious tidings into the most unattractive homes. Love will bear all, believe all, hope all, endure all, if only it may win men for Christ. The true secret of endurance is love. May the love of Christ constrain us. May we be rooted and grounded in it, so that we shall be well prepared to persuade the Siamese people to accept the Gospel.”

Do we love Christ, and sharing Christ with people, more than our meat and drink, more than comfortable chairs and luscious mangosteens (or air conditioning or pizza)?

1 In using the phrase "live the gospel," Dunlap does not mean to imply that we merely need to live for Christ without proclaiming Him.  Most of Dunlap's time was devoted to proclamation. Rather, his intended sense is that our lives should be consistent with the Gospel and exhibit the grace and love of God that we profess.  For my thoughts on the contemporary use of this phrase, "live the gospel", see here.

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