The letter replicated below is the first letter of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Mission to its out-going missionaries to Siam in 1846. One other missionary from the American Presbyertian Mission had gone to Siam (now Thailland) previously, but he returned to the United States after only a few years because of his wife's health.
It is interesting to note the priorities of the sending church (and its denominational agency) more than 150 years ago, and to compare those priorities to those of missionaries today. Language study was prioritized, as was evangelism, although medical and publishing work were seen as useful primarily as a means to the evangelistic work. While the world has changed greatly in 150 years, this letter reminds me of how much has basically stayed the same in the work of missions and evangelism over the years.
A print copy of this letter may be found in "Historical Sketch of Protestant Missions in Siam 1828-1928"Historical Sketch of Protestant Missions in Siam 1828-1928", edited by G.B. McFarland.
Mission House, New York, 10th July 1846
Rev. S. Mattoon
Dr. S. R. House, M. D
In going out to resume the Mission in Siam, it is proper that you take with you the instructions of the Executive Committee in reference to that field of Missionary labor.
- When you are permitted to enter upon your work, we shall be glad to hear from you once a month or as near these periods as you have an opportunity of sending. Letters by way of Canton will come with those of the brethren to China. Thin paper must be used for one letter a month via Canton overland. Other letters with your Journals, annual reports etc., sent by way of Canton will your reach us by ships from China.
- As you go to a people about whom the church knows very little, it will be important for you to communicate in a form suitable for publication, any information that will illustrate their manners and customs, their moral condition, their forms of idolatry and superstition, and in short anything that will make your friends here, and the church at large better acquainted with this benighted land.
- Your first and great duty will be to prosecute the study of the Siamese language, that you may be able to make known to them in their own tongue, the wonders of Redeeming Love. Every year's experience has more and more convinced the committee of the importance of Missionaries becoming acquainted with the native language. In ordinary circumstances, without this knowledge, they can be of little benefit to the natives. Indeed so important do the Committee deem this subject, that they will consider it to be their imperative duty to withdraw from the fields of labor any Missionary who cannot, or who does not in a reasonable time, make himself so far master of the proper native language, as to be understood by those who hear him. Think not then dear brethren that the time is lost, when you are acquiring an element of usefulness, without which all your other acquirements will be to a great extent useless.
- The Foreign Missionary work is comprised in three directions, each important and none of them interfering with each other. There are—the direct preaching of the Gospel—the translating, printing, and distributing the Bible and religious publications, and such an oversight of the course of education as necessary for training up, with the blessing of God, a native ministry. —So soon as you are able to speak the language of these people, it will be your duty and your privilege to preach to them the Gospel, both publicly and from house to house, as the providence of God may open.—In translating the Bible and suitable publications into the language of Siam, some progress has been made by the Missionaries of sister churches who have preceeded you. But yet much remains to be done, and when your knowledge of the language will permit, this branch of Missionary labor will claim your attention. As printing presses are now in operation in Siam under the care of other Missionaries, it will not be necessary till more laborers are sent out to join you, to have a press connected with our Mission. The course of education will also claim your attention. But for the first year at least, your time and strength will be so taken up in learning the native language that even if the way be found open to engage at and in this branch of Missionary labor, you could not take charge of it. Nor do the Committee at present possess such definite information as to enable them to decide what will be the measures most proper to be adopted a year hence. Until we hear from you, nothing will be decided in regard to this subject. In the mean time you will keep this branch of labor in view, and communicate to us the facilities and prospects in relation to it, and an estimate of the expense of supporting such a system, as in view of all the circumstances you judge to be the best for that field of labor.
- It is a consideration of much interest that one of your number possesses a knowledge of the healing art. This like all the other acquirements of the Foreign Missionary, must be used as auxiliary in making known the Gospel to the benighted heathen. The knowledge and practice of medicine by many other Missionaries in Siam, have already done much for the course of Missions among these people; and in time to come a continuance of these works of mercy will do much to give you friendly access to them. Thus while imitating the example of our blessed Lord in healing the diseases of the body, you will be aided in making known to them the only remedy for the diseases of soul. We leave it to yourselves, dear brethren, to decide on the best course to be pursued in the medical labors of the Mission. A little experience when you reach your field of labor, will enable you to decide on what is proper to be done.
- Cultivate dear brethren a spirit of confidence and of peace with each other. Missionaries being so much associated with one another together, and having but little intercourse with others, are more tempted to jealousies and rivalries among themselves than are their brethren in the ministry at home: and hence the frequent exhortations in the word of God— “to love one another”— to “be kindly affectioned”— “to keep the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace”—apply with peculiar force to them. It becomes us all to bear in mind that we are imperfect creatures, that we all have our we faults, and all have need to forbear much with each other.
Cultivate also a spirit of kindness and friendship, and good offices with the missionaries from other churches, for they too are engaged in the Lord's work. Although they see not in all things with us, yet to all who love the Lord Jesus, we most cordially bid God's speed.
- Although the way is opened to preach the Gospel in all parts of Siam, yet the residence of the Missionary, it is understood, has been restricted to Bangkok. In this city therefore you will take up your abode; but in your journeys for preaching and distributing tracts you will take notice of the most eligible places for Mission stations, to be occupied when the way is opened. You will at first rent such houses as you may need. But you will ascertain whether ground for building can be secured by purchase or on lease, and at what price, with an estimate of the cost of suitable buildings.
- The salary of Mr. Buell when in Siam, was fixed at his own request at six hundred dollars per annum for himself and his wife and fifty dollars for each child. In the usual proportion that of a single missionary would be four hundred fifty dollars per annum. These sums for your salaries may be taken for the present, but if you find on experience that they are too low or too high they can be altered to what is found to be the proper amount. House rent, teachers' wages, purchase of books for study of the language. public postage, and expense of itinerating will be charged to the Board. Your salary will commence when you reach Siam. Your expenses in Macao and passage from thence to Siam will be charged to the Board.
We send you herewith fifteen hundred dollars in silver. From this you will pay your expense in Macao and in Singapore, if you have to touch there, and your passage from China to Siam. The balance, which will probably be $ 1,000 or $ 1,100, you will take with you for the support of the Mission in Siam. For the first year we have made the following estimate:
Salaries … $1,050
House Rent … 200
Teacher wages … 75
Contingencies … 175
We need not press upon you, dear brethren, to be careful in the expenditure of the funds of the church. We have full confidence that you will exercise all proper economy. Much of these funds came from the self denial of God's people who are poor themselves, yet who esteem it a privilege to aid in supporting you while preaching to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.
And dear brethren we bid you an affectionate farewell. We shall always think of you, and pray for you, and we ask you to pray for us. Fear not to go forward as you are engaged in the Lord’s work, and go on this distant mission at his command; it is your privilege to plead the Saviour's promise to be present with you. Whilst feel your own weakness, and unfitness for so great a work, forget not the strength of his almighty arm. Live near to him, and you have nothing to fear.
Grace, mercy, and peace be with you.
On behalf of the Executive Committee,