James Gilmour in Mongolia

This is the day that … James Gilmour was born, “a few miles from Glasgow”, Scotland, in 1843.

Few missionary stories reveal such hardship and danger and solitude … “I doubt if St Paul endured more for Christ than James Gilmour did…” was said at his memorial service in Peking.

Born to a devout Christian family, James’ mother taught him and his five brothers the scriptures and stories of missionary endeavour. A bright student he excelled in academics and keenly sought to serve God. He abhorred alcohol. He once poured a friend’s drink out the window, proclaiming, “Better on God’s earth than in His image”.

After studying at a Congregational theological college, Gilmour left for Mongolia in 1870 under the auspices of the London Missionary Society. He was ready to go abroad, saying, “to me the soul of an Indian seemed as precious as the soul of an Englishman, and the Gospel as much for the Chinese as the European.”

For 27 years he lived among the Mongolians (less than half of that time with a faithful wife who died on the field), seeking to point them away from their Buddhism to the Saviour.

Life was filled with danger, to which his response was, “Our death might further the cause of Christ more than our life could do.”

“Always he was busy,” writes A. Smellie, “healing the sick, talking with enquirers, selling Christian books, preaching the gospel …” (Torchbearers of the Faith, page 212).

He ate but once a day … walking from village to village with his luggage and Bibles and medicines on his back. In 1886 he records in his journal: “Preached to 24,000 people (this year), treated more than 5,700 patients, distributed 10,000 books and tracts … and out of all this there are only two men who have openly confessed Christ.”

During a brief furlough in Scotland he had this to say: “Just think! In a little town like this there are men preaching on every other street corner, and I am all alone in these hundreds of square miles in Mongolia. What you people are thinking of I cannot imagine!”

Judged by worldly standards his success was minimal. But when he died of typhus fever at the age of 48 he assuredly heard the Saviour’s “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.