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Pioneer Missionaries: David Brainerd

by Jessie Brown Pounds

David BrainerdThe life of David Brainerd, though brief, was destined to be one of lasting influence. His beautiful character has been an inspiration, and his heroic endurance has strengthened many to face hardships bravely for Christ's sake. It is said that the princely missionary, Henry Martyn, consecrated himself to the foreign field after having read the life of Brainerd.

Brainerd was born in Haddam, Connecticut, [United States], April 20, 1718. His parents were persons of intelligence and influence, his father being a member of the King's Council for the Colony.

In his youth Brainerd was thoughtful and inclined to melancholy. When he was fourteen he was left an orphan, and his loneliness no doubt had much to do with his habitual sadness.

In 1739 he entered Yale College, where he stood first in his classes. We are surprised to learn that so good and so studious a young man should have been expelled from college, but this is what occurred in 1742. He had been heard to speak as if one of the teachers in the college were lacking in piety, and for this apparent disrespect he was expelled. He afterward apologized for his mistake, but was not taken back.

In the year 1743 Brainerd began to work among the Indians at Kaunameek, a village between Stockbridge, [Massachusetts] and Albany, [New York]. He built himself a little cabin, slept on a bundle of straw, and ate boiled corn and hasty pudding. He had hidden himself in the wilderness, but such brilliant gifts as his could not remain unknown even there. Some of the best churches in New England called him to their pulpits. All in vain, for his heart was set on the redemption of the Indian.

In 1744 he was ordained at Newark, New Jersey, as a missionary of the Scottish Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. He started a mission at Crossweeksung, New Jersey, and there labored with marvelous zeal and success. The Indians learned to reverence his goodness and to feel that he was their friend. He rejoiced in sufferings borne for Christ's sake, and no hardship was severe enough to turn him back from the course which he had chosen.

He was not satisfied to do only the work of his mission. He made occasional journeys through the forest to preach to the settlements of Indians on the Susquehanna. Remembering the many injustices to which the American people have subjected the Indians, it is good to recall also this one noble life, given in loving sacrifice for their sakes.

In the year 1767, utterly broken in health by the privations which he had undergone, he returned to New England for rest and nursing. A home and loving care were waiting for him at the house of the great preacher, Jonathan Edwards. Jerusha Edwards, the lovely young daughter of the house, had given her heart to Brainerd, and had freely promised to share the privations of his lot. Tenderly cared for by her and her family, and happy in the sense of God's presence, David Brainerd closed his eyes upon the world which he had striven to bless. Of few persons can it be so truly said, "Being dead he yet speaketh."

From Pioneer Missionaries: Short Sketches of the Lives of the Pioneers in Missionary Work in Many Lands by Jessie Brown Pounds. Indianapolis, Ind.: The Young People's Department of the Christian Woman's Board of Missions, 1907.

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