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Book review: ‘The Saints Abroad’ showcases the magnitude of the 1852 missionary efforts

“The Saints Abroad: Missionaries Who Answered Brigham Young’s Call to the Nations of the World” is edited by Reid L. Neilson and R. Mark Melville.
BYU Religious Studies Center

THE SAINTS ABROAD: Missionaries Who Answered Brigham Young’s Call to the Nations of the World,” edited by Reid L. Neilson and R. Mark Melville, BYU Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, $29.99, 394 pages (nf)

A few minutes after 2 p.m. on Aug. 28, 1852, President Orson Pratt stood at the pulpit and called over 100 men (including himself) to serve missions across the world. “The Saints Abroad” is their story as told through the missionaries’ letters, memoirs, and journals.

While these missionaries were called to over 20 different areas of the world, “The Saints Abroad” focuses on the experiences of missionaries in nine missions: Wales, Prussia (Germany), Gibraltar (Spain), the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa), the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), China, Siam (Thailand) and Hindoostan (India), and Australia. Editors Reid L. Neilson and R. Mark Melville give each of these missions their own section of the book, with Siam and Hindoostan sharing a chapter, providing a biographical sketch of each missionary, an overview of the missionary service, and the background of the missionaries’ writings. This format gives the reader some familiarity with each story and its characters so he or she can better appreciate the primary sources.

The appendices of the book are a portion of the remarks given at the 1852 conference and a biographical register of all the missionaries who were called at that conference or who left with that group of missionaries.

”The Saints Abroad” is skillfully edited and presented, giving readers an appreciation for the magnitude of the missionaries’ calling and the miracles they witnesses. Neilson and Melville strive to show each missionary at his best while openly acknowledging difficult content.

Neilson is the managing director of the Church History Department and an Assistant Church Historian and Recorder. Melville also works for the Church History Department and previously collaborated with Neilson on “A Historian in Zion.”

”The Saints Abroad” contains some generally described scenes of extreme illness and carnage. References are made to prostitution, and plural marriage is a recurring theme. The missionaries also express racist and ethnocentric views that may be offensive to modern readers.

Rachel Chipman believes heaven will have books piled to the ceiling and endless time to read. She lives with three little bookworms and one grown-up bookworm in western Washington.