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  • Writer's pictureW. Austin Gardner

Promoting foreign missions

Year after year the board repeated the request for Rice to remain a little longer in America, for they felt no one else could arouse Baptist sentiments for missions as he could. The criticism Rice faced later for not returning to India seems unjustified, though clearly with each passing year he lost some of his early zeal for going back.

The journal and letters of Luther Rice reveal his methods of work. The board furnished him with “credentials,” or letters of introduction to churches and associations. Wherever he went, Rice produced the credentials and invariably was invited to preach.

He was an extremely effective preacher, able not only to expound the missionary message of the Bible but also to draw upon anecdotes and his own overseas experiences, thus making a profound impact upon audiences.

He always took a missionary offering wherever he spoke, and where possible helped form local missionary societies auxiliary to the Triennial Convention. Rice also had a gift for enlisting others in the missionary task.

The endless travel was not easy for Rice. At first he used public transportation but later rode horseback (and bested John Wesley’s record of one day’s horseback travel by three miles, ninety-three to ninety).

Later in life he acquired a more comfortable one-horse sulky, a kind of two-wheeled buggy. Rice swam rivers, braved snowstorms, endured the heat, and at times detoured to avoid hostile Indians or bandits, lodging in homes along the way when he could find them, under the open sky when he could not. Whether in crude frontier cabins or the fine homes of Richmond or Boston, Rice felt equally at home.

He would usually read from the Bible, sing a hymn, pray with the family, and speak at least a brief testimony for missions wherever he stopped overnight. Though immensely popular, Rice also had his detractors. Some complained of his ready wit and use of humor in preaching, feeling that such levity was unbecoming in the pulpit. Some of his hostesses along the way expressed amazement at the number of cups of tea and coffee he could drink at one sitting.

H. Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1987), 350–351.

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