Material History of American Religion Project

The missionary's refrigerator

Missionary refrigeratorSince the early nineteenth century American Christians have sent out missionaries to spread the Gospel around the world. The history of missions is filled with accounts of heroic men and women struggling against obstacles--hazardous journeys, hostile natives, exotic diseases, unknown languages. Many of these missionaries took their families along, raising their children in an alien land.

While missionaries have indeed done important work among many dangers, their life in the mission field has not been quite as alien as accounts first suggest. They took with them an inherently American version of Christianity, with all the cultural assumptions that underlay it. They took with them western notions of proper behavior, proper theology, and proper worship. The reed organ featured on this site, for instance, may have belonged to a missionary who believed that you couldn't have worship without hymns accompanied by an organ.

And, as this advertisement suggests, they took with some--if not all--of the comforts of home. A 1951 issue of Missions, a magazine of the Northern Baptist Convention, advertised a kerosene-powered refrigerator, specifically targeted at the church's missionaries around the world--many of them in tropical climes. With the refrigerator, missionaries could have some of the foods they might have missed from home. As the advertisement also points out, the unit could be used for medical purposes as well, keeping vaccines and medication fresh, so it could serve both culinary and humanitarian purposes in the service of the Gospel.

Missions 149 (April 1951), 252.

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