Never Give Up: The Courageous Life of Missionary David Brainerd

“Here am I, Lord, send me. Send me to the ends of the earth. Send me to the rough, the savage pagans of the wilderness. Send from all that is called comfort in earth or earthly comfort. Send even to death itself if it is be in Thy service and to promote Thy kingdom.” -David Brainerd 

Here is the remarkable story of the American missionary David Brainerd.


Early Life and Conversion

Born in Connecticut on April 20, 1718, David Brainerd grew up in a Congregational Church home. Sadly, he lost his father at age 9 and his mother at age 14. Although David faithfully attended church and had daily devotions, he did not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ until the age of 21. 
He had been reading and meditating on Isaiah 53, and at last he reached a turning point. David recognized his need for salvation and forgiveness and believed on Jesus Christ to save him. He later wrote of the experience, “As I was walking in a dark thick grove, unspeakable glory seemed to open to the view…of my soul. My soul was so captivated with the excellency, loveliness, greatness, and other perfections of God that I was even swallowed up in Him.” From this moment on, David wanted to share with others the great love of God that he had experienced.

Call to Ministry

In 1739, David enrolled at Yale College. There, he would hear the great revival preaching of George Whitefield during America’s Great Awakening. During his time at college, he also developed the first signs of a life-threatening illness, tuberculosis. But, because of a disrespectful remark he made about a college tutor, David was not permitted to graduate from college.
After spending three years studying at Yale College, David was sent out by the Scottish Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge as a missionary to the American Indians. He began serving among the natives of Kaunaumeek, New York, in 1743.

Ministry in the Wilderness

David’s ministry was first and foremost to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Living in the wilderness, he sacrificed many of the comforts of ordinary European life. David often slept in the forest and spent days in fasting and prayer. Though he often battled illness and depression, he refused to give up. After serving in New York for two years and seeing little fruit for his efforts, God led him to another place of service.
In June of 1745, David began working among the American Indians of Crossweeksung, New Jersey. His new audience was much more receptive, and, just a few months after his arrival, David rejoiced to see revival among the natives. Many of them believed on Jesus Christ and accepted Him as their personal Saviour. (Contact us at our prison ministries to learn how you can do this.) 
For two years, David trained these new believers and worked to establish them in the faith. “One of the happiest days of his life was when he was able to baptize some of these new believers and then partake of the Lord’s Supper, sharing the bread and wine with those he had seen come to the Lord through his ministry,” writes Dr. John A. Dreisbach

Death and Legacy

While serving on the field, David’s health continued to decline. In March of 1747, Jonathan Edwards invited him to his own home to recuperate. Jonathan’s daughter Jerusha lovingly nursed the young missionary during his illness. David spent the last months of his life there until his death on October 9, 1747. 
His host, the great preacher Jonathan Edwards, was deeply impressed with David’s testimony of courageous service. And he went on to publish David’s diary and journals as The Life and Diary of David Brainerd. This volume has deeply impacted many great missionaries, such as David Livingstone, Andrew Jackson, and John Wesley, and inspired them to surrender completely to God’s will. At our prison ministries, we too want to obey God wholeheartedly.
Though his life only spanned 29 short years, David Brainerd fulfilled his life’s dream, “I want to wear out my life in His service and for His glory.” May we do the same!
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