Tony Cupit, Ros Gooden and Ken Manley (ed)
From Five Barley Loaves: Australian Baptists in Global Mission 1864-2010
Mosaic Press, Preston, Victoria, 2013

ISBN 978- 1743241004 (paperback)

"From Five Barley Loaves is essential reading for Baptist missionaries, supporters and pastors, but also of interest to all mission leaders, teachers and strategists navigating the way forward for global mission in the 21st century."

In 1885 Silas Mead, first pastor of Flinders Street Baptist Church in Adelaide, preached on feeding the 5000 and likened the first five missionaries they were sending to the ‘five barley loaves’.  

These five women, who seemed so insignificant for the challenge of mission among millions of Bengalis, were the start of the global mission sending of Australian Baptists. Mead became recognised as the father of the Australian Baptist missionary movement. One of the women, Ellen Arnold, served for 49 years, the longest serving of any Australian Baptist missionary although many more (1,228 plus according to the list at the end of the book) were to follow. From Five Barley Loaves is the comprehensive 678 page history of the people sent and the cultures engaged, the local partners and the innovative strategies of Australian Baptist global mission over the last 150 years.   

The story starts with mainly women missionaries, who visited Indian women in their zenanas. For 80 years the Australian Baptist mission focused solely in India, seeking to reach Bengali Hindus and tribal Garos. I was fascinated to read of Hedley Sutton, a missionary in Mymensingh who attempted to pioneer the Vernacular Training Institute (VTI) for Bengali pastoral training. He was architect of ABFM field manual and instrumental in bringing the station committees together. 

Although invited to be first general secretary of the mission, he declined so he could continue serving in Bengal, where he acted as Field Council Secretary. Later returning to Melbourne, he became vice-principal of Carey Baptist Grammar from 1923, and also ABFM Board Chairman 1935-1943. (He did this while attending my church at Auburn and living in what is now our house, ‘Sutton Brae’). The work in India is noteworthy for the large Baptist Church of Mizoram in Assam, north-east India, which has now sent its own missionaries in partnership with Australian Baptists.  It is also significant for the areas that in post-colonial times became Pakistan and Bangladesh. The ‘New Towns Policy’ and incarnational contextualized outreach to the Bengali majority community was fruitful and had significant lessons for future work in other countries.     

The next chapter (and the longest in the book) was when mission work spread to Papua New Guinea after World War II at the urging of returned Baptist chaplains. Highlights were revival among the Enga people at Baiyer River and the Min people near Telefomin. But there was also Bible translation, valuable health and educational services that were part of nation-building, and the development of the indigenous church through to handover and partnership.

The story unfolds as the mission expands. Workers were sent into Indonesia – firstly among the tribal Danis in Papua, then into Timor with theological and broader vocational training. A bigger step was to pioneer in Africa, initially in Zambia and Zimbabwe with healthcare and theological education, South Africa for a time, and then focusing on the Yawo with village evangelism in Malawi and Mozambique. New work in Thailand included a diversity of incarnational initiatives by a multicultural team focusing on Thai Buddhists, including outreach on the edge of Tanon Tok slum and ministry among HIV/AIDS sufferers. There are fascinating stories behind the teams that have formed and developed innovative ministry platforms in Indonesia, Kazakstan, Cambodia and China. Mission workers have responded to individual calls or opportunities in Hong Kong, Philippines, Singapore, Hungary, Nicaragua, Vietnam and Lebanon. And across outback Australia, the mission has come alongside the indigenous church, including encouraging them to develop traditional indigenous corroborees and iconographs and locally appropriate leadership models. Today the mission serves in a dozen nations as well as Australia. 

Interspersed through the stories of mission work are Ken Manley’s reflections on the mission leadership and support-raising and recruiting issues of the ‘home office’. He introduces us to the succession of eight general secretaries and directors, such as the stubborn but loyal missionary statesman leadership of JD Williams (1958-1983): ‘’His handkerchief was overworked, wiping tears, as he related to a wider audience, troubles his staff had faced or were facing.”

The book traces missiological trends and locates the history of the mission in its regional and global contexts. Throughout the narratives there are lessons to learn from an overview of mission issues spanning three centuries related to missionary support and finance, the role of the ‘missionary wife’, missionary kids and their education, cross-cultural teams, people group adoption, the non-residential missionary, contextualisation and localisation. Missionaries show innovative approaches to getting visas and making a contribution to their adopted country – from involvement in healthcare, education, community development and teaching English through to innovative business as mission including ecotourism, guitar teaching and beauty consulting.  And there are helpful models of inter-mission cooperation, from early days in PNG where the mission field was divided to avoid overlap, through till today in Thailand and Cambodia where a number of mission organisation work cooperatively under the one organisation. 

A recurring theme throughout is the commitment to develop the indigenous church and work towards handover and partnership. These are among the most exciting sections, reading of missionaries moving on from pioneers and teachers to partnering with the local church, leaving them to it and learning from their new discoveries. This is a natural post-colonial shift as the balance of Christianity has shifted from the West (in 1900 83 per cent of Christians lived in Europe and North America) to the global South (60 per cent Christians now live in Africa, Asia, Pacific and Latin America). 

The shift towards partnership as a global mission agency is reflected in name changes of the mission. The state missionary societies started forming in 1864. After almost two decades of discussion they came together as Australian Baptist Foreign Mission (ABFM) in 1913. They left behind the racial superiority implied by ‘foreign’ by renaming as Australian Baptist Missionary Society (ABMS) in 1959. In 2002 they adopted Global Interaction to refocus away from their national and denominational ties, and avoid the tag of ‘missionary’ and the outdated idea of a ‘society’, and instead celebrate their global action and service in partnership or exchange with others. This is reflected also in their latest mission statement, ‘to empower faith communities to develop their own distinctive ways of following Jesus’.

"The story is often not easy. But there is also an underlying testimony of contentment and joy in discerning where God is at work and joining in." 

"The story is often not easy. But there is also an underlying testimony of contentment and joy in discerning where God is at work and joining in."

From Five Barley Loaves does not ignore stories of disappointment, tragedy and embarrassment. We read of the deaths of Cyril and Edna Moore and Ron Potter drowned in 1944 near Gobindsari; Ray Schaeffer in a plane crash in Irian Jaya in 1983 before becoming General Secretary; and 10 year old Paul Venz in Africa in 1991, the same year four missionaries were abducted from Zambia (but thankfully rescued). Sometimes misunderstanding and conflict has existed within teams, sometimes with the national church (including times corruption has had to be faced), and sometimes teams have lived through political turmoil or civil war. The story is often not easy. But there is also an underlying testimony of contentment and joy in discerning where God is at work and joining in.   

I recall Ken Manley, one of the editors, quoting Oscar Wilde at a book event: “Any fool can make history, it takes a genius to write it”. This history is the definitive work on Australian Baptists in global mission and the most comprehensive study of an Australian missionary organisation. It draws extensively on primary documents and participant-observation – most of the authors are previous Baptist mission staff. The three editors were joined by six other writers; a combination of historians, mission leaders and long-serving missionaries. The result of their collaborative efforts is a thoroughly-researched and rigorously academic treatment of Australian Baptists in Global Mission, which is also a pleasure to read. It is also dangerously inspiring – it had this reviewer wanting to return to Indonesia, or perhaps join a team in Malawi, Thailand or Cambodia, or Kazakstan, Lebanon or Singapore. From Five Barley Loaves is essential reading for Baptist missionaries, supporters and pastors, but also of interest to all mission leaders, teachers and strategists navigating the way forward for global mission in the 21st century. 

This review was originally published in Australian eJournal of Theology 21:1 (April 2014) 88-89 (

To buy this book, follow this link From Five Barley Loaves: Australian Baptists in Global Mission 1864 - 2000.