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Celebrating Phil's Book Launch

This post is not about our work at BFA - at least not directly. It is about how modern missions are perceived, and the impact those perceptions can have on the effectiveness of missionaries globally. It is also a story of celebration.

Sixteen years after starting my PhD in US Diplomatic History, and twelve years after finishing the dissertation, Accidental Diplomats: American missionaries and the Cold War in Africa, is finally out! Much of the work of preparing the book to be published happened during our family's sabbatical to Kandern in 2018, and so it felt really good to able to celebrate the launch tonight at BFA amongst that same community we are now blessed to call friends.

The richness of any celebration is tied to the journey and in this case that journey included a lot of work: Four years of intensive research, including thousands of hours of reading and writing, conducting interviews, and digging through documents in forgotten archives spread across three continents - all followed by another ten years of writing and re-writing. And that is just me.

The journey also included Catherine and the girls having to uproot and re-root on several occassions. Those changes provided us with some amazing experiences as a family, but they were not without hardship. In fact, during one particularly hard transition, an exhausted twelve-year-old Emma lashed out at the transition and the cause (me), saying, "we are only here so that you can write a book that no one will ever read!" Ouch. As I gave Emma a big hug through her angry sobbing, I remember smiling to myself and thinking, "You know, she's got a point!" And so the celebration this evening was a family celebration and a chance to thank Catherine, Emma, and Sophie.

If we put a lot of work into something, there is rightfully satisfaction, even it the final product lacks lasting value - at least that is the case if the aim of the journey is praiseworthy. When I began work on this book, I was convinced that there was an important story here that hadn't been told. I also believed that it was a story that - if told honestly and transparently - might encourage people to reconsider pervasive negative stereotypes that hurt the effectiveness of Christian missions globally. Those convictions only grew as work on the book progressed. And so the celebration tonight was also deepened by my belief that the aim of the book - producing an honest and substantial account of modern missions - was an aim of real value.

But in many ways, what I think doesn't matter. If others, and in particular the influential historians who write the textbooks and determine the narrative that surrounds modern missions, either never read the book or are not conviced by it when they do, than it doesn't matter what I think. My work, however much I enjoyed the journey, could feel like a waste. And so tonight's launch was a celebration of hard work towards a noble goal, but it also included a sense of uncertainty and expectation. Will the book be read? And will those who read it be persuaded by its arguments?

Only time will tell. So even as you pray for our work at BFA, please join us in praying that the people who need to read this book will, and that Accidental Diplomats will - even in a small way - convince people to reconsider some of the negative preconceptions they might have held about modern Christian missionaries.

If you are interested in reading the book yourself, or if you know of someone who would be, it is available on Amazon. And if you read it and think it has value, please give the book a rating and/or comment, as that does seem to help get the word out. It is still very early, but thankfully the initial reception to the book among acadmic historians has been encouraging.


Susan De Vries
Susan De Vries
May 31

I love your title! And love the theme, too. I look forward to reading this book, Phil, and believe without doubt that your girls' sacrifices and uprooting will prove to have been worth it all!

Sue DeVries

Philip Dow
Philip Dow
Jun 01
Replying to

Thank you Sue! I do hope you enjoy the book. In what I hope is a healthy way, I am really pleased with the book.

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