The A.B.C.F.M.'s support came from a myriad of newly formed mission societies and from individual donors, all of whose names can be perused in the organization’s printed annual reports. They are listed town by town, so it’s an easy exercise to look up Andover’s contributions, some of which were from people who wanted to be anonymous. In the year 1819-1820, for example, we find the Female Charitable Society ($60) (“of which half for Am. In.”); seminary faculty member Reverend Leonard Woods ($20); “three females” ($3); a “charity box kept by Emily Jane Adams,” the seven-year-old daughter of P.A. headmaster John Adams ($4); and Betsey Cleveland, who, I discovered, was the “family maid” of the Adamses ($1). 
A.B.C.F.M.-sponsored missionaries, who came exclusively from Andover for decades, were among the primary interpreters of faraway cultures for nineteenth-century Americans. Through their reports printed in religious newspapers and periodicals, their homely tracts and missionaries’ memoirs published by a robust religious press, and sermons and speeches delivered by missionaries on visits home, they circulated a concept of the world sharply divided into Christians and “barbarians,” holy men and heathen, saved and lost souls that was internalized by large swaths of our population. The A.B.C.F.M.’s original seal pictured a male figure in Western-style clothing handing a Bible to a kneeling, semi-naked “native.” It is as vivid an image as you will find of confidence in the righteousness of imposing a singular belief on a multi-religious world filled with people perfectly content practicing eons-old religions of their own. The same binary thinking pervaded the A.B.C.F.M.’s home missions in cities and in the Indian territories, where some men were assigned to stay for the duration of their careers while others were tested for their suitability to the rigors of missionary life before a greater investment was made in sending them abroad.
The either-or perspective also informed our government’s foreign policies regarding “primitive,” “backward,” “underdeveloped” countries through the twentieth century, after which the terminology may have changed but not the mindset. The United States has never overly pushed religion on anyone outside our borders. The cause has always been democracy, but capitalist policies have allowed us to exploit those countries’ populations in the name of providing them with economic self-determination. The official stance has always been “post-colonial” in name, but has repeatedly given our corporations the opportunity to harvest not souls but raw materials and dollars. One can detect a similar, them-vs.-us mentality today in the groups that oppose immigration, espouse white supremacy, or otherwise demonize differences. “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil,” American philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote in The True Believer. 
I was born in 1951, the year Hoffer published The True Believer, which has aged well, seeming both prescient and timely. As an infant I was baptized a Catholic. To be sure, the missionaries of the A.B.C.F.M. were just as keen on thwarting the “Papists” in their efforts to bring people into their church as they were on converting non-Christians. But they would have applauded the thought processes I adopted as a parochial-school student, a stint that extended from nursery school through ninth grade. I remember asking new, childhood acquaintances if they were “Catholic or public.” When I got a little older, I prayed for the conversion of “pagans,” and collected money in a mite box for this purpose. Mite box. I had forgotten the term and the concept until a few years ago when, while thumbing through a museum catalog of an exhibition on indigenous art, I spotted an image of an example in the shape of a miniature schoolhouse. Mine had been made of printed cardboard that folded into a three-dimensional shape about the size of a Barnum’s Animals Crackers box. The one in the museum catalog, referred to as a "church collection box," was wooden, the size of a standard bread-loaf pan, and covered with paper illustrated with watercolored images, its early nineteenth-century maker a member of New York’s Tuscarora community who had joined a Congregational church as a teenager. 
Eventually, beginning slightly before puberty arrived and lasting until slightly after its onset, I wanted to become a missionary myself. It seemed the logical conclusion if I were truly to follow the edicts of my Catholic-school education. During that phase of my life, I corresponded with the director of vocations for the Maryknoll Sisters; I visited the nuns’ motherhouse in Maryknoll, New York; perhaps most important, I read the many books written by the order’s director of publicity, Sister Maria del Rey. Recently I re-read her In and Out the Andes, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1955. An account of visits she made to Maryknoll missions from Nicaragua to the Yucatán and points in between, the book is partly an engaging travelogue written by a woman who, before entering the convent, earned a college degree in journalism and worked as a reporter and columnist for a Pittsburgh newspaper. Adept at employing the well-chosen anecdote, the telling detail, and her wry sense of humor, she reminded me of Mr. Theroux — in a good mood. Clearly, my faith had been a kiddy kind of faith — no wonder it didn’t survive my young adulthood — and for a variety of reasons, no other kind of religious faith has since replaced it.  And yet, I consider that early missionary aspiration of mine another reason why I gravitated to this subject and why it has suited me.
1. James A. Field Jr., “Near East Notes and Far East Queries,” John K. Fairbank, ed., The Missionary Enterprise in China and America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974), 39. Field compares the A.B.C.F.M. to the U.S. State Department and the Navy Department, in terms of the tasks they undertook, e.h., needing to “set up a tax system, reaching out . . . through Sunday school and church collection” and creating “a network of regional agents.” It also had to deal with “the problems of overseas transfers of funds” and arrived at the same solution as the U.S. government: “the use of the international banking facilities of the English firm of Baring Brothers.”
2. First Ten Annual Reports of the American Board of Commissions for Foreign Missions (Boston: Crocker and Brewster, 1834), “Donations from Sept. 1, 1819 to Aug. 31, 1820.” Dr. Wood's sermon delivered in the chapel of the Theological Seminary, Andover, February 1st 1835 on the death of Henry Lyman and Samuel Munson, missionaries and of Aurelian H. Post, Luke Baker & Chester Lord, all recent members of the seminary (Andover: Gould and Newman, 183.
3. Eric Hoffer, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (New York: Harper & Bros., 1951), 91.
4. Karen Kramer Russell, Shapeshifting: Transformations in Native American Art (New Haven: Peabody Essex Museum in association with Yale University Press, 2012), 188-189.
5. See Jeanne Schinto, “The Trouble with Church Art,” Mars Hill Review, No. 19, 2002, 21-23.