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Missionary Geography

By Maggie S. Hogan


“You can easily adapt this same study to any missionary or famous person of interest.”

What did Captain James Cook and William Carey have in common? Carey, noted linguist and missionary, was highly interested in plant, animal, and insect life, as was the famous adventurer, Cook. Carey was an avid reader. A book that greatly influenced him as a youth was The Voyages of Captain Cook. One of young William’s joys was to collect and categorize plants and insects. He crowded his room with specimens of both. The natural world intrigued him, and he later became a botanist of considerable reputation.

As a young man he continued to pore over Cook’s travels, as well as the best-selling book, Guthrie’s Geographical Grammar (pub. 1770), and the Bible. He drew a crude map of the world, noting places where the gospel had not yet been preached. He prayed that the Lord would send His laborers to the many untouched parts of the world. It’s exciting to see how God used Carey’s early interests and gifts in such powerful ways!

Perhaps you’re wondering, “What does this have to do with geography?” Well, check out this partial definition of geography from The Living Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language.

Geography is “The science which treats the surface of the earth, dealing especially with such aspects as topology, climate, the ocean, plant and animal life . . .”

Knowing more about a missionary’s world helps us to appreciate their ministry better – so let’s dive into Carey’s world! Using Diana Waring’s article on William Carey and reference materials (or the Internet), answer the following questions. (Pick and choose questions based on students’ ages and interests).

1. Climate

A. What is the climate like in England?
B. What is the climate like in Calcutta (now called Kolkata), India? (Serampore, where Carey spent much of his time in India, is approximately 14 miles north of Calcutta.)
C. What is the temperature today in London? What is it in Calcutta, India?
D. Do you think it would have been hard for William Carey and his family to adjust to the weather in India? Why or why not?

2. Location

A. Look at a world map. Find London and Calcutta. How did Carey travel to India? What might have been some of the difficulties? How long do you think it took to get there?
B. How would you travel to India today? How long would it take you?

3. Using the outline map of India (and surrounding countries) and an atlas, label the following:

A. Countries: India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, China, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Afghanistan.
B. Cities: New Delhi, Calcutta (now called Kolkata), Bombay (now called Mumbai), Bangalore.
C. Bodies of water: Arabian Sea, Gulf of Mannar, Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean, Indus River, Ganges River.

4. Flora and Fauna

A. What types of plants, animals, and insects might Carey have found in his native England?
B. What are some types that can be found in India?
C. Compare and contrast these two different environments.
D. Draw one plant or animal that would live in each place. Have you ever seen these before? Where?

5. Languages

A. What is the predominant language in England?
B. What are some of the languages spoken in India?
C. How are these languages the same or different?
D. Why is it important for a missionary to learn the local language?

6. Population

A. We don’t know the population of the tiny town of Paulerspury of Carey’s time, but a survey in the mid-18th century showed that the much bigger town of nearby Northampton had a population of about 5,000 people. Calcutta during that time-period had a population of approximately 100,000.
B. What is the approximate population of Calcutta today?
C. How does Calcutta’s population today compare to your hometown?
D. Do you think it’s easier being a missionary in a small town or in a large city? Why?

7. Place in Time

A. Draw a simple timeline beginning with 1750 and ending with 1834.
B. Add the following to your timeline: William Carey, James Cook, Carl Linnaeus, Mozart, American War of Independence, Pitt’s India Act, Shaka—King of the Zulus.
C. If you have access to a historical map, check out the world during the time of Carey. This was certainly an age of revolutions! How do you think this might have affected his ministry?

8. Religion

A. What was the predominant religion in England during Carey’s lifetime?
B. What are the predominant religions of India?
C. Make a chart comparing/contrasting Christianity, Hindu, and Islam.

9. Missionaries Today

A. Do you or your church support missionaries?
B. Who are they and where do they serve?
C. What does the Bible tell us about being missionaries?
D. What has the Lord taught you during this study of William Carey?


It’s natural to tie geography into almost any subject. When we recognize that geography is about both God’s people and His world, it’s easy to make the connections. Pull out your maps, your Bible, and your reference materials and make Missionary Geography a part of your life.

Maggie S. Hogan is the author of Hands-On Geography, co-author of The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide and Gifted Children at Home. She and her husband Bob live in Delaware where they began homeschooling their two sons in 1991. Their oldest, JB, serves in the US Army and their youngest son, Tyler, created the map within this piece. Contact Maggie at for comments on this piece or to learn more about Maggie Hogan.


Copyright 2003.
Originally appeared in Fall 2003. Used with permission.
The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.


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