David Brainerd: American Missionary to Native Americans

Home Inspiring Story David Brainerd: American Missionary to Native Americans

Before he became a Christian, David Brainerd had a plan for his life. He’d set his heart on a career in the pulpit and enrolled at Yale.  The reality is: a man may plan his path, but God directs the right path. Two months before classes started, Brainerd met the Savior.  He entered the date July 12, 1739 in his diary and documented his conversion.  Now being a clergyman had some real meaning for him. Off to Yale he went.

During that first year, measles and other illnesses, especially consumption (likely tuberculosis) plagued him, and the college sent him home.

As he returned to school, the Great Awakening swept through the country, and the old order of religion sometimes clashed with the new. Yale enacted a rule governing what students were allowed to say against rectors, trustees, and tutors, and a first offense required a public confession and a second offense meant expulsion.

During a private conversation in his junior year, a friend of Brainerd’s asked his thoughts on a certain tutor, and Brainerd replied, “he has no more grace than this chair.”1 A bystander overheard the comment, and the offense reached the rector. Brainerd refused to publicly apologize for something said in a private conversation. Yale expelled him.

Crushed, Brainerd thought his future as a minister was over due to a temporary Connecticut law requiring ministers be graduates of Harvard, Yale, or European institutions. Then Brainerd experienced a deep depression.

The next several weeks of his diary are filled with comments such as “My heart seemed again to sink” and “I had no refuge but in God.”2The ill-spoken words had changed the course of his life.

Some sympathetic ministers licensed Brainerd anyway and sought his reinstatement to Yale with no success. Dejected, Brainerd accepted the consolation and waited for God to direct him. He never wavered from Biblical truths such as: “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9, ESV).

Within months, he received an appointment as a missionary to Native Americans—an effort he pursued with a holy passion through years of sickness and hardship. Due to his perseverance, countless Native Americans received the Gospel; Jonathan Edwards was moved to write Brainerd’s life story, and he influenced missionaries Henry Martin and William Carey to pursue their life’s work.

Has something happened to crush your dream? Don’t be discouraged. God has a perfect plan for you. Pray right now for God to show you the next step.  Act in faith.


[1] “Jesus People, Loving People,” The Life and Diary of David Brainerd with Notes and Reflections, April 2018,, accessed November 04, 2018, https://jesus.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/brainerd_diary.pdf.