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David Brainerd - Only a Moment in Time

Updated: May 29, 2023

Two quotations from David Brainerd's diary can teach us all we need to know about this faithful hero of history. He wrote,“All my desire was the conversion of the heathen and all hope was in God.”

Another entry reads, “I want to wear out my life in His service and for His glory," and that is exactly what he did. May we be inspired and motivated to be all in for God's glory.

The following is an excerpt from my children's book, All Nations, on the life of David Brainerd.

Only a Moment in Time

“Can you say your name again? I still didn’t get it.” David Brainerd asked the Native American sitting near him.

“My name is Wauwaumpequennaunt."

“Wau - waum - peck - wi - not?” David replied, carefully trying to pronounce the


The tall Housatonic Indian finally said, “Just call me John.” Most of us probably don’t think that taking a few moments to learn someone’s name can make a big difference for eternity. But missionary David Brainerd did. He knew that Wauwaumpequennaunt could become his translator and help him give the Gospel to the people of Kaunameek. David Brainerd tried to use the short moments of his life to make big differences. By studying him we can learn to be faithful with the moments God gives us.

Pharaoh's army engulfed by the Red Sea, painting by Frederick Arthur Bridgman (1900)

God often uses very short moments in time to show His power. For example, think about that moment when God caused the waters of the Red Sea to divide. God used that one single moment in time to deliver His people. He also used it to conquer the Egyptians and to show the whole world that He is the one true God. Throughout Scripture, God’s people remembered their deliverance at the Red Sea. It encouraged them to trust Him more. Sometimes we think we need lots of time to make an impact. But God showed us at the Red Sea that in His strength, one moment can make a difference that inspires generations.

David Brainerd did not have a long life to make a difference in the world. But he gave himself to God to be used however God wanted, and that made a big difference. Before America was even a country, David became a missionary to Native Americans. He did not have roads on which to travel. He did not have hotels in which to stay. He did not have stores in which to buy food and supplies. He didn’t even have a flashlight to guide his way as he hiked through the forests to reach the Indians.

Instead, he spent his days trudging through the wilderness, sleeping on the ground in the woods, and fighting for survival. But David had a habit of fervently praying every day.

One morning, he knelt in prayer for the Native Americans he was about to visit. He had been told that this group of Indians was very dangerous. He did not know it at the time, but a group of warriors from the tribe had snuck up behind him. They were planning to kill him. Just as they were about to attack, they noticed a large rattlesnake slither up next to him. The snake coiled into striking position right next to David’s face. The warriors watched just waiting for the snake to kill this unwelcome stranger. But then, without any reason, the snake lowered its head, turned around, and slithered back into the forest. The Indians were shocked by the event. They decided that this white man must be very special. He must be protected by spirits! They allowed him to come into their village. That single moment not only showed God’s protection, but it also inspired the Indians to listen to David’s message.

David kept a detailed journal and wrote in it nearly every day. He recorded many of his struggles as he tried to faithfully serve the Indians. Many days, David could barely find enough food for himself. Other days he was so cold and sick that he could barely move. Sometimes, his horse would get loose in the middle of the night and wander off. David would have to spend hours searching for his horse in the woods. On one journey, David and his horse were traveling over a very rocky patch of ground. The horse injured its leg and fell down. It nearly crushed David, but God protected him. Sadly, the horse’s leg was badly broken. Since he was in the middle of the wilderness, David had to kill the suffering animal and continue on foot.

Much of David’s life was filled with heartache and disappointment. His father died when David was only nine years old and his mother died when he was just fourteen. David lived with an older sister for a time, and then went to study with a minister in a different town. The minister taught young men who wanted to become pastors, and David studied hard. Because of this education, David was able to attend Yale University. He was so happy! At Yale he studied to be a minister. But, in his third year of college, one moment in time completely changed the direction of David’s life.

In one foolish moment, David criticized one of his teachers. He said that he “had no more grace than his chair.” Yale expelled David from school and he was devastated. He begged for forgiveness and asked if he could come back, but Yale refused to let him return. David’s dream of becoming a pastor seemed to end.

David repented and prayed for God’s leading. God led him to a wise older man named Jonathan Dickinson. Mr. Dickinson was a highly respected pastor who encouraged David to consider being a missionary to the Native Americans. God burdened David’s heart for this ministry and in his journal he wrote,

“Here I am, Lord, send me; . . . send me to the rough, the savage pagans of the wilderness . . . send me even to death itself, if it be but in thy service.”

In 1743, he began working in Kaunameek with Wauwaumpequennaunt and the Housatonic people. He wrote in his journal that the Indians at Kaunameek were kind, but they did not really seem open to the gospel. After about a year, his mission leadership asked him to consider working with a new tribe that was much more dangerous. These were the Indians that would have killed him if God had not saved him from the rattlesnake. David worked with these Indians for more than two years. They lived in the wilderness near the border of Pennsylvania and New Jersey and David spent time in each of their main villages.

The first was at Crossweeksung and the second was at Cranberry. God worked mightily among these fierce Indians. They responded to David’s preaching. In his journal he wrote that he had spent a morning preaching to them. After the preaching, the people came to him one by one with tears in their eyes and asked him how to be saved. By the time David left that tribe, 130 Indians had come to Christ!

David wanted to continue working with the Indians, but his health began to fail. He had a disease called tuberculosis, and in 1747, he had to leave his missionary work. He was welcomed into the home of his friend, Jonathan Edwards. Mr. Edwards was a well-known preacher who had encouraged David in his work. Just a few weeks later, David died from his illness. He was only 29 years old and had only been a missionary for four years.

His friend, Jonathan Edwards found his journal after his death. He was so moved by David’s dedication to God that he published the journal for others to read. David’s journal is so inspiring that it has influenced men for centuries. Missionaries like William Carey, Henry Martyn, and Jim Elliot all credit David’s journal for encouraging them to serve God in missions – no matter the cost.

Furthermore, as a direct result of David’s life, two universities were founded to train men for ministry. David’s friend, Jonathan Dickinson helped to start the College of New Jersey to train pastors and missionaries. He was disappointed that Yale never allowed David to graduate. He decided to start a college to help others like David who needed training for the ministry. Today, that school is called Princeton University. Later, another man named Eleazar Wheelock read David’s journal. David’s work inspired him to start Dartmouth College to train both Native Americans and the White Man. David would never know how fruitful God would make his short life and ministry, but he did understand how important every moment was. He wrote in his journal,

“Oh, how precious is time, and how it pains me to see it slide away. . . Oh, that God would make me more fruitful.”

If you've never read his biography, I encourage you to do so, however, I will warn you - you will be convicted to do more for God's Kingdom. You will be changed by your encounter with this amazing hero from history. I'll leave you with two more entries from his diary.

“Let me forget the world and be swallowed up in the desire to glorify God.”
“All I want is to be more holy, more like my dear Lord.”

If you'd like to check out more missionary stories, one of our personal family favorite series is from YWAM (Youth With a Mission) Publishing. Click on image below to check out some of their great resources.

*The above excerpt is from my book All Nations which is a companion book for the Illuminate homeschool curriculum published by Union Gospel Press. It's release date has not yet been set, but stay tuned! I'll be sure and let you know when it is available.

Disclosure: Bear in mind that some of the links in this post are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. Keep in mind that I link these companies and their products because of their quality and not because of the commission I receive from your purchases. The decision is yours, and whether or not you decide to buy something is completely up to you. Please read full disclosure here.


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