By Joanna Reed Shelton
Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2016
304 pages, ISBN: 978-1498224918, Paperback
Reviewed by Daniel A. Métraux
Joanna Reed Shelton’s recent book, A Christian in the Land of the Gods, is a beautifully written biography of her great-grandfather, the Reverend Thomas Theron Alexander (1850–1902), and her great-grandmother, Emma Edwina Alexander (1855–1937), who served as Presbyterian missionaries and teachers in Japan from 1877 to 1902. The value of this work is enhanced by the author’s in-depth analysis of the great difficulties foreign missionaries and teachers had in introducing Christianity into a strongly resistant society and Japan’s aversion to foreign influences while simultaneously rapidly modernizing itself during the Meiji period (1868–1912).
Thomas Alexander was born and raised on a small farm at Mount Horeb in eastern Tennessee. He graduated from Maryville College and soon after attended the Union Theological Seminary in New York. He graduated in May 1877 and several weeks later became licensed as a Presbyterian minister. That same month, he married the love of his life, Emma Brown, one of the first female graduates of Maryville College. The newly married couple declined calls from several American churches in favor of an opportunity to work as missionaries in Japan. They set out for Tokyo in October 1877 and made Japan their permanent home. Thomas rarely left Japan and died in 1902 while still busy at work in his adopted country.