April 17th in World Evangelism History

On this day in 1960, Lettie Cowman, wife of missionary Charles Cowman, died at the age of ninety.

Nearly sixty years earlier, Lettie and Charles had arrived to Japan to commence their missionary work.  Along with a dear friend, Ernest Kilbourne, they started an organization that became known at the Oriental Missionary Society.  For the next twenty years of their lives, Lettie and her husband worked tirelessly to reach the Orient with the Gospel.  Their ministry focused on distributing literature to every household and training indigenous Christian workers.

The work grew rapidly and soon grew to other countries, including Korea and China.  For Charles Cowman, who was described as “a visionary, a gifted administrator, and an inspiring leader”, this was an exciting time and the larger the OMS grew, the harder he worked.  It wasn’t long, however, until Cowman overworked himself into exhaustion.  In 1917, the Cowmans were forced to return to the United States, with hope that Charles would recover.

For the next six years, Lettie would sit by her husbands bedside, trying to  nurse him back to health.  During this time, Lettie began to write.  She finished a book on her husbands life and their work in the Orient, entitled “Charles E. Cowman: Missionary Warrior.”  She also wrote a devotional book, called Streams in the Desert.  This book came almost by accident.  These six years were difficult times for this beautiful couple.  Aside from the physical pain that attacked Charles, there was the fierce emotional pain that came from the simple fact that Lettie was losing Charles and she knew it.  But there was nothing she could do to stop it.

As they crept together through these six years, Lettie read through the Bible and a library of Christian books, gathering bits and pieces that helped her the most.  She used these to not only encourage her own heart in this dark time, but also Charles’ and a host of others going through a rough time. In a letter to a friend she wrote, “After getting coffee and early breakfast for Charles, I gathered poems and quotations to encourage his heart and mine. Later, I sent them forth to bless our missionary friends around the world.”  These words and verses of encouragement were so helpful to others that Lettie decided to compile them into a devotional, called Streams in the Desert.  The truths that brought this couple through the dark valley has continued to be a light to so many others who are struggling.  In one of her excerpts, Lettie wrote:

God hedges in His own that He may preserve them, but oftentimes they only see the wrong side of the hedge, and so misunderstand His dealings. It was so with Job (Job 3:23). Ah, but Satan knew the value of that hedge! See his testimony in chapter 1:10.

Through the leaves of every trial there are chinks of light to shine through. Thorns do not prick you unless you lean against them, and not one touches without His knowledge. The words that hurt you, the letter which gave you pain, the cruel wound of your dearest friend, shortness of money–are all known to Him, who sympathizes as none else can and watches to see, if, through all, you will dare to trust Him wholly.

“Extraordinary afflictions are not always the punishment of extraordinary sins, but sometimes the trial of extraordinary graces. Sanctified afflictions are spiritual promotions.” (citing Matthew Henry 1662-1714)

Even after the death of her husband, Lettie continued on faithfully, both writing and promoting the work of the OMS.  She died when she was 90 years old.


The scriptorium

Women of Faith

On this day in 1937, all of the missionaries with the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) were forced to leave the work they started in Ethiopia.

Exactly ten years earlier, the Sudan Interior Mission had sent a group of missionaries to start a work among the Wallamos tribe, a Satanic worshiping tribe in Ethiopia.  Every year, the Wallamos held a feast for the “great, evil spirit”, where they would slay a bull, splatter the blood on their house, and make their children eat the raw meat of the bull.  Murder, war, and death controlled the people.  But the missionaries faithfully pressed on, despite the demonic atmosphere and extreme danger.

The work was slow and after ten years of ministry, they had started one church with 48 believers.  However, the fact that before they arrived, not a single Wallamos even knew who Jesus was made their accomplishment very significant.  The missionaries looked forward to what would happening in the coming years with great faith.  Until disaster struck.

In 1935, Mussolini and the Italian army stormed into Ethiopia and took control of the country.  This was one of the first acts of war in World War II.  Immediately, the Italians removed all the foreigners, including the missionaries, from Ethiopia.  For this faithful group of AIM missionaries, this removal was a nightmare.  What would happen to their tiny band of believers after the missionaries were gone?  Would they be destroyed by their fellow Wallamos or the Italian army?  Would they go back to their satanic worship?   “We knew God was faithful,” one missionary wrote. “That he was able to preserve what he began among the Wallamos.  But still we wondered—if we ever come back, what will we find?”

For six long years, the missionaries worried and prayed for the church among the Wallamos.  They heard reports of severe persecution by the Italian army.  They heard of how many of the national church leaders had been given a hundred lashes for carrying on their work.  One of the main leaders had been given four hundred lashes at one time.  Several of the church leaders had been killed.  One of the men, Wandaro, was beaten in public, but was shouting out the gospel to the assembled crowd between lashes.  The following was recorded of Wandaro’s beating:

“Who has taught you to be so strong?” Dogesa (the elder in charge of the whipping) was still angry but puzzled.

“The missionaries taught me!” Wandaro replied clearly and strongly.

“The missionaries have gone,” cried Dogesa. “Why trouble now? They aren’t here to help you and strengthen you.”

“That’s very true, but the God who sent them is still here. It is not the missionaries I am serving. It is God whom I am serving. God is the One who has saved me. It is God who planned my salvation. It is He who is with me right here. It is He who now strengthens me. It is not the white man. It is not the missionary.”

 Another, Toro, was thrown face down in the mud of a jail cell and beaten with a hippo-hide whip. “Where is the God who can deliver you out of our hands?” he was asked. “My God is able to deliver me–if he chooses–and if not, He has promised to take me to heaven to be with Him there.”  When it was finished, Toro weakly stood up and clearly gave the gospel to his captors.

When the missionaries finally arrived back in Ethiopia in 1943, they feared that the severe persecution may have stamped out the small church they left behind.  They were fully prepared to start again.  But what they found amazed them.  The bravery of the Christians and their boldness caused the Faith to spread like wildfire.  Entire villages turned to Christ and began to send missionaries to other villages.  Wallamoi men rose up to fill positions of leadership within the churches.  When the missionaries left, they prayed with a tiny band of 48 believers.  When they came back, they found an army of over 18,000.  God indeed was faithful.


Christian History by Robert Morgan

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