Marriage and family
It was when he was ministering in the Toronto mission that Jonathan met Rosalind Bell-Smith, a Christian artist from a well-to-do, cultured family. When she was twenty, Rosalind prayed that the Lord “would lead to me one wholly given up to Him and to His service. I wanted no other.”
“The day she met Goforth she noted both the shabbiness of his dress and the challenge of his eyes. A few days later at a mission meeting she picked up Jonathan’s Bible, which was lying on a chair, observed that it was marked from cover to cover and noted that parts of it were almost in shreds from frequent use. ‘That’s the man I want to marry,’ she said to herself” (www.wholesomewords.org/missions/giants/bgoforth.html).
In her book, Goforth of China, Rosalind recounted how Jonathan had asked her an important question a few days after she had accepted his marriage proposal: “After we are married, will you accept that God and His work must come first, even before you?” Rosalind gave an inward gasp before promising: “Yes, I will, always,” even as she thought, “Did I not pray to the Lord for just such a man?”
Not long after, Rosalind’s commitment to keep her promise was put to the test. She shared: “I had been indulging in dreams of the beautiful engagement ring that was soon to be mine. Then Jonathan came to me and said, ‘You will not mind, will you, if I do not get an engagement ring?’ He went on to tell with great enthusiasm of his distribution of books and pamphlets on China from his room in Knox College. Every cent was needed for this important work. As I listened and watched his glowing face, the visions I had indulged in of the beautiful engagement ring vanished. This was my first lesson in real values. ... By the end of the next two years, which were given to the work in the East End slums, art had practically dropped out of my life, and in its place had come a deep desire to be a worthy life-partner of one so wholly yielded to his Divine Master, as I knew Jonathan Goforth to be.”
In October 1887 Jonathan and Rosalind were married. Their marriage lasted forty-nine years and they had eleven children – Gertrude, Donald, Paul, Florence, Helen, Grace, Ruth, William, Amelia Constance, Mary, and John Frederick – five of whom died as infants.
“Dr and Mrs Goforth were given of God to each other. It was a marriage of rare beauty, fellowship, and unity in faith and work. … When Mrs Goforth’s hearing was impaired, Dr Goforth was ears for her; and she, in his blindness, was eyes for him. But no physical weaknesses or limitations ever stopped their enthusiastic labours in winning souls for their Lord” (Charles G Trumbull).
Mission work in China
The Goforths laboured for forty-six years in China. The following is a brief account of their labours in that faraway land:
o Miraculous mastery of the Chinese language
When they first arrived in China, the missionary couple settled in Chefoo for nine months of language study. Weak in languages, Jonathan made slow progress in his study of the Chinese language. During his preaching ministry, he was often disparaged because he could not speak the language well. The listeners would turn to another missionary, Rev Donald McGillivray, Jonathan’s closest friend who had come to China a year later and say: “You speak, we don’t understand him.” Jonathan felt hurt but he refused to be discouraged – the Lord had called him to China and He would enable him to master the language.
“He picked up his Chinese Bible and went to the chapel. As he began to preach the miracle happened; he spoke with a fluency and power that amazed the people and thence forth his mastery of the Chinese language was recognized everywhere. Two months later he received a letter from Knox College telling of a prayer meeting in which the students prayed ‘just for Goforth’ and the presence of God was manifestly among them. Looking into his diary he found that the prayer meeting was at the very time his tongue gained such sudden mastery over the Chinese language” (www.wholesomewords.org/missions/giants/bgoforth.html).
Two weeks later, a fire burned the Goforths’ home to the ground, and they lost most of their possessions including wedding presents, pictures and other valuables. Jonathan comforted his distraught wife: “My dear, do not grieve so. After all, they are just things.”
Soon after, they left Chefoo to move further into the interior of China. While they laboured among the masses, one of their greatest sorrows was the untimely death of their first two children. Added to their heartache was the apathy of the Chinese people.
Jonathan sadly noted: “Men and women are toiling without a Bible, without a Sunday, without prayer, without songs of praise. They have homes without peace, marriage without sanctity, little children without innocence, young men and girls without ideals, poverty without relief or sympathy, sickness without skillful help or tender care, sorrow and crime without remedy, and death without hope” (ibid). (… to be concluded)
– Sis Helen Wee
(Unless otherwise stated, all quotations are from www.wholesomewords.org/missions/giants/bgoforth.html and Goforth of China by Mrs Rosalind Goforth).