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Call to the Gospel ministry

One day, an elderly relative gave Jonathan a well-worn copy of a book, The Memoirs of Robert Murray M’Cheyne. From the first page, the thrilling story of M’Cheyne’s spiritual struggles and victories gripped him. Stretched out on the dry leaves in the woods, he was so engrossed in the book that he did not notice the passing hours. By the time the sun set, Jonathan arose a new man – he had made a decision which would change the whole course of his life. From then on, all his petty, selfish ambitions – to be a lawyer and politician – vanished forever as he now resolved to lead lost souls to the Saviour.


When Pastor Cameron heard of Jonathan’s decision, he offered to teach him Latin and Greek in preparation for his studies in Knox College, Toronto (See ‘Knox College, Toronto’ below). But the Bible remained Jonathan’s main textbook. For two years before entering Knox College, Jonathan woke up two hours earlier each morning to study the Bible before going to work or to school.

Call to foreign service

Jonathan initially felt led to minister locally. But the Lord had other plans for him. A schoolmate persuaded him to attend a meeting at Knox Church, Ingersoll, where Dr G L Mackay of Formosa was scheduled to speak. In his message, Dr Mackay appealed for recruits for the foreign mission field. As he listened to Dr Mackay’s pleas, Jonathan was overwhelmed with shame. He heard the Lord’s voice asking, “Who will go for us and whom shall we send?” Jonathan answered: “Here am I; send me.”

From that hour, “I became a foreign missionary.” He began to read everything about foreign missions, and tried to press home the need to reach the unevangelised millions in the world.

In 1885, Jonathan received a copy of Hudson Taylor’s book, China’s Spiritual Need and Claims. The book made a deep impression on him, and he began to pray for God to open the door to China. Jonathan’s prayer was heard and in June 1887, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Canada appointed him as their pioneer missionary to North China.

Jonathan was ordained on October 25 of the same year. In that same month, he married Rosalind Bell-Smith. “On February 4, 1888, the Goforths sailed for China. By the middle of September, the missionary couple were looking over their new mission field in the province of Honan.”

Knox College, Toronto

o Humiliation

To prepare himself for the ministry, Jonathan enrolled in Knox College. As a farm boy, he was unfamiliar with city habits and etiquette. Soon after his arrival, he realised that his home-made garments would not measure up to the fashion in the college. Painfully conscious of his appearance, Jonathan wanted to make an outfit that resembled his classmates’. Despite his poverty, he bought a big piece of cloth, intending to take it to the seamstress to sew a new outfit for him. But before he could do so, the other students got wind of his plan. Late that night, some of them came into his room and caught hold of him while others cut a hole at one end of the cloth. They then put his head through it and made him run up and down the corridor, to the mocking laughter of many students.

That such a thing could happen in a Christian college saddened young Jonathan greatly. Feeling deeply hurt and humiliated, he knelt down before God with his Bible in his hand and prayed for grace and strength. The experience troubled him, but with much prayer and reading of the Scripture, he overcame his fears and shame.

That was not the only traumatic experience Jonathan underwent. A classmate wrote later that Jonathan was repeatedly subjected to terrible humiliations by other students. But the day came when Jonathan was honoured by the whole student body when he went on his mission to China as their representative. He became the first Canadian missionary to be supported in his work by his fellow students.

– Sis Helen Wee

(Unless otherwise stated, all quotations