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Mission work in China

o Changde

Six years after arriving in China, Jonathan moved his family to Changde, a remote city in North Hunan where he erected buildings and established a mission station. This was their seventh home.

The Goforths were very busy. Although there was much opposition and wild rumours about “the foreign devils” – as the Goforths were sometimes referred to – thousands of men, women and children came to hear God’s Word every day. After about three weeks of hard work – preaching about eight hours a day – the Goforths were exhausted. Early one morning, Jonathan reminded his wife of God’s promise in Philippians 4: 19: “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Kneeling down, they prayed for an evangelist to help them in their work.

The next day, a man called Wang Fulin, a converted gambler and opium smoker, appeared at the mission station. A pitiable sight, Wang’s emaciated frame was clothed in beggar’s rags and weakened by a racking cough. Clearly, Wang was a man sent by God in answer to the Goforths’ prayers. He became a mighty testimony of the transforming power of Christ. A former public story-teller, Wang used his God-given gift in the spreading of the Gospel. Many came to know Christ through his preaching. After three years, the “Spirit-filled preacher” – as he was fondly remembered – went home to be with the Lord whom He had served so faithfully.

During one of Jonathan’s evangelistic campaigns which was held in a tent, a man called Mr Su was passing by in a rickshaw and heard strange sounds coming from it. Responding to Mr Su’s inquiry about the sounds, the rickshaw rider replied: “It’s the foreign devils, holding some kind of circus.” Mr Su, who was drunk, paid his fare and walked unsteadily to the tent. When he entered, he saw a foreign woman playing the organ and a foreign boy playing his violin. Fascinated, Mr Su sat in the front pew to watch “the strange circus”.

Jonathan stood up and read from the Chinese Bible. Preaching from I Timothy 1: 15, he explained the meaning of “sinner”. As he listened, Mr Su became very angry that this foreign devil dared to expose people’s sins. But as he grew more sober, he accepted the truth that he was a sinner. When the call came to confess Christ, he raised his hand. After his conversion, Mr Su forsook his sins, left his job and followed Jonathan wherever he went. He grew so much in his faith that the other evangelists approached him to lead a Bible class with them.

o Miraculous escape

In 1900 – the year of the Boxer Rebellion – foreign missionaries in China found their lives in danger. A message came from the American Consul in Chefoo ordering all missionaries to flee south as the Boxers had cut off the northern route.

After praying for protection, Jonathan and his family, together with twelve others, hastily left Changde in ten carts driven by animals. Their long and hazardous journey to Fancheng would take fourteen days, followed by an even longer voyage on a boat to Shanghai.

Added to the discomfort of the intense heat and continual bumping over rough roads, were the grave dangers they faced from the fierce, threatening mobs along the way who were shouting loudly: “Kill these foreign devils!”

At one point of the Goforths’ journey, several hundred men armed with knives and stones attacked the carts. Stones were thrown at them, followed by gunshots. Jonathan rushed forward, shouting: “Take everything, but don’t kill!” At once, the men began to rain blows on Jonathan, seriously wounding his head and left arm.

Bleeding profusely, Jonathan staggered to the cart and almost lost consciousness. As Jonathan and his family tried to escape, the men gave chase. But Mrs Goforth turned and begged for mercy. The men, surprised that she could speak their language, relented and allowed them to escape unharmed.

The missionary party then walked to a nearby village where some kind villagers took them in, fed them and treated Jonathan’s injuries. They also made plans to ensure the party’s safety. After many terrifying experiences and narrow escapes, the missionaries eventually reached Shanghai and soon sailed for Canada.

God had graciously heard the cries of His weak and helpless servants and delivered them from danger and death. All glory be to Him Who watches over His children to keep them in safety.


Truly, there are many lessons that we can learn from Jonathan Goforth, one of God’s greatest servants in the work of missions.

“My Lord first” was Jonathan’s maxim in life. Like the apostle Paul, he was convinced that Christ must “have the pre-eminence” (Col 1: 18). This firm conviction shaped his whole life and ministry.

Jonathan’s life-long, unflagging, and importunate zeal to reach the unsaved millions in the heathen world should challenge us all to a like-minded passion for lost souls. “He towers as a spiritual giant among God’s missionary heroes of his generation ... Nothing could stop his dynamic drive in that to which God had commissioned him” (Charles G Trumbull in Goforth of China).

Wholly devoted to the work of the Gospel, Jonathan did not allow physical weaknesses, limitations or hardships to deter him from his life’s work. For the last few years of his life, Jonathan Goforth was totally blind. But he continued to serve his Saviour till he was called Home on October 7, 1936 at the age of 77. May the Lord raise up many more faithful labourers like Jonathan Goforth who are willing to forsake all for the sake of the Gospel.

– Sis Helen Wee

(Unless otherwise stated, all quotations are from and Goforth of China by Mrs Rosalind Goforth).