James Edwin Orr was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on January 15, 1912. Orr was also converted on the same day, in 1921. Then, on the same day in 1937 he married Ivy Muriel Carol Carlso in 1937! She was a Norwegian lass he had met in South Africa. But there’s more … for it was on this same day Edwin Orr was ordained to the Baptist ministry in 1940 … and became an Air Force chaplain on … you guessed it … 15 January, 1943!!
How does one describe this man of God? Missionary? Author? Historian? Evangelist? Bible Teacher? Hymn Writer? All are true!
Orr was born to a jeweller who held both American and British citizenship, and so James inherited that privilege. His godly mother led him to Christ on his ninth birthday. When he was ten the death of his father forced the family into difficult times. Then his education was cut short by the death of his older brother, making him the family bread-winner.
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In 1931 Orr and a friend felt a strong call to evangelise and so they began street preaching in Belfast. The following year they were part of a city-wide evangelisation by the Christian Endeavour. Then by late 1933 he felt the call to become an itinerant evangelist, which led him to London for extensive preaching travels through Britain for the next 2 years.
In 1935 his international travel began in earnest. That year alone he travelled to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, the Soviet Union, Estonia, Poland, Lithuania, Germany, Switzerland, France, Holland, Belgium, Hungary, Turkey, Greece, Palestine, Italy, Spain, France, and Portugal. That same year he headed for Canada and preached there and in the USA.
1936 saw him head to New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Rhodesia, before going to Norway for a rest, and then back to South Africa to court his future wife.
These missionary travels around the world were recorded in a series of fascinating books. All Your Need tells of his remarkable ‘1000 miles of miracles’ throughout Australia. Times of Refreshing is the story of his meetings throughout Canada. Prove Me Now documents his travels in Russia. One biographer says, “Edwin Orr suddenly became a sought after evangelist on three continents, and was so overwhelmed with opportunities to preach that every single day was filled with engagements. He preached more than 1000 times in a single year, sometimes to crowds of five or ten thousand people” (Edwin Orr, by Newman Watts, page 25). And that was in 1935, when he was still in his early twenties!!
Orr went back to studies in the USA and ended up with several earned doctorates. He took special interest in the history of revivals, including The Second Evangelical Awakening in Britain and the Second Great Awakening in America.
During World War II he served as an Air Force chaplain and saw much action, earning him seven battle stars and the rank of Major.
Following the war Orr continued his globetrotting, speaking in Asia, Europe, America, Australia, Africa and South America. Orr’s special interest in Missions made him a professor at Fuller Seminary’s School of World Mission and he was an advisor to Billy Graham’s evangelistic crusades from the start of that ministry.
His hymn, sung to the melody of the ‘Maori’s Farewell’ is sung around the world:
Search me, O God,
And know my heart today…
In the Foreword to his book, Full Surrender, Billy Graham writes of Dr Orr as “one of the greatest authorities on the history of religious revivals in the Protestant world … I know of no man who has a greater passion for world-wide revival and a greater love for the souls of men” (page 5).
James Edwin Orr died on a preaching trip on April 22, 1987.
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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com