Charles Elmer Cowman was born in Illinois, USA, on March 13, 1868. As ‘a small boy’ he walked to the mourner’s bench on the final evening of a local ‘revival meeting’. Many in the community regarded that ‘revival’ as a failure – only one response to the Gospel call, and that ‘a small boy’.
But Charles E. Cowman meant business with God.
At the age of 21 he married Lettie Burd, his childhood sweetheart, and on 22 February, 1901, they arrived in Japan to proclaim the old, old story.
From these small beginnings grew the Oriental Missionary Society (now OMS International), a great evangelical force that continues in the tradition begun by the Cowmans.
The Cowman’s were originally connected with the Methodist Board of Missions, but came in contact with The International Apostolic Holiness Union in 1900 and became life long members of the Union from then. The Union had been established by Martin W Knapp, at Cincinnati, Ohio in 1897 to promote camp meetings and evangelism, with the key Bible doctrines of the Healing of the Sick, the Return of our Lord, and the Evangelization of the World.
Under the influence of the IAH Union, the Cowans came to the conclusion that missionary endeavour should be a faith project, the “old apostolic way according to Matthew 20:4”.
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The Cowmans went to Japan and established the OMS in 1901 on the same lines as The International Apostolic Holiness Union, after ordination by them back in the USA that same year. It was seen as the Missionary arm of the IAH Union and in time became regarded as “the child of the whole holiness movement”.
In 1902 the Cowman’s were joined by Ernest A Kilbourne, who laboured faithfully with them to build a powerful ministry in the Orient. In 1907 the ministry reached out to Korea, then, after Cowman’s death, it grew to include China, India, Columbia, Greece, Brazil, Taiwan, Ecuador, Hong Kong and Haiti. The Cowman and Kilbourne Work, as it was initially known, established seminaries for training local ministers, distributed the Bible, planted indigenous churches and broadcast gospel programs.
Mrs Cowman is also known for her daily devotional book, Streams in the Desert, compiled during her husband’s final illness. More than three million copies have been sold in the English language alone.
Charles E. Cowman died on 23 September, 1924. “I have no regret that my life is slipping away,” he told his missionary friend and colleague, E.A. Kilbourne, “because of what I have done for my heathen brothers. I am glad, oh, so glad …”
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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
Tags: charles elmer cowman, japan, missionary, oms
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