On this day in 1928, Ernest A. Kilbourne, missionary to Japan and co-founder of The Oriental Missionary Society, died.

As a young man, life was good for Ernest.  He had recently married a beautiful young woman and had been promoted to divisional chief of the massive telegraph offices in Chicago.  Ernest’s co-chief was a man named Charles Cowman and the two became good friends as they oversaw the operations together.

One day, Cowman, who had recently become a passionate Christian, approached Ernest at work and witnessed to him for a half an hour. Ernest remained silent through Cowman’s message and his lack of response led Cowman to believe he had failed in one of his first endeavors to share the Gospel. However, much to Cowman’s surprise, Ernest entered the workplace the following day and announced, “I went home last night after our conversation and did just what you told me. It is all settled and I gave myself to Christ.”

Soon, Cowman and Ernest became a powerful evangelistic team.  They witnessed to their co-workers and, as they walked home together, would stick tracts in the mailboxes.  A pivotal moment for these men occurred when the two men attended a missionary convention where they heard about giving their minds and hearts to missionary work.  That night, both men decided to give up their good jobs and promising futures for a missionary life.

In 1901, the Cowmans set sail for Japan.  As Ernest watched his dear friends depart, his heart was filled with a deep desire to join them.  But he couldn’t yet.  Before he had been saved, he had cheated some money from his company.  After his conversion, he vowed to pay back the amount, even though it was a large amount.  For the next year, Ernest worked to pay off his debt.  When it was finally repaid, he set sail with his family to join his dear friend in the worthy work he had begun.

Ernest had always been passionate for journalism, so after he arrived in Japan, he began a newsletter, Electric Messages, in November 1902 with the purpose of sharing reports of the work in Japan with telegraphers, friends and supporters back home. The magazine contained inspirational stories of God’s power and was filled with jargon that the telegraphers would be familiar with. In 1914, it was renamed The Oriental Missionary Society (OMS), after Jeremiah 50:2, which reads, “Declare ye among the nations and publish and set ye up a standard.”

Soon, the work of the OMS was flourishing.  The best part was that most of the work was being done by the Japanese these men had trained.  In less than six years of ministry, there were 12 missions and 22 Japanese pastors and women working in the ministry.  Soon, a seminary was started, which grew so rapidly that they outgrew their original building in three years.  Within the first 30 years of the school, there were over 2,000 graduates.

By the time of his death, Ernest and Cowman, the inseparable duo for Christ, had expanded the work of OMS to Korea and China, where again young men were saved, taught, and became powerful evangelist.  One young man, named Andrew Gih, was won to Christ in China by the two missionaries.  Gih went on to become one of the most effective evangelists to ever come from Asia.

What was the secret of the OMS?  How did they see such a powerful movement started among the people of their nations?  A key lies in one of Ernest’s favorite sayings, “Every soul it is my joy to lead to Christ, I see as a potential Christian worker. I pray and labor for them until I see God’s full will accomplished in their lives.”   Where did this attitude come from?  Perhaps from the fact that one day, as a simple telegraph operator, a friend walked in and gave him the gospel.  And that friend saw potential in him and encouraged him to do something for Christ with his life.  And that friend helped him and stood with him all the way until the end.  And from that simple conversation in the telegraph office, armies marched across Asia for Christ.

Who is your Ernest?  Is is a co-worker, a friend, a relative?  We look at them and say, “But their only a student, a server, a client, a secretary.”  When we should look at them and say “I see  a potential Christian worker.  I will pray and labor for them until I see God’s full will accomplished in their lives.”


Ernest A. Kilbourne

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