Missionaries in Japan and founders of the Oriental Missionary Society
Charles and Lettie Cowman from The ScriptoriumBorn in Toulon, Illinois, Charles Cowman moved with his family to Thayer, Iowa, birthplace of Lettie Burd, when he was two years old. They became childhood sweethearts and were married in 1889. They moved to Chicago and were converted at Grace Methodist Episcopal Church. After hearing A.B. Simpson, founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, give a missionary challenge, they dedicated themselves to missionary service. After brief training at Martin Wells Knapp’s God’s Bible School in Cincinnati, they went to Japan as independent missionaries in early 1901. There they teamed up with Juji Nakada, a Japanese whom they met when Nakada was a student at Moody Bible Institute in the late 1890s.
Leasing a hall in Tokyo, they began by conducting nightly evangelistic rallies and a daytime Bible training school for workers. A distinctive feature of their ministry was the Every Creature Crusade, an effort to reach every home in Japan with the gospel of Jesus Christ, a feat they claimed was accomplished between the years 1912 and 1918. Together with Nakada and E.A. Kilbourne, they organized their work as the Oriental Missionary Society (today, OMS International). Eventually they also established work in Korea and China as well as Japan.
After Charles’s untimely death, Lettie continued to play a significant role in OMS. After Kilbourne’s death in 1928 she held the office of president until 1949, longer than anyone else. She traveled the world speaking in behalf of missions, and is best remembered for her compilation of devotional materials in Streams in the Desert (1925). OMS International was born in the holiness movement and continues today in the tradition of Wesleyan Arminian theology, with an emphasis on evangelism, church planting, and training.
Everett N. Hunt, Jr. “Cowman, Charles Elmer and Lettie (Burd),” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 156.