Robert A. Jaffray: Pioneering Missionary and Visionary

Robert A. Jaffray: Pioneering Missionary and Visionary
Robert A. Jaffray: Pioneering Missionary and Visionary

Meet Robert A. Jaffray, a towering figure in Christian mission history, whose life of unwavering faith and sacrificial service has left an indelible mark on the global spread of the gospel. Born in Toronto, Canada, Jaffray’s life was transformed by a profound spiritual awakening, leading him to dedicate over five decades to pioneering missionary work in China, Vietnam, and Indonesia. As a visionary strategist, charismatic preacher, and influential publisher, Jaffray empowered indigenous leaders, shaped theological discourse, and fueled spiritual growth worldwide. Despite facing trials and tribulations, including imprisonment and martyrdom during World War II, Jaffray’s legacy continues to inspire and challenge believers today, offering a powerful testament to the transformative power of surrendering one’s ambitions to God’s kingdom.

Robert A. Jaffray’s Formative Journey

Robert Alexander Jaffray was born in 1873 in Toronto, Canada, into a prominent and wealthy family. His father, Robert Jaffray, was the owner of the influential Toronto Globe newspaper, which would later become the Globe and Mail. While his father had grand ambitions for young Robert to one day take over the family business, the trajectory of Robert’s life would take an unexpected turn.

As a young man, Jaffray had a profound spiritual awakening and felt a deep calling to serve as a missionary. This calling emerged after encountering the renowned preacher A.B. Simpson, the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA). Simpson’s impassioned pleas for young Christians to dedicate their lives to global evangelism left a lasting impression on the young Jaffray.

Jaffray’s father was vehemently opposed to his son’s missionary aspirations, threatening to cut off all financial support if he pursued this path. However, Jaffray remained steadfast in his conviction, and after completing three years of theological training at Simpson’s Bible college in New York, he set sail for China in 1897 as a C&MA missionary.

Breaking Ground in China: Jaffray’s Pioneering Mission Work and Evangelism

Jaffray’s first assignment took him to the Guangxi province in southern China, where he was tasked with leading all C&MA mission efforts in the region. It was here that Jaffray’s extraordinary gifts as a missionary leader and strategist began to emerge.

Rather than solely focusing on establishing churches, Jaffray recognized the critical need to train a new generation of Chinese Christian leaders. In partnership with fellow missionary Dr. Robert Glover, he helped establish the Jiandao Bible College (later known as the Alliance Seminary) in the city of Zhangzhou. This institution would become a vital hub for equipping Chinese evangelists and pastors to spread the gospel throughout the country.

Jaffray’s dedication to the Bible college was matched by his tireless efforts in evangelism and church planting. He traveled extensively throughout Guangxi, preaching the gospel and nurturing the growth of local congregations. By 1925, there were 77 churches under his leadership in the province.

Expanding the Reach of the Gospel

Jaffray’s vision extended beyond the borders of China, and in 1916, he was elected as the superintendent of the C&MA’s Vietnam field. This expansion into French Indochina was a testament to Jaffray’s strategic thinking and his commitment to bring the light of the gospel to new frontiers.

Recognizing the unique challenges faced by overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, Jaffray took a bold step in 1929. He founded the Chinese Foreign Missionary Union (CFMU), a dedicated agency aimed at sending Chinese missionaries to Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines. Jaffray believed that Chinese believers were uniquely positioned to effectively minister to their fellow countrymen living abroad.

Under Jaffray’s leadership, the CFMU flourished. By 1941, the agency had grown to include 20 co-workers, more than 30 pastors in the West, and 140 local co-workers, all of whom were scattered throughout the islands of Indonesia, New Guinea, and neighboring countries. The CFMU also established 139 gospel outposts and a Bible school in Xijiang with 209 students, along with 13 primary Bible schools with a total of 479 students.

Jaffray’s commitment to the CFMU was so deep that he even sold his family’s property in Canada to purchase land and a large house in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia, which served as a base for the mission’s operations in the region.

Spreading the Gospel through Print and Presence

Alongside his extensive field work, Jaffray recognized the transformative power of the printed word. In 1911, he used his personal savings to establish the Xuandao Book Bureau (later known as the Hong Kong Xuan Dao Publishing House) in Zhangzhou. This publishing house became the vehicle for producing and distributing a wide range of Christian literature, including Bible handouts, gospel tracts, and pamphlets.

Jaffray’s most significant publishing endeavor, however, was the launch of “The Bible” newspaper in 1913. Initially published in Cantonese, the newspaper later expanded to include both literary and colloquial Chinese versions. The Bible newspaper became a widely respected and influential publication, providing biblical commentary, mission updates, theological insights, and refutations of heretical teachings.

The reach of The Bible newspaper extended far beyond China, with circulation spreading throughout Southeast Asia, Europe, and the United States. Jaffray’s unique perspective and the newspaper’s captivating content made it an essential resource for pastors, evangelists, and believers alike, shaping the spiritual lives of countless individuals.

Confronting Spiritual Darkness: Jaffray’s Courageous Stand against Persecution

Jaffray’s missionary work was not without its challenges, and he sometimes found himself in direct confrontation with the forces of darkness. One such incident occurred during a visit to the island of Borneo (modern-day Kalimantan, Indonesia) with fellow missionary Rev. Gustave Woerner.

The town of Kalosi had long been marked by a strange spiritual apathy, with the gospel seemingly unable to take root. Jaffray and Woerner spent the night in the town, and in the middle of the night, Woerner was awakened by the sounds of Jaffray struggling and groaning in what appeared to be a physical altercation with an invisible entity.

Jaffray later recounted that he had encountered the “prince” responsible for the spiritual bondage over Kalosi and had engaged in a direct spiritual battle. Through prayer and the authority of Scripture, Jaffray commanded the demonic presence to “let my people go,” drawing a parallel to the biblical account of Pharaoh’s oppression of the Israelites.

The aftermath of this encounter was remarkable. Almost immediately, the spiritual climate in Kalosi underwent a dramatic transformation, with the people’s indifference melting away and a wave of conversions sweeping through the community. Jaffray’s bold confrontation with the forces of darkness had paved the way for the gospel to flourish.

Trials and Tribulations: Jaffray’s Imprisonment and Ultimate Martyrdom

As the 1940s approached, Jaffray’s missionary work faced yet another challenge – the looming threat of war in the Pacific. Despite the urgings of friends and family to remain in the safety of Canada, Jaffray was determined to return to his beloved mission field in Southeast Asia.

In 1942, Japan’s invasion of Indonesia led to the arrest and internment of Jaffray and other Western missionaries. Jaffray, his wife Minnie, and their daughter were initially housed in a camp, but were later transferred to a much harsher facility, where the conditions were deplorable.

Jaffray’s health, already compromised by a heart condition and diabetes, quickly deteriorated in the squalid prison. On July 29, 1945, just two weeks before the end of the war, the 71-year-old Jaffray succumbed to illness and malnutrition, passing away in the dirty confines of the Japanese-run camp.

Robert A. Jaffray’s Enduring Impact on Global Missions

Robert A. Jaffray’s life and ministry left an indelible mark on the Christian landscape of China and Southeast Asia. His unwavering commitment to the gospel, his strategic vision, and his willingness to confront the spiritual forces of darkness have cemented his place as a pioneering missionary statesman.

Through his dedication to training Chinese leaders, founding indigenous missionary organizations, and utilizing the power of the printed word, Jaffray laid the groundwork for the remarkable growth of Christianity in the region. His life’s story, chronicled in the biography “Let My People Go!” by the renowned writer A.W. Tozer, continues to inspire and challenge believers around the world.

Jaffray’s ultimate sacrifice, dying in a Japanese internment camp, is a testament to his deep love for the people he served and his steadfast faith in the face of adversity. His life and legacy serve as a powerful reminder of the transformative power of the gospel and the profound impact that can be achieved when one surrenders completely to the call of God.

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