Robert A. Jaffray
Robert Alexander Jaffray was born December 16, 1873, in Toronto, Canada. His father, a Scottish immigrant, struggled through difficult times to eventually become owner and publisher of the Toronto Globe, one of Canada’s most influential newspapers. Providentially “Rob” (family nickname) inherited his father’s fearless enterprising spirit. Even as a child, he triumphed over heart disease and diabetes, disabilities that would last a lifetime. As Rob grew to manhood, nothing could stop him from traveling the world under every possible condition.
The Jaffray family attended Gould Street Presbyterian Church where Rob’s Sunday school teacher, an A. B. Simpson enthusiast, led him to Christ when he was about 16 years old. At age 20, after hearing one of A. B. Simpson’s impassioned messages, Rob surrendered his entire life to Christ and two years later became convinced God was calling him to be a missionary to China. Overcoming strong resistance from his father, Rob enrolled at the New York Missionary Training Institute (Nyack College) and worked his way through.
In 1897 Robert Jaffray was part of a group of new missionaries sent by A. B. Simpson to Wuchow, South China, the place that would become Jaffray’s main beach-head for the next 35 years. From there he carried on an ever-expanding program of missionary outreach. Early on, Jaffray’s fellow missionaries recognized his God-given leadership abilities, and he was repeatedly elected chairman of the South China field.
One of Jaffray’s first projects was the zealous care of the Wuchow Bible School, founded by his colleague, Dr. R. H. Glover. Jaffray was its principal and a teacher for years. His lecture material became the main content of Bible Magazine, a teaching aid for graduates and pastors. It was Jaffray’s Bible Magazine that first raised him to international prominence. To make the magazine and other materials available in many languages worldwide, Jaffray established the Wuchow Publishing House.
On August 7, 1900, Robert Jaffray married Miss Minnie Donor who had preceded him to China by two years. She faithfully worked by her husband’s side and was a true asset in all of his endeavors.
Only a year after arriving in South China, Jaffray began making exploratory trips to French Indochina (now Vietnam). With his headquarters still in Wuchow, Jaffray was elected superintendent of the Vietnam field in 1916. A thriving church was soon established in Danang (Tourane). Missionaries arrived from South China and the U.S. As in China, a Bible School and printing press were established to train and develop Vietnamese workers, equipping them to be less dependent on foreign missionaries. World War I and opposition by the French government did not stop the rapid spread of the gospel in Vietnam.
In 1928, after an island-hopping trip through the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), Jaffray organized the Chinese Foreign Missionary Union (CFMU) to help enlist Chinese missionaries in the task of opening Indonesia to the gospel. His pattern set, priority was given to establishing a printing press and Bible Training School in Makassar, Sulawesi (Celebes). Both of these enterprises are still flourishing today. Within ten years American and Chinese missionaries and their Indonesian co-workers were operating on every major island of Indonesia.
Sensing the threat of World War II at the end of his furlough in 1938, Jaffray said prophetically, “If I do not go back now, there is little likelihood I can ever go back at all. I must return to the Far East. I want to die out there where my life has been.” His wish became a reality just two weeks before the war ended. Lying on a prison cot, interned in a former pig sty in the Toradja Mountains of Indonesia, Robert Jaffray succumbed to disease and starvation July 29, 1945.
On three great mission fields of the world the Church stands as a monument to Statesman Dr. Robert A. Jaffray, man of prayer, faith, vision, and indomitable courage.
- Let My People Go, by A. W. Tozer
- To All Peoples, by Robert L. Niklaus, p 296-97, 309
- The Alliance Weekly, by A. C. Snead, Oct. 6, 1945
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