Though I personally cannot boast about a life well spent for the sake of Jesus, I am deeply affected by men and women who have gone before me that gave themselves away for the cause and sake of God the Father and the Lord Jesus. Once again I present to you a brief story about another “Quiet Servant.” His name is George Bowen, missionary to India.
The Rev. George Bowen, missionary, author, and editor, died in Bombay, India, on Feb. 5, at the age of 72 years. He was one of the best known of American missionaries in foreign lands, particularly because of distinguishing personal characteristics. One of these was his great devotion to the heathen cause in religion, which was shown by his refusal to draw his salary, after having spent but one year in India, on the ground that he would have more influence among the heathen if he were not possessed of a stated income.
Mr. Bowen was born in this country in 1816. At the age of 17 he was led to doubt the truth of Christianity by reading Gibbon’s history. For 11 years he was an unbeliever, but was converted at the deathbed of a lady to whom he was greatly attached. His father was a man of wealth, but the son determined to sacrifice his home and prospects, and to devote himself and his whole life to the missionary service among the heathen. He proceeded to India in 1846, in connection with the American Board of Missions.
After he arrived in India he noticed that most of the missionaries lived in the more luxuries part of the city and ministered to the poor during the day. He decided to live among the poor and minister to the poor. After he refused to draw further compensation for his labors at the end of his first year, he earned his living by giving private lessons for an hour or two daily. He was often pressed to accept the means of making himself more comfortable, but steadfastly refused. For many years he actually lived in the native bazaars and among the sadly-degraded population until requested to become Secretary to the Religious Tract Society, at whose depot he afterward resided, managing its affairs without pay in addition to his other labors.
Since 1873 he had been a member of the missionary staff of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and at the time of his death was Presiding Elder of the Bombay District. He was called “the Nestor of the Methodist Conference in India.” He was a very accomplished and highly intellectual man, speaking French, German, Spanish, Italian, and other European languages, as well as English, Hindustani, and Marathi. He had been editor of the Bombay Guardian since 1854, and was the author of “Daily Meditations,” “The Amens of Christ,” “Love Revealed,” and other works which have been given a high place in standard religious literature regardless of denomination. He was often urged to return to the United States and lecture upon his experiences among the heathen, but as often refused to leave the scene of his labors. Mr. Bowen was very highly esteemed by the missionary societies in this country, his work having been regarded as of great value to the cause he had espoused. He was never married.
In addition to the above, here is an encouraging testimony regarding Bowen from the late David Wilkerson:
One of the great missionaries to have impacted my life is George Bowen. His life was a powerful example, and his book, Love Revealed, is one of the greatest books on Christ I’ve ever read. A single man, Bowen turned away from wealth and fame to become a missionary in Bombay, India, in the mid-1800s. When he saw the missionaries there living well above the poor they ministered to, Bowen gave up his mission support and chose to live among the very poorest. He dressed as the Indians did, and embraced poverty, living in a humble dwelling and subsisting sometimes only on bread and water. He preached on the streets in sweltering weather, distributing gospel literature and weeping over the lost.
This amazingly devoted man had gone to India with high hopes for the ministry of the gospel. And he’d given everything toward that end, his heart, mind, body and spirit. Yet, in his forty-plus years of ministry in India, Bowen had not one convert. It was only after his death that mission societies discovered he was one of the most beloved missionaries in the nation. Even heathen idol-worshipers looked to Bowen as the example of what a Christian is.
Today, George Bowen’s humble life and powerful words still enflame my soul and the souls of others worldwide.