Goforth, Jonathan (1859-1936) and Rosalind [Bell-Smith] (1864-1942)

First Canadian Presbyterian missionaries to mainland China

Jonathan Goforth became the foremost missionary revivalist in early twentieth-century China and helped to establish revivalism as a major element in Protestant China missions. He grew up on an Ontario farm, the seventh of eleven children. Hearing G. L. Mackay, Presbyterian missionary to Formosa (Taiwan), speak, he sensed God’s call to go to China. Attending Knox College for training, Goforth met Rosalind Bell-Smith at the Toronto Union Mission. She had been born in London, England, and had grown up in Montreal. They married in 1887 and eventually had eleven children, six of whom survived childhood. They pioneered the North Honan (Henan) mission in 1888.

In 1900 the Goforths barely escaped the Boxers and returned to Canada. After their return to Honan in 1901, Jonathan Goforth felt increasingly restless. In 1904 and 1905 he was inspired by news of the great Welsh revival and read Finney’s Lectures on Revivals. In 1907, circumstances brought him to witness firsthand the stirring Korean revival (When the Spirit’s Fire Swept Korea [1943] represents his response). As he returned to China through Manchuria, congregations were so fascinated by his accounts that they invited him back in early 1908. During this extended visit there occurred the unprecedented “Manchurian revival,” which transformed Goforth’s life and ministry; from then on he was basically an evangelist and revivalist, not a settled missionary. He also became one of the best known of all China missionaries, admired by many, but disliked by some for his “emotionalism.”

Goforth remained active well into the 1930s, especially in Manchuria; in 1931 the Goforths coauthored Miracle Lives of China. After his death in Toronto, Rosalind, a capable writer who had first published in 1920, wrote the popular Goforth of China (1937, with many reprints), and her own autobiography, Climbing: Memories of a Missionary’s Wife (1940).

Daniel H. Bays, “Goforth, Jonathan and Rosalind (Bell-Smith),” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 247.

This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.


The Goforth’s papers are in the Billy Graham Center archives, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, collection 188.

Digital Texts

Goforth, Jonathan. By My Spirit. 1929; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1942; 1964, 1983.

__________. When the Spirit’s Fire Swept Korea. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1943.

Goforth, Rosalind. How I Know God Answers Prayer: The Personal Testimony of One Life-Time. Philadelphia, PA: The Sunday School Times Co., 1921.


Goforth, Jonathan. Prevailing Prayer and Revival. Addresses, etc. London: China Inland Mission, [1909]. At The British Library, Wetherby, West Yorkshire, UK.

_____. “Revivals in China.” In Students and the Present Missionary Crisis; Addresses Delivered before the Sixth International Convention of the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, Rochester, New York, December 29, 1909, to January 2, 1910. New York: Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, 1910.

_____. A Chinese Christian General, Feng Yu Hsiang. [Chefoo: printed by James McMullan, 1919].

_____. A Chinese Christian Army. [Wuchow, So. China: So. China Alliance Press, 1921].

_____. “Foreword.” In Oswald J. Smith, The Revival We Need. London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1933.

Goforth, Jonathan, Sherwood Eddy and Charles Grandison Finney. A Spiritual Awakening: Being Points and Directions from the Life and Lectures of Charles G. Finney. London: Morgan & Scott, [1909].

Goforth, Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth. A Little Book of Praise in Darkened Days. [An account of the missionary work of J. Goforth in China]. London: Marshall Bros., [1916]. At The British Library, Wetherby, West Yorkshire, UK.

_____. Miracle Lives of China. New York and London: Harper & Bros., 1931; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1931. Also Elkart, IN: Bethel Pub., 1988.

Goforth, Rosalind. Chinese Diamonds for the King of Kings. Toronto: Evangelical Publishers, 1920; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1945.

_____. Goforth of China. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1937, 1943.

_____. Climbing: Memories of a Missionary’s Wife. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1940. Also Evangel Pub. House, 2008.

Moynan, Mary Goforth, Rosalind Goforth and F. Robert Joyce (ed.). God Brought Us Through! Toronto: Rejoyce Publishing, 1994. [Includes letters by Rosalind Goforth to daughter Mary.]


Austin, Alvyn. Saving China: Canadian Missionaries in the Middle Kingdom, 1888-1959. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986, chapters 2 and 6.

Austin, Alvyn and Jamie S. Scott. Canadian Missionaries, Indigenous Peoples: Representing Religion at Home and A Abroad. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005.

Bays, Daniel H. “Christian Revival in China, 1900-1937.” In Modern Christian Revivals, edited by Edith L. Blumhofer and Randall Balmer. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1993.

Craig, Terrence L. The Missionary Lives: A Study in Canadian Missionary Biography and Autobiography. Leiden and New York: Brill, 1997.

Dagg, Anne Innis. The Feminine Gaze: A Canadian Compendium of Non-fiction Women Authors and their Books, 1836-1945. Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 2001, pp. 112-3.

Duewel, Wesley L. Heroes of the Holy Life: Biographies of Fully Devoted Followers of Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.

Engstrom, Ted W. An Hour with Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth: Missionaries to China. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1943.

Hansen, Collin and John D. Woodbridge. A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.

Jeffrey, Ruth Goforth. Amazing Grace: A Brief Account of My Life in China and Vietnam. Stouffville, ON: D.I. Jeffrey, [197-?].

Jones, Charles Edwin. The Keswick Movement: A Comprehensive Guide. Expanded. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press; [Chicago]: American Theological Library Association, 2007. Orig. 1974.

Lawson, J. Gilchrist. Famous Missionaries: Portraits and Biographies of Thirty Famous Missionaries. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1945. Orig. 1939.

McCleary, Walter. An Hour with Jonathan Goforth: A Biography. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1938. Also Kessinger Publishing, 2010.

Webster, James Benjamin. “Times of Blessing” in Manchuria: Letters From Moukden to the Church at Home, February 17-April 30, 1908. Shanghai: Methodist Pub. House, 1908.

Wu, Xiaoxin. Christianity in China: A Scholar’s Guide to Resources in the Libraries and Archives of the United States. n.p.: M. E. Sharpe, 2009, p. 138.

Goforth, Rosalind. Goforth of China. 1937. The first six of twenty-eight chapters are available for free, the remaining twenty-two chapters for paid download.

Daniel Bays’s above article is also available at the Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity online. Page includes above photograph of Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth.


From online Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity.