Kilbourne, Ernest Albert (1865-1928)

Cofounder of the Oriental Missionary Society (OMS)

Born in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, Kilbourne was attracted to telegraphy and was assigned to the Chicago office of Western Union, where he met Charles Cowman and later became Cowman’s first convert. Together they organized the Telegraphers Mission Band, destined to be the foundation of the OMS. In August 1902, some 18 months after the Cowmans arrived in Japan, Kilbourne and his wife joined them in Tokyo. Some of the mission’s most effective programs grew out of Kilbourne’s prayer life and vision. He began the mission magazine Electric Messages, which he edited until his death. He played a leading role in expansion of OMS into Korea after 1906 and into China in the 1920s. With Cowman he organized and supervised the Great Village Campaign (1917-1918), an attempt by dozens of single men to reach all 10,300,000 homes in Japan, distributing gospel tracts and sharing the gospel. At Cowman’s death in 1924, Kilbourne became president of OMS.

The Kilbournes had three children. Their son, Edwin Lawson (Bud) Kilbourne, made his own 65-year contribution to OMS beginning in 1915. Three of his sons have been missionaries of OMS as well.

Everett N. Hunt, Jr., “Kilbourne, Ernest Albert,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 362.

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.



Kilbourne, Ernest A. The Great Commission. Tokyo: Oriental Missionary Society, 1913.


Cowman, Lettie B. Charles E. Cowman, Missionary Warrior: With Portraits, Illustrations, and Maps. Los Angeles: Oriental Missionary Society, 1928; Greenwood, IN: OMS International, 1989.

Erny, Edward and Esther Erny. No Guarantee but God: The Story of the Founders of the Oriental Missionary Society. Greenwood, IN: Oriental Missionary Society, [1969].

Wood, Robert B. In These Mortal Hands: The Story of the Oriental Missionary Society, the first 50 Years. Greenwood, IN: OMS International Inc., 1983.