Jonathan Goble is not a well-known name, but it should be. Goble and his wife were the first Baptist missionaries in Japan.
Jonathan was born in 1827. He rejected his religious upbringing and ended up in prison for two years for threatening the life of another man. During that time he was born again, and somehow the Lord laid the people of Japan upon his heart. After serving his time, he volunteered to join Commodore Perry’s 1853 expedition to Japan. His purpose was to examine the missionary possibilities. During this time he met a Japanese sailor who had been rescued at sea by the Americans. They became good friends. When Goble returned to New York, he took his friend with him, and together they attended and graduated from Hamilton Theological Seminary.
In 1860 Bro. Goble, his wife, two daughters and the Japanese man, who was then called Sam Patch, arrived at Kanagawa and began their work of evangelism, which was illegal according to Japanese law. They were so underfunded by the Baptists back home that Bro. Goble returned to the trade he had learned in prison – shoe making. He not only sold his shoes, but taught cobbling to many of the outcasts of the Japanese society. During this time, in addition to witnessing to all who would listen, he translated more than half the New Testament into Japanese. But no lasting churches were started.
After a period of furlough in the States and Britain, where he preached in many of the most prominent churches, including Spurgeon’s Tabernacle, the Gobles returned to Japan, disembarking at Yokohama on this day (Feb. 7) in 1873.
Mrs. Goble worked beside her husband through frail health all her life. During the Japanese Civil war in 1861, the Gobles were encouraged to return home, but they refused. Undoubtedly expressing her husband’s heart as well as her own, Mrs. Goble wrote in her diary at about that time, “Here in Japan let me live, in Japan let me labor, in Japan let me die, and in Japan let me be buried.” In 1873 her last request was granted. Bro. Gobles eventually returned to the States, and died in St. Louis in 1896.
I suppose it is because the Gobles did not successfully start any churches in Japan that their names are not well known among us today. But earthly fame means little. It’s in Heaven where God’s faithful servants are truly honored.