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Dedicated to missions

BOOKS | The lives of Charles and Lettie Cowman


Dedicated to missions
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STREAMS IN THE DESERT, published in 1924, is one of those books that became more famous than the author.

That author, Lettie Cowman (1870-1960), is the subject of a valuable new biography by Michelle Ule called Overflowing Faith: Lettie Cowman and Streams in the Desert (Amazon White Glove 2023). Cowman didn’t just write commentaries at a desk. She and her husband Charles were major leaders in the modern missionary endeavor to go into all the world and preach the gospel.

They took the good news of Christ to Japan before World War I. She initiated a major gospel effort in Eastern Europe before World War II. She and her husband were wholehearted for the Lord, ­consumed with passages such as Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15.

During this time, she kept personal journals. She organized those journals into Streams in the Desert in 1924, with a modest initial run of 3,000 copies. Translated into many languages, the daily devotional became an international bestseller.

Biographer Ule also wrote Mrs. Oswald Chambers, a 2017 book about the widow of the author of another bestselling devotional, My Utmost for His Highest.

In Overflowing Faith, Ule tells the story of how the Cowmans had not looked like a promising world missions team. Growing up in an affluent Iowa family, Lettie was friends with Charles in their teen years. Her parents hoped she would find a wealthier guy, but she loved Charles.

After their 1889 marriage, Charles had success in Chicago business. Then they both came to salvation and an intense commitment to the Lord.

Dedicating their lives to missions, they never had children or a settled home. They launched the Great Village Campaign to carry the gospel across Japan as their teams distributed 10 million tracts. But the campaign took a physical toll on Charles, who died in 1924.

Lettie was brokenhearted, but her suffering and new devotional book opened worldwide doors for usefulness to missions and the advance of the gospel. She pointed to heaven to explain the book’s spiritual effectiveness. “I did not write Streams in the Desert,” she said. “God gave it to me.”


Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of the WORLD News Group board of directors.

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