The story of American Presbyterian missionary to India Joseph Owen (1814-1870) is a fascinating and inspiring tale. It is told in a biographical sketch by William Rankin, Jr. in Memorials of Foreign Missionaries of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. and in a full-length biography by James Clement Moffat ("his earliest and dearest friend"), The Story of a Dedicated Life.
Born in Bedford, New York, Joseph Owen completed his undergraduate studies and theological training at Princeton. In 1840, after being appointed a missionary in the service of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, he sailed to India by way of Boston, Massachusetts, and around the Cape of Good Hope. He would spend the next 28 years of his life serving the Presbyterian Church in Northern India, in Allahabad. His commitment to the missionary cause of Jesus Christ was rock solid, but the pains of separation from family and friends were deep.
"Dedication to missionary work had become a part of himself. It had ceased to be a question before his mind. As such it had been closed up long ago, never more to be opened. It was the decree of God for him. He knew that it would cost self-denial. But his mind was made up for self-denial. What it would cost was no longer to be considered. He had summed up all that when he gave himself to the Lord. Nor was this separation from all he loved most dearly upon earth designed to be temporary. In his view it was final. The devotion of himself was without reserve. It was to live and die in his work" (Moffat, p. 8).
While in India, besides his preaching endeavors, he also completed an edition of the Old Testament in Hindi, and commentaries on Isaiah and the Psalms in the Urdu language (as a student at Princeton in Biblical literature and Oriental languages "he earned the highest commendations of Dr. Joseph Addison Alexander"). He married twice during his time in India, and when his course was finished, he left behind two children as well. In 1869, he determined to leave India for a short time in order to visit Europe and America with a plan to return to India to spend the remainder of his days. It was in Edinburgh, Scotland, however, before ever returning to America, that he became sick with dysentery and ultimately passed away on December 4, 1870, in the presence of Dr. Robert S. Candlish. He conveyed his final warmest regards to the flock he left behind in Allahabad: "Tell them to be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, not seeking merely after worldly advancement, but seeking first the service of Christ." "Tell them that I have never for a moment regretted that I went as a missionary. I only regret that I was not more faithful."
So closed the chapter on a dedicated missionary servant of the Lord Jesus Christ whose name is barely known today, although it is written in the precious Book of Life. Get to know his story in the writings of Moffat and Rankin because it is the story of an ordinary man who performed extraordinary service for the kingdom of God in the land of India.