Born MARCH 3, 1870

Lettie Cowman [PD-1923]

Lettie Cowman [PD-1923]

For more than 100 years, Lettie Cowman has encouraged millions of people needing God’s help. As a missionary with her husband Charles, she spread the gospel in the Orient. Later as a widow and best selling-devotional author, Lettie inspired readers around the world. Her book Streams in the Desert (1925) continues to sell extremely well.


She was born Lettie Burd, in the town of Afton, Iowa. In 1889, she and telegraph operator Charles Cowman married in the town of Afton. They eventually moved to Chicago. There, they both developed a personal faith in Jesus Christ and grew as believers.

Moody Bible Institute [PD-USA]

Moody Bible Institute

In 1894, Charles and Lettie attended a missions convention at the Moody Church in Chicago. The keynote speaker, A. B. Simpson (founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church), gave a strong appeal for new missionaries. The Cowmans stood as a couple willing to serve God on a foreign field. Charles enrolled in classes at Moody Bible Institute.

Following their training, the young couple arrived in Japan in February of 1901. They teamed with Japanese minister Juji Nakada to open a mission where they held nightly services and they started a Bible institute. When Ernest Kilbourne, a fellow telegraph operator from Chicago, arrived from the United States, he and the Cowmans formed the Oriental Missionary Society. Their greatest work may have been the Every Creature Crusade, which from 1912-1918, placed a written presentation of the gospel into every one of Japan’s 10,320,000 households.


Charles and Lettie Cowman [PD-1923]

Charles and Lettie Cowman

 Lettie watched her husband give all he had to reach souls in their mission field. Holding ten years of nightly services, overseeing the Bible institute, and contacting every home in Japan, plus leading preaching tours into Korea and China, took its toll on Charles’ health. He suffered physical exhaustion. His doctor described his condition as “worn out.”

So Charles could regain his health, he and Lettie returned to the United States. In California, Charles had a heart attack, then his condition faltered further. Lettie attended to her husband for the next six years. She also read voraciously. Culling their library, she collected book excerpts and poems to read aloud to Charles. That helped him endure his physical pain and to find strength in his emotional and spiritual battles.

However, after a long struggle, Charles died in September of 1924.


Streams in the Desert

After Charles’ death, Lettie personalized the words of the Apostle Paul, who spoke of comforting others with the comfort God has given us          (I Corinthians 1:4). She titled her compilation of poems and quotes from Christian authors like Andrew Murray, Charles Finney, George Mueller, and Charles Spurgeon Streams in the Desert. It touched a need in enough readers that a second printing soon followed.

Here are a couple of Letties’ own comments from her hope-inspiring devotional.

“The answer to our prayer may be coming, although we may not discern its approach. A seed that is underground during winter, although hidden and seemingly dead and lost, is nevertheless taking root for a later spring and harvest.”  (Streams in the Desert)

Referring to Jesus sleeping in the back of the boat during the storm while the disciples feared, she said, “Our boat may be tossed by the waves while he continues to sleep, but He will awake before it sinks.” (Streams in the Desert)

For 90 years now Streams in the Desert has never been out of print. It has sold over six million copies in multiple languages.


Lettie then penned a biography of her husband— Charles Cowman: Missionary Warrior (1928). She later wrote a second devotional titled Springs in the Valley. Lettie wrote all of her books as Mrs. Charles Cowman.

Here are two quotes from Lettie from Springs in the Valley.

“We are safer with Him in the dark than without Him in the sunshine.” (Springs in the Valley)

“The hour is desperately dark; your flame is needed.” (Springs in the Valley)

In 1928, the year Charles’ biography was published, Lettie assumed the leadership of the Oriental Missions Society (now One Mission Society). She gladly traveled to other continents speaking on behalf of the organization. Lettie would remain at the helm of OMS until 1949. She died on April 17, 1960. It was Easter Sunday.


LET ME KNOW: How has Lettie’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.


  • Cowman, Lettie. Charles E. Cowman: Missionary Warrior. Los Angeles, CA.: Oriental Missionary Society-1928. http://raskb.com/udenlibrary/disk1/44.pdf
  • Cowman, Lettie. Springs in the Valley.
  • Cowman, Lettie. Streams in the Desert.
  • Petersen, William and Randy Petersen. 100 Christian Books That Changed the World. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2000.
  • Reese, Edward, editor. Reese Chronological Encyclopedia of Christian Biographies.
  • Sahttp://www.bu.edu/missiology/missionary-biography/c-d/cowman-charles-elmer-1864-1924-and-lettie-burd-1870-1960/.
  • Sanders, Fred. “Today is Lettie Cowman’s Birthday (1870)”, In The Scriptorium, March 3, 2009, http://scriptoriumdaily.com/today-is-lettie-cowmans-birthday-1870/.




About William E. Richardson

I'm married to a wonderful woman named Deb. We're the parents of a son and daughter who bring great joy to our lives. I currently pastor the Assembly of God church in Afton, Iowa.
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