Oswald’s accomplishments were very different from those of missionaries in the field. While Oswald had dedicated himself to missionary service, God’s calling for him was not to go out into the field as a harvester, but to be a sender, a leader, an encourager, and an enabler.
God gave Oswald formidable leadership, administrative, and diplomacy skills—and the opportunity to make full use of them. Over his 15 years as General Director, Oswald led the CIM through one of its most difficult times, helping to reshape, re- organise, and nurture it into a truly international missions agency. His efficiency, powers of reason and planning, and willingness to listen to people helped the missions agency evolve in tandem with a growing church, especially in Asia. Indeed, one of Oswald’s legacies was bringing Asian missionaries into the fold. Up till then, the agency had been primarily a Western body serving in an Eastern field. Oswald saw that the CIM needed to welcome, encourage, and send out a new generation of Asian believers who were raring to spread the gospel in the region—a revolutionary concept at the time.
Reflecting the growth and expansion of its harvest field, the CIM was renamed the Overseas Missionary Fellowship in 1964 and OMF International in 1993. Today, the OMF continues to send out and support more than a thousand missionaries from over 30 nations.
Oswald’s involvement in missions did not stop when he stepped down from the OMF in 1969. At the age of 70, he became the principal of the Christian Leaders’ Training College in Papua New Guinea, nurturing it so that it could be turned over to local leadership when Papua New Guinea gained its independence three years later.
Ironically, it was arguably as a writer that Oswald is most remembered. Dabbling in the written ministry as early as 1925, when he helped a friend start a small Christian monthly periodical, whet his appetite for writing. A powerful speaker, he had much content and many insights to put to paper. His first book, The Divine Art of Soul-Winning, a compilation of his lectures, was published in 1937. It did so well that many requests came in for a second book, which came out the following year. All in all, he would write more than 30 books—an amazing feat, considering the responsibilities and workload he was shouldering at the Bible Institute and CIM. More than two million copies of Oswald’s books have been printed, and they have been translated into more than 20 languages.
In their biography of Oswald, To Fight Better, writers Ron and Gwen Roberts note that the most important lesson to learn from Oswald’s life is not what great things a man can do for God; rather, it is about how God can work through a man who repeatedly felt inadequate for the tasks he was called to do.
Throughout his life, Oswald had come to God many times to say that he couldn’t take the pressure. God had not always removed such pressures, but He had always given Oswald the faith and strength to live by His grace.
The story of John Oswald Sanders, the biography notes, is “essentially a story of divine sovereignty at work in the life of one man, shaping and preparing him for service. It is the story of a man who… placed himself and all his concerns under God’s control. It is not only the story of what God could do with a man of exceptional gifts and above average energy and drive. Rather it is the story of what God can do with any life, at any level, no matter how ordinary it may seem, that is prepared to allow God to take the controls through all the checkered ways of life.”10
- “John Oswald Sanders”. Wikipedia. Edited 23 January 2017. https://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/John_Oswald_Sanders.
- Lineham, Peter J. “Sanders, John Oswald”. Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Accessed 28 August 2017. https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4s3/sanders-john-oswald.
- Roberts, Ron and Gwen Roberts. To Fight Better. Great Britain: Highland Books/ Overseas Missionary Fellowship, 1989.
- Sanders, J. Oswald. This I Remember. Eastbourne, Great Britain: Kingsway Publications, 1982.
- Sanders, J. Oswald. This I Remember, 20.
- Roberts and Roberts, To Fight Better, 29. Roberts and Roberts, To Fight Better, 29.
- Sanders, J. Oswald. This I Remember, 17.
- Roberts and Roberts, To Fight Better, 133.
- Ibid, 84.
- Ibid, 82.
- Sanders, J. Oswald. This I Remember, 19.
- Roberts and Roberts, To Fight Better, 105.
- Ibid, 61.
- Ibid, 190.