In 1908, eleven years prior to receiving our charter as The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC), two families left Toronto for the mission field: Charles and Emma Chawner to South Africa and Arthur and Jessie Atter to China.
Workers soon followed these pioneers to Liberia (1910), Egypt (1911), India (1911), Argentina (1913), Tanzania (1914), Kenya (1914), and the West Indies (1918). We celebrate the stories of more than 3,000 Canadian Pentecostals who have served as messengers of the gospel in over 70 nations.
Otto & Marion Keller
by Dr. Francis Manana
Marion and Otto Keller were among the first missionaries of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Marion pioneered work in Tanganyika (present-day Tanzania). Together, they started mission work at Nyang`ori, near Kisumu, Kenya, and established the Pentecostal Assemblies of God in East Africa.
Marion was born in 1889 in Parry Sound, Ontario. While working as an Anglican school teacher in Parry Sound she felt called to missionary work. She went to Bible School in New York State where she met Karl Wittich, her first husband. In 1913, together with a young man named Grothaus, they set out for Tanganyika, a German colony.
The administration assigned them to work among an unreached tribe several hundred miles inland, east of Tabora. They had to learn to build their grass huts by themselves because the local people would not help. There was no water on site and rather than travel nine miles to the nearest station, the men decided to dig a well. Three months after arriving in Africa, when they finally struck water, they made a pot of tea to celebrate. Tragically, the water was poisonous and in two days both men were dead and Marion was desperately sick. The local people informed the authorities of the two dead men and Marion was carried to a mission hospital in the district and eventually recovered.
Marion was an exceptional young woman with a keen mind and a strong will. After her recovery, she returned to the mission station to live alone and continued the work there for four, gruelling years. She lived like the locals in a mud hut, ate the same food they did, including lots of zebra meat, and cooked over the traditional African stove, i.e. three stones. She became so proficient in the Kiswahili language that the administration asked her to set up the examination for civil servants coming to the country.
Throughout World War I, communication with Marion’s homeland was cut off. During this time Marion was taken by German officials to the mission station and was imprisoned for a week before being released. One day, God told Marion to prepare to go on furlough - an impossible undertaking as she had not received any money for years. Moreover, all the bridges down the coast, a 600-mile journey, had been destroyed by the enemy and no transportation of any kind was available. Nevertheless, even though it was forbidden at the time, she asked for permission to leave the country and her application was accepted. Two mission boys, their first converts, accompanied Marion to the railroad station where the station agent gave her a free ticket. Tragically, one of the boys was eaten by a lion on the walk back. Sitting on her luggage, Marion rode for 50 miles on a troop train to Mwanza, on the southern end of Lake Victoria where she boarded a ship. Very ill and suffering from heat exhaustion, she did not know what awaited her in Kisumu, Kenya - only that the Lord had told her to go.
Otto C. Keller was born in 1888 in Germany and emigrated to the United States. He became a very successful builder in Detroit, U.S.A., a committed Christian, and Karl Wittich`s best friend. When he heard of his friend`s death in Tanganyika he felt he should continue Karl`s work there. Otto sold his business and made his way to Africa. When he arrived in Kenya on route to Tanganyika, he was not allowed to enter the country. At that time, there was a severe famine in Kenya and the administration asked him to do famine relief work in the Kisumu area among the Kavirondo tribe (Luo today). He got to know the different tribes in the Kisumu district and he soon became fluent in five of the local languages. As he was not attached to any mission, he often filled in while a missionary was on leave.
Otto heard that a sick woman was arriving on a ship from Mwanza and, thinking that it might be his friend`s widow, and he went to meet the ship. He immediately took her to a mission hospital where she slowly recuperated. During his frequent visits to the hospital, he fell in love with her and asked her to marry him. Needing time, she went home to think it over.
In the meantime, Otto purchased a seventy-five acre piece of land in the hills of Kisumu from a man named Claude Miller who had come to Kenya about ten years earlier to begin a mission among the Nyang`oris, a small branch of the Kalenjin tribe.
Marion returned to Kenya and they were married in 1918. The newlywed couple settled down in Kisumu to begin their work. The following year, Otto was ordained by the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.
W. Philip Keller became an internationally regarded author and bible teacher. He is best known for A Shepherd's Look at Psalm 23, A Layman's Look at The Lord's Prayer and Lessons from A Sheep Dog. He lived in British Columbia and had completed his 50th book before passing away in 1997.
Starting from scratch, they built three main churches, which grew to over 200 branch churches staffed by approximately 500 pastors, teachers, and evangelists. They had one child, Weldon Philip Keller, born in 1920 in Kisumu, Kenya, who later became a well-known Christian author.
After nearly 32 years in Africa, Otto died, at the age of 54, from an infection following an appendectomy. He was buried in Nyang`ori Mission in Kisumu. Marion carried on the work until other missionaries came to take over. Then, she returned to Victoria, British Columbia until her death in 1953.
This story was researched by Dr. Francis Manana, Professor of Evangelism and Missions and DACB Liaison Coordinator, Pan African Christian College, Nairobi, Kenya.
John Lynn, interview, the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, Pan Africa Christian College, Nairobi, Kenya. Marion Keller, Twenty Years in Africa (1913-1933); Retrospect and Prospect, (copies In the PAOC Archives)
The Church with open arms
By Dr. Ivan Satyarrata
First feed our bellies. Then tell us about a God in heaven who loves us! A hungry beggar flung these words at Mark Buntain, a missionary and evangelist who had come to share the good news of Jesus with the people of Kolkata, India. These words pierced Mark’s heart and led him and his wife, Huldah, to combine passionate evangelistic outreach with compassionate social engagement in their efforts to plant a strong Pentecostal church in Kolkata. Over 60 years later, the church the Buntain’s founded and led remains vibrant, actively reaching the lost while serving the poor of Kolkata.
Perhaps the key to their success was that their fervent prayer life and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit were paired with a remarkable sensitivity to the social realities of India. When the Buntain’s first arrived in Kolkata, India, they encountered mass scale poverty. Kolkata continues to have one of the highest population densities in the world with more than 24,000 people per square kilometre, many of whom struggle for daily survival.
This led them to develop a deep cultural sensitivity which conditioned their response to need and their mission strategy at every stage of their ministry in India. They responded to people’s tangible needs – feeding the hungry, starting schools for the underprivileged, and founding a clinic, which eventually developed into a full-fledged hospital, that cared for the poor and marginalized.
Now, 60 years later, the compassionate approach of the Buntain’s continues to remain deeply embedded in the church’s outreach strategy. Today, social programs include:
a feeding program, which serves over 7,500 meals each day in the streets and slums;
nine schools for underprivileged children, educating more than 2,500 children, and providing them with a mid-day meal and essential health care;
a vocational training school, offering a wide range of certified skill development courses equipping students with job prospects for a sustainable livelihood;
rescue and rehabilitation for victims of sex trafficking; and,
production and installation of bio-sand filters for clean drinking water.
These programs are offered to people of all faiths unconditionally and are never used to proselytize. While the church is acutely sensitive to the needs of the poor and marginalized, it continues to remain passionately committed to sharing the good news of God’s saving power in Christ. Through the years, hundreds have been drawn to Jesus, baptized, and discipled.”
The Buntain’s were also unique in their celebration of diversity. With over 2,000 ethnic groups, 3,000 castes, 25,000 sub-castes, 23 major languages, 1,500 dialects, and seven major religions, India is a country of shocking diversity. This diversity is commonly the basis of divisive prejudice, narrow perspectives, and bitter ethnic and communal strife. Mark believed that “the colour line is washed away in the blood” (Kay, 2011) and introduced services in several major languages. Today, eight language groups worship at 16 different services over the weekend – a wonderful testimony to the fact that we are all one in Christ.
Perhaps the greatest strength of the Buntain’s vision for the work of God in India was their ability to look to the future and recognize that foreign missionaries had a limited window of opportunity in India. From the very early stages of their ministry, they were extremely affirming of Indian culture and identity. This was embodied in their schools’ mottos, which emphasized nation-building: Building a Better India by Building Better Boys and Girls. The Buntain’s were very intentional about raising national leadership in their ministry. At first, emerging leaders with potential were sent for training to reputable Bible Colleges and Universities in North America. When many of these failed to return to India, ministry candidates were sent to Southern Asia Bible College, the Assemblies of God training institute in Bangalore, South India. In 1985, shortly before Mark died, Mark launched a Bible Institute, which would eventually become the Buntain Theological College. To date, the college continues to equip workers for pastoral and church planting ministries in India.
Today, the church and mission that the Buntain’s founded continues to flourish under national leadership. In keeping with its founders, the church’s ethos is captured in its present motto: The Church With the Open Arms. It continues to communicate the heart of the gospel, meeting physical and spiritual needs, and building bridges, rather than walls.
Kay, William K. (2011), Pentecostalism: A Short Introduction. Gosport, Hampshire: Oxford
Dr. Ivan Satyavrata serves as Senior Pastor of Assembly of God Church Kolkota, a multilingual congregation of about 5,000 whose social outreach includes a feeding program, free education for children, and basic health care for those in need. Ivan’s wife, Shiela, sons, Rohan and Rahul (Phengsy), and grandchild, Maria, are the pride and joy of his life.
Mark Buntain was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the son of Pentecostal minister, Daniel N. Buntain. He married Huldah Monroe in 1944, and their ministry began by pastoring churches in Saskatchewan. Mark shared the gospel in Taiwan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, and Japan before going to India in October 1954. What started as a one-year mission assignment turned into a lifetime of ministry.
Huldah Buntain shares about the wonderful twin partnership she and her late husband have enjoyed with the US-AG and the PAOC: “Mark and I came to Kolkata in October 1954 at the request of the USA AGWM. Our strong connection to Canada and the PAOC is because of my father’s and Mark’s father’s involvement. This partnership has allowed us to accomplish great things for God’s Kingdom in India.”