Robert Jaffray was born in 1873, as some would say with “A silver spoon in his mouth.” His father owned of the Toronto Globe. His father had aspirations of his son following in his footsteps and taking over the family empire. However, Robert Jr. had higher aspirations. At the age of 20, after hearing a sermon by A.B. Simpson, Rob surrendered his entire life to Christ. Two years later, against his father’s wishes, Rob answered the call of God to the mission field of China.
In 1897 Robert Jaffray was part of a group of new missionaries sent into Wuchow, South China. This place would become his base of operation for the next 35 years. Robert proved to be a brilliant scholar in Chinese language and culture. He had a profound impact on China through evangelism, literature and academic endeavors.
One day Jaffray received a telegram from an old family friend. This friend was the president of Standard Oil of New York who had learned that Jaffray had mastered the Mandarin and Cantonese languages and had adapted well to the Chinese culture. At the time, Standard Oil was beginning to open operations in China and needed someone to run their business there. The president sent a telegram that read, Dear Mr. Jaffray I like you to run Standard Oil of China with a starting salary of $500,00 a year. Mr. Jaffray had this response, Dear Mr. President thank you so much for your offer, I am very flattered, I really do appreciate it but I’m not interested. The president of Standard Oil of New York could not believe that response so he sent another telegram to Robert Jaffray that said, "Maybe you didn’t read my first telegram, I want you to run Standard Oil of China, starting salary one million dollars per year." Mr. Jaffray responded, Dear Mr. President I did read your first telegram. I am very flattered and I appreciate your offer so very much but I’m still not interested. By now the President of Standard Oil of New York was beyond himself in disbelief and so he sent another telegram in all Caps and it said, Mr. Jaffray at any cost, name your price Mr. Jaffray and run Standard Oil of China. Mr. Jaffray responded with this telegram, Dear Mr. President your salary is high but your job is too small.
Robert Jaffray saw preaching the gospel to lost and dying people as far more valuable than any salary he could earn following earthy pursuits.
Sensing the threat of World War II at the end of his furlough in 1938, Jaffray said prophetically, “If I do not go back now, there is little likelihood I can ever go back at all. I must return to the Far East. I want to die out there where my life has been.” His wish became a reality just two weeks before the war ended. Lying on a prison cot, interned in a former pig sty in the Toradja Mountains of Indonesia, Robert Jaffray succumbed to disease and starvation July 29, 1945.
Robert Jaffray counted all loss for the cause of Christ. As Elliot would say, “he gave up what he could not keep to gain what he could not loose.”