Missions History: Charles Forman

If there is one verse that could sum up the life of missionary Charles Forman, it is this verse.
“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13)
Born to prosperous Kentucky landowners in 1821, Forman became one of the most influential Presbyterian missionaries in Pakistan and the founder of Forman Christian College. And, through his faithful work, countless Pakistani lives were impacted for Christ. 

Let’s take a closer look at the life and ministry of Charles William Forman.


Early Life

Although he did not grow up in a Christian home, Charles accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour as a young adult. He was publicly baptized at the age of 20 and then spent seven years studying to be a pastor. Charles had a desire to reach the African American slaves with the gospel.

However, during his college studies, he met the son of missionaries to Sri Lanka. “On reflection he realized that, while there were many who could preach to the lost souls in America, there were exceedingly few who would preach to them in a country like India. So he, quite logically, volunteered to the Presbyterian mission board to go to India,” wrote his namesake and grandson, Charles W. Forman.

New Horizons

On July 7, 1847, Charles was ordained as a Presbyterian minister and set sail for India. For the first 3 1/2 years, he served with John and Elizabeth Newton. In January 1850, they founded a mission school, and, within a year, the school had 59 students. Charles taught at the school, particularly classes about Christianity, and continued to preach often. On July 5, 1855, he married 19-year-old Margaret Newton, the daughter of his fellow missionaries. They went on to have a family of seven children. 
As the school grew and branch schools were established, Charles gradually moved into a supervisory role. However, he was disappointed that not many of his students became believers. During the winter months, he travelled to preach in villages. During the later years of his ministry, he saw much fruit as great crowds of villagers accepted Christ for themselves. In 1878, his wife Margaret died after a lengthy illness. However, in 1882, he married Georgina Lockhart, and they had three children together.

Founding a College

During the American Civil War years, he recognized the growing need for college education in order for his students to find good jobs. In 1864, Charles added a college branch to the school. Sadly, it had to be closed in 1869 because of the death of a principal teacher. But, in 1886, the college was re-opened. Forman named it “Lahore Mission College” and gave it the motto, “By love serve one another.” At our prison ministries, we want to serve one another by love, too. The College’s name was later changed to “Forman Christian College” after his death.
This college had a monumental impact on Pakistani society. According to the Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions,[1] Charles, “built up a fine corps of Indian teachers and the college produced leaders of Punjab society in business, government, and the professions.” The current college website states, “Among the graduates of the college are two Presidents of Pakistan, a Prime Minister of India, the first Chief Justice of Pakistan, a number of Governors and Chief Ministers of the Punjab and other provinces, an Attorney General of Pakistan… numerous Ambassadors to other nations…numerous Generals and Admirals and an equally impressive list of leaders in the fields of education, law, medicine, arts and entertainment.”[2] More importantly, the college taught its students to serve others, irrespective of their background, ethnicity, or religion.
Except for a few visits to the United States, Charles served in Pakistan until the end of his life. He was beloved by the local people and lovingly nicknamed “Baba Forman” (Grandfather Forman). In Christianity and the Nation, Robert E. Speer wrote, “It will be long before Lahoris forget the sweet and benign face of the great American missionary.”[3] And five of his ten children became Presbyterian missionaries in India. Today, the Christian college he founded is a chartered university with a well-deserved reputation for excellence, innovation, and service to the greater community.
Charles faithfully served in India for over 45 years, and his life exemplifies this verse, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” (Galatians 6:9) In our prison ministries, we want to be faithful in well doing, just as Charles Forman did.
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1.     Anderson, Gerald H. (1999) Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions. Grand Rapid, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing 
2.     Forman Christian College, About – Forman Christian College, Retrieved from http://www.fccollege.edu.pk/about/ on June 18, 2018.
3.     Speer, Robert E. (1910) Christianity and the Nation. New York : Fleming H. Revell Co.