‘Undaunted and radical’ missionary Joe Cannon dies
Joe Cannon, a longtime missionary to countries including Japan, Papua New Guinea and Ukraine, died Oct. 25. He was a member of the Highland Church of Christ in Cordova, Tenn.
Chris Altrock, the church’s minister, invited friends to “celebrate the spirit-filled, faith-full, undaunted and radical life of Joe Cannon” at an Oct. 27 memorial service at the Highland church. Visitation begins at 1 p.m. and the service starts at 2.
In 2011, Altrock wrote a tribute to Cannon:
Joseph L. Cannon was an unlikely figure to become a global missionary. He spent his early years in Canada in a gang. Some looking at him in his teens in the late 1930s might have imagined a future for him in jail not a future for him in ministry. Yet, God broke into Joe’s life, changed his heart, and gave him a calling that would take Joe to four foreign mission fields and a ministry that would span more than sixty years.
Joe began preaching in 1943. In 1947, with his first wife Rosabelle, Joe’s mission work in Japan was launched. In those decades after World War II a new wave of missionaries was entering Japan. Two of the first missionaries eventually recruited a number of additional missionaries, particularly from what was then called Harding College, now Harding University. Among this new generation of missionaries was Joe Cannon. Joe once described to me his decision to go to Japan in this way: “I believe Jesus wanted me to go serve among the most unloved people I could find. And at that time, the most unloved people in America were the Japanese.” Thus, Joe and Rosabelle moved to Japan. …
In 1971 Joe, Rosabelle and their family moved from Japan to Papua New Guinea (PNG). PNG consisted of one large island and 600 smaller islands. The natives spoke more than 750 different languages. Joe was the first American missionary in PNG. Education became a significant tool for evangelism and several schools were started. Joe started the first one, the Melanesian Bible College in Lae, and then assisted in the establishment of other schools. Joe served with the Melanesian Bible College for thirteen years. He helped train virtually every preacher in PNG and was thus responsible for the planting of hundreds of churches in PNG.
After the death of his wife Rosabelle, Joe married Betty Dollar. Betty, a former realtor, had left her full-time work in Memphis to do mission work in Ukraine. Ukraine, independent from the former Soviet Union since 1991, was known as the breadbasket of the Soviet Union. And in the early 1990’s, there was a spiritual harvest in this breadbasket: tens of thousands of Bibles were distributed in Ukraine, several thousand people were baptized and several congregations were established. Betty joined this wave of mission work in 1995 and helped establish the Bila Tserkva Church of Christ in Bila Tserkva, Ukraine. For many years she labored there with other missionaries. She was joined by Joe when they married in 2002.
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