Thomson, John (1843-1933)

Thomson, John (1843-1933)

Preacher of the first Spanish-language Methodist sermon in Argentina

By 1866 the Argentine mission was prospering but the most important step had not yet taken place. This was such a constant preoccupation for Rev. Goodfellow, the Superintendent of the Conference, who in his report of April 1865, a kind of premonition abruptly erupted:

We need a Spanish service in this city (Buenos Aires). Large congregations would gather to hear the gospel in that language. We pray for such laborers to be raised up. We have met in the fulness of our hearts to ask what can be done for this object, but so far nothing opens before us.[1]

That was the necessary key for the complete accomplishment of the mission. The specific vehicle for such an important step, was at that time studying Theology, at the Ohio Wesleyan University, a twenty-two-year-old John Francis Thomson.

Thomson had been born of Scottish parents in England in June 3rd,1843, just when Rev. Norris inaugurated the First Methodist Church at Buenos Aires. He was taken to Glasgow, Scotland when he was a child, and remained in that city until he was eight years of age.

In 1851, he sailed with his parents emigrating to Buenos Aires, where his maternal grandmother and her family resided. There he went to school and worked at his uncle’s store. It is said by Varetto that he was named by the guys of the neighborhood, “the little English boy” and “Caramel,” because of his red hair. [2]

He learned very quickly to speak a fluent Spanish, not only the formal, but the language of the streets, the vernacular one. His father had been met by the Methodists, so, the Thomsons began to attend the Methodist Church in Cangallo Street, despite the fact that they came from Presbyterian tradition, and his mother’s family attended the Presbyterian Church in Buenos Aires.[3]

At the age of twelve he joined the Methodist Episcopal Sunday School. According the narration of Reid, at the age of sixteen, he was about to pass over into Uruguay to begin sheep-farming with one his uncles.

Then, he was met by Rev. Goodfellow on the street and asked if he would like to receive an education in the United States. According to Reid’s record, “the project seemed too big, too far off, and too expensive for the lad, and so he said; but his kind pastor assured him that all that was needed was a resolute will, and every difficulty would vanish, and bade him talk the matter over at home, and report at the parsonage.”[4]

During the week of prayer of January, 1860, Thomson was converted by the preaching of Rev. Goodfellow. From that moment he wanted to be a preacher. During that year, and for several years after, together with other young men of the mission, he went out on Saturday afternoons two by two, visiting people, holding house-prayer meetings, reading the Bible, and addressing brief expositions.[5]                     

By 1862, thanks to the mediation of Rev. Goodfellow, Thomson’s application was accepted to attend the Ohio Wesleyan University. During his stay at Delaware, Ohio he was lodged first at the house of Profesor Goodman, and then for a longer period in that of the University President, Dr. Frederick Merrick.

Thomson said about this experience:

God never gave better friends to any young man, and well might the son of a prince have coveted the influence and instruction of such a circle as gathered round President Merrick’s table and hearthstone. This noble man did more by his students as to the truth of Christianity than the books they studied on that subject.”[6]

Thomson was recommended to the Conference for ordination by the Saint Paul Methodist Episcopal Church at Delaware and was received by the Erie Conference in 1866. Ordained Methodist minister under the missionary rule by Bishop Janes, at Bedford Street Church, New York, the same year.  Thomson arrived back to Buenos Aires on October, 1866.[7]  He had been married in the United States to Rev. Goodfellow’s nice, Ellen Goodfellow.  

In 1867, his name began to appear in the Annual Report of the Missionary Society as an associated missionary for the South American Mission. Thomson would give continuity to the mission work in the Rio de la Plata region throughout the last quarter of 19th.century. While other missionaries were itinerants, he spent sixty-seven years as pastor in Buenos Aires and Montevideo from 1866 until his death in the South of the Province of Buenos Aires, in 1933.    

Superintendent Goodfellow had been the man who made the South America mission field prosper, and under his leadership, spread the message of Methodism to different places in the interior of Argentina, especially in Rosario where work has begun in 1864, as well as in Santa Fe and Entre Rios among German and French colonists.

But, certainly John Thomson was the man who helped the mission to developed into an actual South American deeply-rooted Methodist church. This process was realized, not only through the occurrence of Spanish Language services which he began, but also because of his conviction of placing South American Methodism, together with other liberal societies, at the center of the storm of the ideological battle against Catholicism.

In one of his reports quoted by the Missionary Advocate, Goodfellow stated:

On last Sunday night (1867) Brother Thomson delivered his first sermon, in this city in Spanish. The church was full. Of course not many of our own people were present [English speaking people] but a large number of natives were there, who heard their first protestant sermon. There was marked attention and a very prospect of good. We have no Spanish Hymn Book, but we had the hymns printed on slips of paper as a program, and the organ and choir led the large concourse to the tunes of Hebron, Mozart, and Old Hundred. Brother Thomson’s fluency and self command with a new language on his lips, surprised everyone, and only the most critical could detect the fact that he was not using his native language. Next Sunday night is our missionary meeting night, and after that we hope to occupy Sunday evening with Spanish preaching.”[8]

In a later report, Goodfellow stated June 9th[9] as the day of the first sermon in Spanish. That would mean that the one of May 25th had been considered more a presentation introduction rather than a formal worship.

Written by Daniel Bruno

Sources:

[1] Annual Report MS, (1866), 104.

[2] Juan C. Varetto. El Apóstol del Plata: Juan F. Thomson. (Buenos Aires: Ed. La Aurora, 1943), 46.

[3] Ibid. 47.

[4] Reid, 346.

[5] Reid, 324.

[6] Reid, 347.

[7] Ibid.

[8] The Missionary Advocate, (August 1867), 39.

[9] “On June 9 Rev. Thomson preached his first sermon in Spanish in our church in a well- filled church, of whom about forty people were Spanish. He has continued ever since to occupy our church every Sunday evening.”The Missionary Advocate,(November, 1867),67.