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Cornelius : Part 3


William Cornelius was born in Orangeville, Ontario on June 8, 1926. His parents were devoted Christians whose first love was the work of God. They were among the first members of the Orangeville church. Bill was the youngest of three children.

He was a fun-loving young person who enjoyed sports and played for a provincial lacrosse team. He also loved music and played the piano for the Orangeville church. After high school he planned to be a chartered accountant and moved to Toronto to follow this career path. With only a few credits left to finish this program, the Lord guided him to Bible School, (then called Bethel Bible Institute) in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. This was through the influence of the principal, Rev. Robert Argue, whom Bill met while playing tennis at a camp. He graduated in 1953. That is where he met his future wife, Lillian, who was one year behind.

Bill was very much loved at the Bible school and was the Bible College student president and a graduation speaker in 1952.

In between Bill's 2nd and 3rd year of Bible College he ministered in a small church in Saskatchewan and that is the point at which he felt God's divine call upon his life. Lillian in the same period went up to northern Manitoba to conduct a district vacation Bible school - amongst the Indian Community. Comparing their summers, they found a common desire to serve the Lord even in out-of the way places, and the romance developed quickly. They were engaged at graduation time.

Immediately after graduation Bill was invited to join Rev. Herbert Barber in Regina as assistant pastor, and a few months later was called to Canwood, a small town in northern Saskatchewan. That first year, Bill was alone in the Canwood pastorate. As a bachelor pastor and not having a car, Bill walked many miles to visit his parishioners. In God's providence, the lack of a vehicle turned out to be a key to future ministry. Bill and Lillian were married a year later on May 2nd, 1953 in Calvary Temple, Winnipeg by Brother Robert Argue.

After a couple of years in Canwood they were requested to go to Yorkton, Saskatchewan to help that fledgling congregation at a difficult time in its history. This was the occasion of many tears because Bill was much loved in Canwood. James, their first son, was born in Yorkton in 1954.

After a few months time a request came from the National Office in Toronto for Bill and Lillian to go to Kenya as missionaries. This request came as a result of stories of this young man's willingness to walk many miles in the Saskatchewan winter to visit families and drink coffee with them and often stay over night. Brother George Upton, then Missionary Secretary, said "we need young men like that in Africa", and requested the young Cornelius family to consider service in Kenya. After prayer concerning this opportunity (Lillian also had a call to missionary work since childhood), they proceeded to Kenya in April, 1955, with their 7-month son, James.

Their first assignment was to work with Rev. and Mrs. John Lynn at Itibo Mission Station amongst the Kisii tribe. This ministry was "church planting" and also building and managing schools which were just beginning to develop in that part of Africa. It was a blessed period. Missionaries Jack and Edna Lynn were experienced and very instrumental in guiding the new missionaries. When the Lynns were needed in another part of Kenya, Bill and Lillian were left in charge of the work amongst the Kisii, working together with Miss June Deacon who had a great ministry to students and young people. Working together with national pastors, many people were saved, Bible courses taught, and churches planted during that 10 year period. Three more children were born during that period, Murray, Brian and Brenda.

In 1965 Bill was appointed Field Secretary of the Kenya field and moved to Nairobi to take up that work. This involved working with missionaries from Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda as well as national pastors and churches. It was a busy and fruitful twelve years till furlough in 1977.


In 1980 Bill was elected Executive Director of Overseas Missions. This was a very challenging position, and it was his privilege to see new mission fields opened and God's blessing around the world as he travelled to meet and encourage missionaries in many different fields. He remained in this position till his death on December 17, 1992.

William Cornelius was a very positive person. One of his favourite Bible characters was Joshua. He liked to preach from this portion of Scripture and quote Joshua Chapter 1 vs.9 which says "Be strong and very courageous... do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."

If there was a theme of his life it was: "Be positive... trust God... don't worry about tomorrow... God is sovereign." He was also a humble person who looked upon all people as special in God's sight. He looked upon the humblest African pastor or schoolboy or child as God's special creation, created for His glory. He believed in simplicity and honesty and went ahead in faith to see projects through, even though there were many obstacles and the way did not seem clear.

If he were at the opening of the Vocational Training Centre, his theme would be "this is God's doing." Perhaps he would speak from Nehemiah, who, when he heard about the need of his city, Jerusalem, and how "the gates were burnt and the walls broken down, the people living in poverty and disgrace" he was moved with compassion and prayed and fasted. Then he followed the vision God gave him and did something about it.

The rest of the story we know, how God helped him and gave him provisions, and was with Nehemiah through every difficulty. These difficulties came from without, from within, through poverty, and opposition, but he did not give up till the final day came and they rejoiced together when he reminded them that "the Joy of the Lord is our strength."

I think he might say: "This is what you have done in Guatemala... you have seen a need, your hearts are full of compassion for those who need someone to lift them up. There has been red tape, opposition, many things against you, it has taken time, but with perseverance and in faith you have rallied the troops locally and abroad (in your case work groups). You have encouraged many people to say "We will arise and build.""

Bill loved young people, and if he were talking to them, he would advise them not to lose sight of the call. Though pursuing education in order to be qualified, they must first of all love God and their neighbours; he would advise them to trust God for finances, not looking to material things, but to keep their priorities straight and to seek first the Kingdom of God. He would advise them to love the Word of God and to be young people of prayer. And he would remind them that God is able to use anyone, no matter how weak they might seem, to be strong and accomplish great things in His name and through His power.

Written by his wife Lillian.


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