June 1, 1922 – January 5, 2013
Rev. Dr. Alton Gould, Free Methodist missionary to Asia for more than 30 years, passed away January 5, 2013, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. A celebration of Al’s life took place at the Arthur Funeral Home & Cremation Centre on the day of his 91st birthday, Saturday, June 1, 2013.
Alton Gould was born in Renfrew, Ontario, in 1922. Converted in his early teens, Al was active in the church. Al, ordained in 1943, was the youngest ordained minister in Canada of any denomination at the time. He served as pastor in St. Regis Falls, New York, and did youth evangelism work in many holiness and other evangelical churches.
In 1946, Al’s jaw was seriously injured. During the six weeks Al was unable to speak, he listened. “God had been wanting to talk to me for a long time, but my mouth was open so much, I couldn’t hear what He was trying to say,” Al wrote. In his listening, Al felt God leading him to apply to the mission board, he was accepted as a missionary to China.
Next came a difficult decision. Al was engaged to a dedicated Christian girl, Phyllis Joynt, who was studying to be a nurse. Al had not told her of his call to China, but now that he was definitely going, he thought it wasn’t fair to ask her to give up her career as a nurse. So he wrote Phyllis a letter, breaking off their engagement. The very same day, Phyllis wrote Al to break off their engagement because she had decided to accept God’s plan for her life and go to China. She didn’t want to hinder his youth evangelism work. Once Al and Phyllis received each other’s letters, the engagement was back on. However their marriage would have to wait while Phyllis finished her nursing course. Al left for China in 1947 by himself.
Just as he was beginning to grasp the Mandarin language, the Chinese civil war broke out, and Al was forced to leave mainland China after just two years. Al returned to Canada, married Phyllis, did general evangelistic work, served for one year as principal at Western Bible College and was pastor at Campbells Bay.
In 1954, Al and Phyllis were asked to minister to the Chinese who had escaped to freedom in Hong Kong. Unable to speak a word of Cantonese, the Goulds had no Sunday schools, no churches, nor even a hymnbook to share with the refugees who were coming by the thousands. The Hong Kong government, at first overwhelmed to care for these people, shortly developed a plan to provide clothing, shelter and work for the refugees. Missionaries, including Al, organized soup lines and temporary shelters. He also began making evangelistic calls, going from shack to shack on the hillsides, telling the Chinese refugees about the love of God and listening to their needs. Soon there were enough converts to need a church building. In 1954 the Cheong Wah Church opened in a noisy center of the refugee area.
In a few years, the shacks and shanties were replaced with seven-story resettlement projects. Each building housed 1,500 people. With every available foot of ground covered with buildings, the children had no playgrounds and no schools. The government gave the rooftops to churches and charity organizations to operate primary schools. Al quickly saw these schools were a wonderful means of evangelism. He opened two rooftop schools close to his church, even though he did not have any funds. The Christian Children’s Fund came to Al’s rescue when they learned of his plans. These American sponsors helped provide an education, hot lunches, school books, teachers, clothing and emergency aid. This rooftop model was an inspiration to our family and one of the first times I personally considered becoming a missionary. It led the way for the Free Methodist Church to begin its own sponsorship program, International Child Care Ministries, established in 1966.
As a result of the schools, many adults in addition to students heard the message of salvation. The schools provided a location for a congregation to hold Sunday worship services and Saturday events for youth. Al found men and women who could serve as pastors and encouraged the development of Chinese leadership until all churches and schools were directed by Chinese.
Al provided efficient supervision of these mission schools. In the early 1960s the Chih Kwong School was chosen as an example of assistance in solving the refugee problem and was visited by West German Parliament members. The Chih Chih School, chosen as a model school from among the many in Hong Kong, was visited by American educators.
By 1964, Al was serving as superintendent of 12 full-time Chinese preachers, eight churches, two rooftop schools and had many administrative responsibilities. When the Holiness Movement Church of Canada merged with the FMC in 1959, Al and Phyllis were brought in as FM missionaries to Hong Kong.
As the economy in Hong Kong stabilized, church members earned a regular income and child sponsorship eventually was no longer needed in Hong Kong; however, many former sponsorship recipients began to sponsor children around the globe.
In 1968, Al accepted an appointment as director with The Christian Children’s Fund (the group that helped fund the original rooftop schools) in Hong Kong and later the Philippines. In this role, Al trained and developed case workers for 25,000 children. In 1974, Al was honored by the Archbishop and Archdiocese of Manila, receiving a citation, a plaque and the Archdiocesan Medallion of Appreciation for “his selfless service to the cause of children in the Philippines and elsewhere.” While in the Philippines, Al and Phyllis were appointed associate missionaries with FMWM.
From 1975 to 1979 Al served FMWM as pastor to missionaries relocating to Indiana. He worked with missionaries through seminars, workshops and counselling sessions. His goal was always to seek to improve the quality of the missionary staff.
Al returned to Canada to pastor several churches. Likely because of the Gould’s missions experiences, internationals felt welcome under Al’s preaching. The Goulds retired from formal ministry in 1989.
Alton’s Colleagues Write
Former missionary to Asia Loren Van Tassel writes, “As a teen in Canada, my wife, Sylvia, remembered Al returning from his China ministry to visit churches. Her description indicates that he was a dynamic speaker and story-teller who could inspire people to want to get involved. Soon after arriving in Hong Kong in November 1970, I realized that in whatever Al did, he put all his energy, zest, thought, time and resources into it.
“We began to follow Al’s example: provide a service which the government needed and then use that building as a place to meet for Christian outreach and worship. So, we applied for and began administering social centers for preschool children, teens and the elderly, and study centers for school children. These became the church location.
“Al and Phyllis were passionate about serving the Lord. He was a true pioneer – launching into new territory full throttle, over and over again.”
Alton encouraged Rev. Derek Ho, former Hong Kong FMC superintendent, to be dedicated to God as a teen. Rev. Ho writes, “Rev. Alton Gould was a godly servant of God with a gentle heart. He was a good preacher that challenged his flock to love the Lord whole heartedly … we believe Rev. Gould’s lively dedication to the Lord is not in vain. To God be the glory.”
Rev. Raymond Wong, also from Hong Kong, writes, “The Hong Kong Free Methodist Church is very thankful Rev. and Mrs. Alton Gould came to Hong Kong as missionaries and started the first Free Methodist Church. We are grateful for their dedicated work and love for the people and children in Hong Kong in those days of poverty back in the 1950s and1960s. Once Hong Kong was a mission field receiving missionaries, but now is a mission-minded, missionary-sending church. The Gould’s labor and life have been a great example to us.”