The White Yogi

From the book, George Bowen of Bombay, “The White Yogi” by the Rev. J. Sumner Stone, M. D., Dec. 23, 1889:

Two young men just landed from America on “India’s coral strand” started out to see the curiosities and celebrities of a great city on the shore of the Indian Ocean. There were monuments, temples, and palaces by the score; there were princes and princelings, governors and generals and nabobs. But this morning we were hunting a prince, but not among palaces. So we picked our way through the crowded native district till we came to a broad street called Grant Road, and stopped in front of a low, one˗storied building divided into narrow apartments, two rooms deep. This was the office of the Bombay Guardian and the home of its editor and proprietor—one of the celebrities of India.

Americans and English called him George Bowen; natives called him the “White Yogi,” or white saint. To our timid knock the door opened and—I started. It was December, 1880, yet we seemed to be in the presence of a Huguenot, Geneva Calvinist, or Scotch Covenanter of the sixteenth century. The figure that greeted us might have been John Calvin or John Knox. Spare body, thin face, gray beard, narrow, high forehead, surmounted by rimless skull cap, thus the “White Yogi” stood framed in the door, bidding the strangers to enter.

How shall I picture to you that room? It was small, its furniture was of the plainest type and limited. The editorial table was a chaos of books, copy, manuscripts, and periodicals. Among the books, placed without order in the bookcases, I noticed a loaf of bread next to a dictionary, and a few bananas sharing a shelf with some works on theology and sociology. I realized that I was in the presence of a remarkable man, in the sanctum of one of the leading writers of the Indian empire, one of the most distinguished representatives of Christianity in the eastern world. At once there flashed into my mind the words of Jesus concerning John the Baptist: “What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yes, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.”

George Bowen was a scholarly man; he was by birth and training a gentleman. He was widely read, widely traveled, a thoroughly trained man. When he wrote golden words flowed from his pen; gems of thought fell from his lips when he spoke. He had the brain of a philosopher, the soul of a poet, and the genius of a musician. I wish I could convey to you the impression produced by the strangely˗gifted man when he sat down at the organ to let his fingers “wander idly over the noisy keys.” He lived in poverty, yet he was rich—he had all that the millionaire possesses—sufficient. He lived among the poorest of the people, was a comrade of the coolie, yet he was sought by the cultured and the noble.

More Memories

More Memories:

It was in the early to mid-seventies. My parents, Edwin and Lillian Harvey had already written and published a few books. Their extensive files provided ample material for further compilations. In what direction to branch out next must have been in their minds and in their prayers.

We were living in England in those days and, being interdenominational, my parents’ ministry brought them in contact with Christians from various backgrounds and denominations. One day, Tim, a young squadron leader in the RAF handed my father an autobiography, then popular on the Christian market, and asked him to read it. When my Father handed it back, Tim asked: “What do you think of it?”

“It’s well written, but does not stand up to the test of the cross,” my dad replied. “Miracles, spiritual wonders, amazing power—all these are emphasized, but not once is there a mention of the cross.”

I cannot remember the details of the ensuing conversation. I do know, however, that Tim challenged my dad to point him to biographies which did indeed pass the test of the cross!  He was eager to read of men and women from various denominations and cultures who knew God intimately. My father recommended Men and Women of Deep Piety, but concluded that many of the current Christian biographies concentrated on what a man or woman had accomplished for God rather than on their spiritual journey. Not long afterwards, the They Knew Their God series began to materialize.

The characters they would choose to include in this series, my parents decided, would be varied. They would come from all over the world–England, Africa, Europe, America! They would not be confined to one denomination. It would not matter if they were Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Anglican, or Roman Catholic. If they had striven to know God with all their being—that was the main criterion. And lay people would be included, both men and women. They would represent differing points of view, vocations, and cultures. Their journeys would take them on widely varying paths, but their destination would be the same! And, hopefully, the effect upon the readers of this series would be this: “I want to know God!”

It is no longer in the seventies. We entered the twenty-first century eighteen years ago. The world is changing fast. Some of the stories in these books may be considered out-dated. The language might be classed as somewhat “antiquated.” The standards presented might seem unreasonably high, but the goal in reprinting these books is, hopefully, the same goal as that which motivated my parents in the first place—to fuel the desire which lurks in the heart of every true follower of Jesus and to echo Paul’s words: “That I might know Him!”