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‘Undaunted and radical’ missionary Joe Cannon dies

Joe and Betty Cannon in 2011. The couple was honored by the Highland Church of Christ for their mission work in Japan, Papua New Guinea and Ukraine. (Photo via faithinmemphis.com)

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?Action=thumbnail&Width=460&algorithm=proportional). .png?Action=thumbnail&Width=460&algorithm=proportional 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?Action=thumbnail&Width=460&algorithm=proportional.  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?Action=thumbnail&Width=460&algorithm=proportional and was thus responsible for the planting of hundreds of churches in.png?Action=thumbnail&Width=460&algorithm=proportional.

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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  • Feedback
    What a BLESSING to have known this man! He had such an impact on my formative years, as I “hung out” with my friends (his kids) in their home in Okinawa, Japan. “Undaunted and radical” are great words to describe Joe! He was truly sold out for Jesus! Incredible loving support came from his wife Rosabelle during those years. I often mention this couple in my personal “Hall of Faith”. GIGATTAATTGIG
    Patti Klein Sikes
    October, 26 2012

    Sad over the news, Joe was my best teacher in 1997 / 1998 at Great Lakes Bible College in Waterloo, ON. Canada. His passion for the Lord’s work is evidence in all what he did, for he trully loved to see the gospel spread. My the Lord keep and rest his soul in eternal peace.
    Geoffrey Kirima — Southern Africa Bible College. SA.
    Geoffrey Kirima
    October, 26 2012

    Love, love, love the Joe Cannon family! An inspiration to this young teenage girl in Okinawa, Japan. I grew up having such respect for this “sold out” man for Jesus and his family – as I spent much time in their home. Rosabelle was such a wonderful, supportive, and spirit-led wife, mother, and mentor. I have claimed Joe and Rosabelle as two of my spiritual heroes for many years. Thank you, Jesus! GIGATTAATTGIG
    Patti Klein Sikes
    October, 26 2012

    Joe Cannon was a great man of God who had a worldwide vision of bringing the Good News to the entire world. I attended the Mission 1000 in Memphis at the Highlands Church of Christ in 1989 and was mesmerized and inspired by his and Rosabelle’s stories and passion for lost souls. We have definitely lost a great man of God.
    Chong Fatt Ong
    October, 26 2012

    Patti! Do I know you! I was also a teenager in Okinowa during Joe’s tenure. Was your Dad in the service? When were you there! I also was impacted by the Cannon family in so many ways and I remember the sacrifices that the military congregation made to send the Cannons to New Guinea. It was a wonderful experience.
    Karen Rogers Gilbert
    October, 26 2012

    Joe was both a Mentor and a friend. I was in Okinawa from 1965 – 1969 worshiped with the church there and shared the preaching opportunities with several of the men. Joe was always an encourager, he and Roseabelle were in our home and we were in theirs. I remember when he made the decision to go to New Guinea, but we left to return to the states before he left Okinawa.
    Goodbye Joe, “I Will See You in tbe morning” ; in that land where springtime and youth will last forever.
    jim burkhalter
    October, 26 2012

    Joe Cannon was an inspiration to multiple generations of those who followed him and Rosabelle in the work in PNG, people like my wife and I. Whether they stayed for months or years, and whether in Lae, Goroka, Mt. Hagen, Port Moresby, or numerous other places, those missionaries, the churches they planted, and the people who became Jesus-followers as a result of their efforts owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Joe and Rosabelle Cannon for the legacy they began. I remember well Joe’s intensity and passion as he would speak to individuals and groups of people about the Lord’s kingdom and His mighty work. There was a fire in his soul and spirit that was larger than the man himself and came from the God whom he loved and served. To be around Joe and Rosabelle made you want to do better and be better, to live better and love better, to share Jesus more and to do so more effectively. The bright light of Joe’s legacy will shine for decades to come. Our loss is heaven’s gain. And heaven’s gain is our goal. It will be a wonderful reunion one day soon when brothers and sisters from Canada, Japan, Okinawa, Papua New Guinea, Ukraine, the United States and other places Joe traveled and taught are brought together for the first time to meet each other in the presence of our Lord and to see once again their dear friend and mentor, Joe Cannon. To God be the glory!
    Alan Henderson
    October, 27 2012

    Oh, my! Yesterday, I saw that my first comment did not post, so I wrote again. Now, they are both there! So, this makes a third comment.
    Karen, we lived in Okinawa for the years of 1963, 1964, and 1965. My dad was in the army, stationed at Sukiran. My mom was one of the head nurses at the big hospital nearby. In our first house there, we lived right outside the Kadena gates with our back yard on the China Sea. Then, we lived on the Sukiran army post. We were part of the military congregation. Feel free to message me on FB: Patti Klein Sikes
    Patti Klein Sikes
    October, 27 2012

    Joe Cannon was daring, courageous, devoted to Christ and his church. Great soldier of the Cross.
    Don R. House
    October, 27 2012

    I never met brother Cannon, but what a way to live and die.
    Orion Mitchell
    October, 27 2012

    My dad knew Joe Cannon as a young soldier and new christian in Japan.
    Teresa Nystrom
    October, 29 2012

    All together now, “Oh, Canada…” Blessed are those who got to sit at the feet of Joe Cannon.
    Steve Sr.
    October, 29 2012

    I am sorry to hear of brother Cannon’s passing. He was indeed a great example to others who were trying to be good missionaries. Sometimes his writings pricked consciences; always they encouraged. When I taught mission courses in college, I made frequent use of his writings. I met him several times, but he probably would not have remembered who I was. He will be missed.
    Donald R. Taylor
    October, 29 2012

    I had Joe in a missions class at Harding back in the 60’s. He was the first missionary-in-residence there. Two quotes from him:
    “God had only one Son, and He was a missionary.”
    “You are either a missionary or a mission field.”
    He inspired us.
    Lawrence Barr
    October, 29 2012

    Joe was a remarkable man. I have admired him for many years. I first knew him, as well as his parents, when we all worshiped at Fern Ave. in Toronto, Canada, back in 1950- 51.
    Russell McNalty
    October, 29 2012

    It was Joe’s zeal and enthusiasm that led me to PNG in the early 80’s. Whenever we traveled the remote parts of the Highlands the first question I inevitably heard was “you know brother Joe?” I will never forget his Friday night devotionals for the mission minded at Harding. A John the Baptist of our time. How blessed we all are to have shared in his journey. I smile to think of his reunion with Christ whom he knew and served so well. Comfort and peace be with his family.
    Kathy Walter Churchill
    October, 29 2012

    Joe and Rosabelle Cannon were people to be “experienced.” The first time Bob and I met them was in Stamford, Texas – about 1970 or so – when they were “on furlough” with their family – raising support for the mission work in Japan. What an inspirational appeal Brother Joe gave that night! The appeal was not for “money” but was for “hearts” to share God’s message and His love. Later, several of us had dinner together with the Cannon family at the home of Cliff and Anna Bess Cobb. As a young preacher’s wife, I was so very impressed with the work being accomplished and the stories Sister Cannon told of the children of Japan – about the children with “the piercing black-eyes and reluctant smiles.” Now, so many years later, I still am blessed to have known and been inspired by these very faithful missionaries. Thank you, God, for their life-long examples!!
    Edie Connel
    October, 29 2012

    My husband had rented a house for The children and I who joined him atOjana, Okinawa in 1965. We lived just up the hill from the church in Ojana. The first Wednesday night there, after crying for three days because of culture shock, the first person I met was Rosabell Cannon from Henryetta, Oklahoma, just 25 miles from my home. I started bawling and she made me feel so warm and loved. Joe preached for our congregation the 5th Sunday and I was told not to put a roast in the oven on the day he preached because he preached until he finished. I loved them so, and their daughter is our missionary in Singapore, supported by the Edmond, OK Church of Christ.
    June Rodman Best
    October, 29 2012

    Your comments are so wonderful even though they’ve made me cry again. “My” Joe came to me on his 76th birthday to encourage a fellow missionary who had been placed by Highland St. church (who supported both of us, even though we didn’t know one another except by sight & reputation). He stayed for a cuppa coffee & conversation, then left for son Robin’s for a birthday dinner. He was back next day, then the next and so on, until we married in the church on April 19, 2003. Our honeymoon trip was to my beloved Ukraine, where I had served since ’95
    We worked together there for another 7 years–loving every minute of it
    He wrote a beautiful report to his Mission 1000 students & supporters in which he described it in his always positive, unique way: “Back in the Saddle Again–it’s great to be doing what we love to do–missionary work!…the people are friendly & responsive, brethren are loving and kind, food is delicious, the children are delightful, the
    weather is perfect & healthy.” He was “Granpa Joke” to them & they still keep in touch, though we had to come back to Memphis for health reasons. His short-term memory failed but he never forgot who & Whose he was! I am thankful he did not suffer long & all 6 of his children were able to travel here to talk with him before he went to sleep in Jesus. You should be able to see & hear his unique funeral on Highland church website. Thank you for your kind comments. [email protected]
    Betty Dollar Cannon
    October, 29 2012

    Joe was compelled and propelled by the love of Christ and a great example to me. He belongs in the Hall of Faith with E. H. Ijams and Stanley Shipp who reached out to tens of thousands who were lost without Christ and motivated many of us to get off the bench.
    Alan Miller
    October, 30 2012

    I met Joe, Isabelle and a big family at Ojana, Okinawa 1962-63. Their children were such an example of biblical knowledge. Unfortunately they lost a baby then. One of his first Japanese converts attended OKLAHOMA CHRISTIAN in 1991 working to further church education when he returned home. Joe never met a man he didn’t like. And all who knew him liked him.
    Lloyd Price
    October, 30 2012

    I also was a student of Joe in missions class at Harding in the 60’s.
    I remember those quotes that Lawrence cited. What devotion to the Lord that he and Rosabelle showed! Joe had such a unique way of expressing things, as well. He was surely a man of God and he will be missed!
    Paul Wallace
    October, 30 2012

    I thank all of you for sharing your wonderfully encouraging and affirming memories and thoughts about Dad. True to his commitment to Jesus, his last request when he left Japan for good in 1999 was, “When I die, have a Gospel meeting. Forget me.” May our undaunted passion for the Christ eclipse our self-interest radically.
    Robin Cannon
    October, 31 2012

    Like many of you, Joe, Rosabelle and Betty were all positive influences in my life.
    Hearing that death was near for a dear brother and former “gang” member who was also a preacher in Ontario, Joe called him. Among the words Joe spoke were, “You lucky guy. You’re going to see Him before I do.” Joe lived that sentiment. He knew the day of his death would be his best day.
    Art Ford
    October, 31 2012

    I met Joe Cannon when I was twelve years old – in Okinawa. He was visiting to make a final decision about whether to move there from Japan & bring his wife and children. What a wonderful man! So full of spirit, love for people and a true Servant of God and Christ. He was a LIVING EXAMPLE of what we are intended to do with our lives – embracing every chance to love and share God’s grace.
    January, 27 2013

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