It was in 1916 that George Jeffreys held a five week tent campaign in Ballymena near their farm. The tent held less than 300 people but during that time 120 were won to Christ. A great many consecrated themselves afresh unto God, and 23 were baptized in the Holy Ghost. Every night the tent was filled to capacity. On Sunday nights the side of the tent was let down to allow all those gathered outside the tent to participate. One of the favourite hymns of this mission was 'Ireland for Christ.' The McKeown home became something of a centre for Pentecostal meetings especially on Sunday nights when they would continue to the early hours of the morning.
At a house meeting in a friend’s home as the preacher told of the love and suffering of Christ, James lost all sight of the preacher and was overcome by a revelation of Jesus Christ. He was gripped by the Gospel and wept at this new revelation. From then on he loved the Lord and had a great love and appetite for His Word. He next sought for the baptism in the Holy Ghost. Others were filled but nothing happened to him. One night, James became very desperate—he had to have this filling, so kneeling at the bench he was emptied of all, and filled with the Spirit of God, speaking in tongues.
Some years later, a call came for James to go to Africa as a missionary and though from a boy he had read many missionary testimonies he refused to go, on the grounds of his poor education. Later amidst pleadings from his wife he reconsidered, and in 1937 he left for Africa with the vision of planting the Apostolic Church in the Gold Coast.
The only white man amongst 5,000 Africans in a town called Asamankese, James helped the believers there to build a mission house. That a white man would do such won over their hearts. He ate their food, worshipped with them and would walk 40 miles through the bush to outlying groups where he preached in the open-air.
When his wife arrived from Scotland, in June 1938, they stepped out by themselves to a place called Winneba to start from scratch again. Throughout their years in Africa they rarely ever got ill. Everywhere they went God confirmed his word with mighty signs and wonders following the preaching of the Gospel. James always played this down and taught the believers to rather rejoice that their names were written in the Lamb’s book of life. The emphasis was always changed lives. He would send out young evangelists who would stand against the witch doctors, who saw the lame walk, the blind see and even the dead raised. Through this means large numbers of people began to believe in Christ Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
James believed in the Biblical pattern of training local believers to lead new fellowships and by this method, The Church of Pentecost in Ghana was built strong and sure, so that by 1969 at their General convention 35,000 people gathered; 100 leaders sat on the platform as James ministered the Word for 75 minutes.
By 1974 the life in Ghana was too much for his wife Sofia so they moved back to N.Ireland and bought a two-bedroomed cottage in Ballymena. Every year James would return to Ghana for three to four months at convention time until 1982. He slowly withdrew from his responsibilities leaving the full responsibilities on the shoulders of the Africans. James and Sofia lived out their last days very quietly and humbly in Ballymena, never boasting for one minute on the great and mighty way they had been used of God in Africa. Fittingly a biography is written on his life and is called, GIANT IN AFRICA.