A CRITICAL YEAR
1870 - The reunion in the Presbyterian Church - Our transfer from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.
THE year 1870 was a crisis in the history of the Syria Mission. It was also a crisis in my missionary life and cost me a severe struggle, especially on account of two events. The first was the transfer of our mission, in toto, with all its personnel and property from the American Board to the new Presbyterian Board, and the second was my election to the secretaryship of the new Board. For fifty years the mission had been under the American Board. From 1810 to 1837 the entire Presbyterian Church and the Dutch Reformed Church supported the American Board. At the disruption in 1837, the Old School formed a separate Presbyterian Board, and the New School and the Reformed Churches continued to support the American Board. The New School Presbyterian Churches had cordially cooperated with the Congregational and Reformed Dutch Churches in carrying on their foreign missions through the American Board, and in the Syria Mission, Fisk and Parsons, Eli Smith, Calhoun, L. Bird, De Forest, and later, Wm. Bird and
D. Bliss were Congregationalists; while Whiting, Thomson, Ford, Eddy, Wilson, H. H. Jessup, S. Jessup, Dr. G. E. Post and J. S. Dennis were Presbyterians, and Dr. Van Dyck was of the Dutch Reformed Church.
On the reunion of the two branches of the Presbyterian Church a new Board of Missions was formed, and as the New School Presbyterians were about to withdraw their contributions from the
American Board it was agreed that they should assume the charge of a fair portion of the missions.
Various questions of a practical character had to be decided, on the completion of this transfer. The title of property had to be transferred to the new Board. The mission unanimously adopted the form of government and confession on of faith of the Presbyterian Church. Yet we reserved the right to continue our connection with our home presbyteries, and to make the future presbyteries of Syria independent ecclesiastically of the General Assembly in the United States. This policy has continued to this day, and we believe that it tends to promote a feeling of loyalty and patriotic devotion to their Church on the part of the Syrian Christians. The missionaries sit, with them as corresponding members and only vote when such action is approved by the Syrian members.
The Franco-German War was then raging, and we feared lest our letters home be interrupted in transitu. It was a year of great political excitement throughout the East. On the 25th of October the people of Syria were thrown into consternation by a display of the northern lights or aurora borealis. "This evening
we have had a phenomenon such as the oldest inhabitant of Syria has never witnessed, a magnificent red aurora borealis; a perfect glare of red light arching the horizon to the height of about twenty degrees, and shooting out streamers of light to the zenith. No Syrian had ever seen the like, and the people were greatly alarmed. The great aurora of 1837 was seen in Georgia just about our latitude, but was not visible here. Sheikh Hassein, the old Druse who owns our house, trembled with fear when I called him out to see it, and he asked whether it was not the flames of Paris being burned by the Germans. It was certainly startling to see that blood-red arch in the North." The oldest inhabitant had never seen it before and now thirty-eight years have passed and there has not been another display. I was in Abeih, Mount Lebanon, at the time. The Druse begs came to Mr. Calhoun and myself for an explanation of this awful nocturnal glare. They, too, thought it was Paris burning! We explained it, and told them it was a common occurrence in America and all Northern countries, and was the "Shefuk Shemali" known to astronomers and meteorologists. Another event happened in 1870 which cost me a struggle.
On the 18th of July I received letters from Rev. Dr. Robert Booth, Rev. Dr. Lowrie and others, stating that the Board of Foreign Missions of the Reunited Presbyterian Church had unanimously elected me corresponding secretary, with the request that I accept and come on to New York as soon as possible. I read the letter with astonishment. "In matters of conscience, first thoughts are best." It was an attractive offer - a permanent residence in the home land with facilities for the education of the children, and a position bringing one into contact with the most consecrated of God's people at home, and the devoted missionaries abroad; the confidence of such a body of men as the new Board and the assurance of their sympathy; their taking it for granted that I would come and their conviction that I would be more useful there than here; all these things pressed upon me but did not move me. After prayer and consultation with my wife, my decision was made. I said to her, "I cannot leave my work in Syria, after all these years of preparation. My heart is here. I shall decline." She replied, "I knew you would, and I am with you."
On July 24th I wrote my formal reply to Dr. Booth. After an introduction thanking him and the Board for their kind and flattering letters and expressing my joy in the reunion of the Church, I stated that "I am giving expression to no hastily formed judgment, but to deliberate convictions formed after years of thought and prayer and calm examination."
Among my reasons for declining were the following ones: Any missionary who has been engaged fifteen years in the foreign field, especially in the Arabic language, is of more value to the field in which he is labouring than he can be at home to the general cause of missions. The acquisition of a foreign language is no easy task and it is not a mantle which can be transferred from the aged Elijahs to the youthful Elishas of the service. When a missionary dies, his Arabic dies with him, and when he leaves the country he cannot transmit his facility in using foreign gutturals and idioms to the new recruits.
The same may be said of acquaintance with the mental, moral and religious peculiarities of the people, familiarity with their manners and customs, and readiness of adaptation to their social prejudices. The capital stock laid up by a missionary in fifteen years, in these respects, yields a large and rapidly accumulating interest, whereas a sudden transfer to another land and sphere of labour would render this peculiar knowledge almost valueless.
Should a missionary be obliged in the providence of God to leave his field and return to his native land, he would naturally seek a position in which he could best promote the cause nearest to his heart. And his experience in the foreign field would be of the highest value to the cause of missions both at home and abroad, as has been proved in several notable instances familiar to all, both in Great Britain and the United States.
The voluntary abandonment of his field and work by a foreign missionary for any post at home, must have a demoralizing effect on the churches at home and would tend to unsettle the stability of the whole system and theory of foreign missions. An enlistment in this sacred cause should be ever regarded as for life. Young men at home should so regard it, and it will not do to lower this standard. No foreign missionary can labour as effectively as he ought, who leaves the matter of his continuance in it an open question. On reaching his field of labour, he should, like Cortez, burn his ships behind him. Then only will the churches and seminaries and institutions at home feel that foreign missionaries are a kind of property which is inalienable. Then only will the missionary boards feel sure that the men who offer themselves for the foreign field have given up all for Christ.
To speak somewhat more personally and very frankly, I cannot conscientiously give up my work in Syria. However feeble and unworthy my labours, my heart is here. I came for life, and I pray that I may be permitted to end my days among this people. Your churches can far better spare their best pastors for this work than can an overworked and feebly-manned mission, struggling with the hosts of heathenism, Islamism and false Christianity, spare one labourer. [It is worthy of note that the God of missions has provided for the new Presbyterian Board a succession of secretaries, eminent men, almost without peon in the church: Dr. F. F. Ellinwood, the saintly scholar, Dr. Gillespie, Dr. Arthur Mitchell, Dr. A. J. Brown, Dr. Halsey, Robert Speer and Dr. Stanley White.]
If a man is needed in this office, fresh from the foreign field, "to arouse the enthusiasm of the churches to a new degree of fervour," could not certain of the foreign missionaries connected with the missions about to be transferred to the Presbyterian Church, as well as from other missions in Asia and Africa, visit the United States from time to time, make the acquaintance of the churches East and West, and aid in stirring up the people? This would be a very different matter from calling any man permanently away from his field. A series of missionary conventions, distinct from the business meetings of the presbyteries (if thought best) and attended by the secretaries and returned missionaries would attain the end we all have in view in the most effective manner. [Such meetings are now (1908) a part of the policy of the Church.]
On October 25th, I wrote to my brother George from Abeih: This moving to Lebanon and back to Beirut every year is one of the wearing trials of missionary life. I often think of the old home at Montrose as a model home, where things remain in place for a generation. But we have to tear up and pack up almost everything twice a year. We stay six months in Abeih, and hence have to bring everything with us that is perishable, leaving only crockery) books, furniture and one bed with its bedding, to be used when I go down from time to time. A camel carries our large melodeon organ in a huge box balanced on the middle of his back and the rest of the furniture is carried on mules. A mule will carry two large boxes with a couple of chairs in the middle, and frequently, the chair legs catch in the trees and are torn off. Once a mule ran down a long flight of stone steps with one of our chests half-fastened to his pack-saddle and it fell and was dragged down the steps, the cover being split, and torn off. It contained bedding and our pictures and small mirrors, but none of them were broken! Were I able, I should have a complete duplicate set of furniture and put a stop to this endless pack.
The year 1870 was a time of drought and almost, a famine. Flour reached $12.50 a barrel, and near Mount Carmel men starved to death. A war panic arose through rumours of war with Russia, and the Christians of Damascus began to prepare to flee to Beirut, as the proverb has it: "One bitten by a snake fears the twirling of a rope." But no war ensued and Syria was soon quiet again.
When we were transferred to the Presbyterian Board, we felt great anxiety about the time and attention to be given to foreign missions in our General Assembly. I wrote to my brother judge Wm. H. Jessup, and my brother-in-law judge Alfred Hand of Scranton, as follows:
"December 5, 1870 - I hope you and Alfred will push the matter of an annual missionary convention, either in connection with the General Assembly or in the synods in the fall, which shall have all the vigour and enthusiasm of the annual meeting of the American Board. The custom of assigning to the missionary secretaries an hour in the morning and a part of an evening to this all-important work in such a Church as ours is like trifling with the most momentous interests. The working out of this plan and the reviving of missionary enthusiasm must be done largely by the young elders and Sunday-school superintendents : you could not do a better or more efficient work for foreign missions." [1908 - This has become an established part of the General Assembly meetings largely through the efforts of the late Rev. Thos. Marshall, of blessed memory.]
On the same date I wrote to Rev. D. Stuart Dodge: "Let us pray for a baptism of the Spirit upon the young men of the colleges, We hear of two or three candidates for the next theological class, but all plain non-classically educated men."
This was our burden in 1870, and it is the same in 1909. Medicine, commerce, and other lucrative professions over-tempt our Christian college students, and they pass by the theological seminary, on the other side."
A sad event of this year was the death (about December 12th) of Rev. R. J. Dodds, D. D., of the Reformed Presbyterian Mission in Aleppo. He was a man of earnest piety and fine linguistic attainments. He was at home among the wild fellahin of the Nusairiyeh Mountains, and would go alone on a donkey
from village to village, and was welcomed everywhere, while Kamil Pasha, Governor of Hamath, declared that he could not go through the mountains unless attended by 100 soldiers. When the pasha heard of Dr. Dodds' popularity among the tribes as a friend and a man of peace, he wrote to Constantinople asking permission to try a new system of government over the wild Nusairiyeh and win them instead of alienating them. In reply he got new orders to oppress and tax them as of old.
In November, 1876, my brother Samuel and I embarked on the Russian steamer for Tripoli, en route for Hums and the interior. We expected to land in Tripoli at sunrise, but a northeast gale frightened the captain, and he ran by Tripoli, carrying us on to Latakia, then the home of Dr. Dodds. He welcomed us, and we had a delightful visit of a week. One day he said,
"Why don't you brethren come oftener to see us? It seems that nothing but a storm will bring you. This reminds me of the old godless mountaineer in Kentucky who had four sons, and all equally profane, godless, and Sabbath-breaking with himself. No persuasion would-induce them to go to church, or receive a visit from a minister. But one day Jim, the elder boy, was bitten by a rattlesnake, and the old man sent off post-haste for a minister. He came, and on entering the room, took off his hat and began to pray:
'O Lord, we thank Thee for rattlesnakes and we pray Thee to send one to bite Tom, and one to
bite Ike, and another to bite Jerry, and a tremendous big fellow to bite the old man! For, Lord, Thou knowest that nothing but rattlesnakes will ever bring them to their senses!' And so," said Dr. Dodds, "I will have to pray for another storm to bring Dr. Van Dyck, and one to bring Dr. Thomson, and a tremendous big storm to bring Father Calhoun, for it seems that nothing but storms will bring any of you brethren to see us!"
I told Dr. Dodds that I was engaged in collecting a barrel full of snakes for Professor Cope of Philadelphia. He said, "You could have got twenty barrels here last winter. The river here changed its course in a heavy freshet, and the banks in which hundreds of snakes were hibernating caved in, and the snakes were washed down to the sea. There the waves dashed them up on the shore in heaps, and the dogs and vultures feasted on them for many days."
In the spring of 1870 an educated Moslem effendi, named M----, of Aleppo, came to Beirut and professed Christianity. His cousin Ahmed, on hearing of it, set out for Beirut to kill him. When the Waly of Aleppo knew of this, he recalled Ahmed, and told him to desist, as the Sultan had given liberty to his subjects. In the fall Ahmed was made pasha, an d came to Beirut where his cousin received him cordially and to him to see the college, and to witness Dr. Van Dyck's chemical experiments in the evening, in which he was intensely interested. The days of killing cousins on account of apostasy are evidently over. M---- afterwards removed to Egypt.
Dr. Richard Newton, rector of the Church of the Epiphany, Philadelphia, visited Beirut in April, 1870. He was snowed in for two days near Baalbec. He was a broad-minded evangelical clergyman and was known as the Children's Preacher. He became interested in our work and promised to pay the expense of translating and printing his volumes of children's sermons in Arabic. He kept his word and we have nine volumes of his, besides his large octavo illustrated "Life of Christ for the Young," published at our press and widely circulated. When in Philadelphia in 1879 he invited me to address a crowded audience of children in his church on Chestnut Street. Philadelphia. The total cost of publishing all these books was not less than four thousand dollars.
Early in March Syria was threatened with famine. Less than one-third the usual amount of rain had fallen. "Streams that usually run with full batiks are dry. Fountains (springs) and wells are running low. A Druse sheikh told me that cattle are dying in Hauran for want of water. The cisterns are being exhausted and no rain falls. How this reminds one of the words of Amos 4: 7: 'I have withholden the rain from you when there were yet three months to the harvest and I caused it to rain upon one city and caused it not to rain upon another. So two or three cities wandered unto one city to drink water but they were not satisfied.' The great rock-hewn cistern of our female seminary, which holds nearly thirty thousand gallons of water and which is generally full at this season, has scarcely a foot of water in it. The barley and wheat are turning yellow. The price of wheat and flour has risen fifty per cent. within a fortnight. All the sects of the city have been ordered out twice to the public square to pray for rain. The locusts also came over the land in swarms darkening the sky, and a fierce burning sirocco wind blew from the south, parching the earth and withering vegetation. A strange shower of red particles fell near Gaza which the superstitious people thought to be a shower of blood, and the eclipse of the moon in January had alarmed the masses."
But relief came. In the latter part of March and in April the storm came on with thunder, lightning and pouring rain, just in time to save the crops. I was stormed-stayed in Damascus, April 7th, with my dear friend and classmate in Union Seminary, Dr. Charles S. Robinson, then pastor of the American chapel in Paris, by a heavy snow-storm which blocked the passes of Lebanon. Rev. Newman Hall's party were snow-bound two days in a village in Anti-Lebanon.
In May we were favoured with a visit from three men distinguished in the Church at home and abroad: Professors Henry B. Smith, Roswell D. Hitchcock and Edwards A. Park who had toured through Egypt, Sinai and Palestine, and came up from Beirut to visit us in Abeih. Professor Smith was my guest, Professor Park was at Mr. Calhoun's and Professor Hitchcock at Mr. Bird's. The boys of the seminary and theological class went out a mile to Ain Kesur to meet them with Arabic hymns and salutations. Their stay was a feast of fat things to us all, and we received many suggestions as to our teaching of theology, church history, and Scripture exegesis.
One afternoon we all walked to the mountain peak, the "Metaiyyer," the site of an old Baal temple, to get the wonderful view of the Lebanon gorges and ranges, and the coast from Sarepta to Sidon, Beirut, and nearly to Tripoli. Professor Park, who had been kicked by a mule on his journey, rode a donkey. As we walked up through the vineyards in scattered groups, Professor Hitchcock said to me aside, "Have you not noticed how feeble Professor Smith is? Do urge him to stay abroad another year. He needs rest, but he insists that he must go back to his classes in Union next fall. We must not allow it. I can go back and take on some extra work, but he must rest still longer."
When we reached the summit and sat enjoying the view, Professor Smith said to me, "I want to ask you as a friend to join with Mr. Calhoun in urging Professor Park to remain abroad at least another year. He is very much broken, and if he goes back in September, as he declares he must, he will be sure to be permanently laid aside." On our return Professor Park said to me in a low tone, so as not to be heard by the rest of the party, "You may have noticed how changed Professor Hitch cock is. He is not like his former self. Another year in Europe and England, with entire rest, would make a new man of him, and yet I am sorry to say he talks of going directly home this fall." Each one felt that he was strong and the other weak. Two at least of them went home that fall. They were a blessed trio, such as one does not often meet in this world. Mr. Calhoun, who was a profound student of the Bible and of divine things, had long conversations with Professor Park, the giant of Andover, and before going away, Professor Park remarked that there was more theology in Mr. Calhoun's finger than in his own thigh, and that he was a man who lived near to God. That afternoon at the high place of Baal was to us one of the "heavenly places in Christ Jesus."
On the 3d of June we met in conference, by previous arrangement, with the Rev. Dr. Alexander Duff and Rev. Principal J. Lumsden of Aberdeen, of the Free Church of Scotland's Mission's Committee to consider their proposition to send out Scotch ministers to oversee what were known as the Lebanon Schools or the "Sulleeba Schools." There were present all the members of our mission, the professors of the college, Rev. James Robertson, Scotch chaplain in Beirut, and Rev. John Hogg of Assioot, Egypt. Drs. Duff and Lumsden had visited all our mission stations and schools, and the village schools of the "Lebanon Committee." These "Lebanon Schools" had been for years under the management of a native Syrian and had been visited by numerous Scotch tourists who differed in opinion as to their management, and as a result had formed opposing factions in Scotland pro and con. These two eminent men came out determined to make full investigation. We had two sessions of three hours each in Dr. Bliss's house, and the conference was full, free and fraternal. We of the Syria Mission approved of their sending out such a man to superintend the schools, but not to organize churches. We declined to say anything about Mr. ---- whom Dr. Duff declared to be a second Apostle Paul. Mr. ---- had purchased land in Suk el Gharb, Mount Lebanon, and erected solid stone buildings for the day and boarding-schools and had the names Alexander Duff and John Lumsden inscribed in large characters in the stone wall. Dr. Duff understood Mr. ---- to say that all these buildings belonged to the Scotch committee. In 1872 the Scotch committee sent out an able and godly missionary, Rev. John Rat, to take over the property and manage the Lebanon Schools. He went to Suk el Gharb, took a house, and asked Mr. ---- for the keys of the mission buildings. He refused to deliver them, saying that, as the land belonged to him all the buildings, according to the Turkish law, go with the land. Mr. Rae repeated the request with the same result. Meantime Drs. Duff and Lumsden had published enconiums upon Mr. ---- which would have been appropriate to the Apostles Paul and Peter. What then was their astonishment to find that he now went back on his pledge to them that the buildings belonged to the committee. Correspondence ensued. Mr. Rae was instructed to repeat the demand, but all was in vain. Drs. Duff and Lumsden then published a card in the Scotch journals exposing the whole matter and denouncing Mr. ---- in language which I will not repeat, declaring that they had been shamefully deceived and imposed upon, and warning the Scotch churches against him. In 1874 Mr. Rae, finding himself uncomfortable at Suk, removed the mission headquarters to Shweir, and in 1875 Wm. Carslaw, M. D., joined the mission and laboured with Mr. Rae until the resignation of the latter in 1879 owing to ill health. In 1887 the law case against Mr. ---- was decided, and the Suk property handed over to Dr. Carslaw with all the title deeds and the furniture of the schools. The whole difficulty arose from the fact that the Scotch committee, ignorant of Turkish law, had allowed their buildings to be erected on land belonging to an employee, and that this individual, knowing the law, had concealed the facts from them. After Dr. Carslaw had secured the title deeds, he sold the entire premises in Suk to the American Presbyterian Mission in 1888; and in 1900 the Scotch committee donated in fee simple the entire property in Shweir, consisting of church, manse, boys' boarding-school and girls' boarding-school to the American Presbyterian Mission, on condition: 1st, That these buildings be used only for Christian missionary purposes, and 2d, That the Missionary Committee of the Free Church of Scotland will continue the salary of Rev. William Carslaw so long as he is able and willing to do missionary work. Dr. Carslaw was licensed and ordained to the gospel ministry by the Lebanon Presbytery, December 16, 1883, and has continued until the present time as acting pastor of the Shweir church. Dr. Carslaw always preaches in English, his translator standing by his side and interpreting his sermons in Arabic. This is probably the only case of the kind in the Turkish Empire. The doctor was forced into it by having entered the work in mature years when the acquisition of a new language was difficult, and from the fact that from the outset he was overwhelmed with medical practice, and given no time to study the Arabic. His great success as a teacher in the school and pastor of the church is greatly to his credit. Few men in similar circumstances could have succeeded so well.
In view of the raising of a $5,000,000 reunion memorial fund to aid churches and institutions at home and abroad, I wrote on behalf of Syria, asking for a building fund for the Syrian Protestant College which had just purchased its incomparable site on the Beirut promontory; an endowment of $50,000 for the theological seminary; and an endowment of 25,000 for the female seminary. The former was realized. The two latter schools were soon afterwards assumed by the Presbyterian Board of Missions and kept up liberally to this day, 1909.
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