Syria, Missions in
Syria, Missions In.
The origin of the Syrian mission dates back as far as 1823. When the two American missionaries Bird and Goodell arrived in that year, the civil and the social condition of Jerusalem and Palestine were such that these gentlemen were advised to make Beirut the center of their operations. Soon: several English missionaries were added to the Protestant force at that time, and the papal Church became thoroughly alarmed. Letters were addressed from Rome to the different patriarchs to render, if possible, the undertaking of the missionaries ineffectual. The letters were answered by the anathemas against the "Bible men;" yet, notwithstanding all this, the missionaries took a hopeful view of their prospects, and commenced schools in 1824 at Beirut. The first was a mere class of six Arab children, taught daily by the wives of the missionaries. Soon an Arab teacher was engaged, and before the year ended the pupils had increased to fifty. In 1827 they had already 600 children in thirteen schools, and more than 100 of these pupils were girls. That the Romish ecclesiastics were hostile to these schools need not be mentioned. The troubles which commenced in 1826 with the invasion of the Greeks, and the constant apprehension of an approaching war, made it necessary to suspend the mission; for a time, which happened in the year 1828. and thus the first period in the Syrian mission closed., The second period commences with the year 1830, when the station at Beirut was resumed. In 1834 an Arabic press arrived at Beirut, which proved a great help in the mission work, especially in the controversy which Mr. Bird had with the papal bishop of Beirut. In 1835 a high-school was commenced, but missionary work was impeded by the wars of Lebanon. These troubles lasted till the year 1842. In the year 1844 the missionaries held a convention, the result of which was that it was recognized as a fact of fundamental importance that the people within the bounds of the mission were Arabs, whether called Greeks, Greek Catholics, Druses, or Maronites, and that the divers religious sects really constituted one race. It was also agreed upon that wherever small companies were ready to make a credible profession of piety, they were entitled to be recognized as churches and had a right to such a native ministry as could be given them. About that time a call for preaching came from Hasbeiya, a village of four or five thousand inhabitants, situated at the foot of Mount Hermon, and about lifts miles south-east of Beirut. A considerable body of Hasbeiyans had seceded from the Greek Church, declared themselves Protestants, and made a formal application to the mission for religious instruction. Seventy-six of these people were added to the Church of Christ. A persecution against the Protestants now ensued, who fled to Abeih, where the high-school was revived under the charge of Mr. Calhoun. A chapel for public worship was fitted up, and here, as also at Beirut, there was preaching every Sabbath in the Arabic language, with an interesting Sabbath-school between the services. In the spring of the year 1845 war broke out afresh between the Druses and Maronites, and Lebanon was again purged by fire. The consequence was that the schools in the mountains were broken up; but in the following year, when Dr. Van Dyck was ordained to the work of the Gospel ministry, there were ten schools in the charge of the station at Abeih, with 436 pupils. Connected with the Beirut station were four schools for boys and girls, and one for girls alone. In Sulk el-Ghurb, a village four miles from Abeih, a Protestant secession from the Greek Church was in progress, embracing fourteen families, and religious services were held with them every Sabbath. At Bhamduin, the summer residence for the brethren of the Beirut station, there were a number of decided Protestants, and even in Zahleh, the hot- bed of fanaticism, there were men who openly argued from the Gospel against the prevailing errors. Missionary work had now so increased that in the year 1847 an earnest and eloquent appeal from the missionaries for an increase to their number was made to the Prudential Committee. The appeal was published, but it continued painfully true that the harvest was plenteous, while the laborers were few. In the same year the Protestants of Hasbeiya sent one of their number to Constantinople to lay their grievances before the sultan. The appeal was successful, and the principle of tolerating and acknowledging the Protestants as a Christian sect was recognized, in spite of the bull of excommunication of the Greek patriarch. The most important event, however, in the year. 1848 was the formation of a purely native Church at Beirut, and the beginning of translating the Scriptures into Arabic, which was committed to Mr. Eli Smith, who was assisted by Butrus el-Bistany and Nasif el-Yasiji. In the same year Aleppo was made a missionary station, but it was left in 1855 to be cultivated by the Armenian mission, the language in that region being chiefly the Turkish. At that time the Gospel was preached statedly at sixteen places. At four of these — Beirut, Abeih, Sidon, and Hasbeiya, churches had been organized. The anathemas of the Maronite clergy, once so terrific, had lost their power, and the most influential inhabitants were on friendly terms with the mission, and in favor of education and good morals. Things had changed in the last fifteen years for the better in a most remarkable way. We have now arrived at the year 1857, which opened with the death of Dr. Eli Smith, the translator of the Bible into Arabic. He had departed at Beirut, Sabbath morning, January 11, and was succeeded in the work of translation by Dr. Van Dyck, who had been removed for that purpose from Sidon to Beirut. In the year 1859 the translation of the New Test. was completed and published under the care of Dr. Van Dyck, who then proceeded with the translation and publication of the Old Test., which was completed Aug. 22, 1.864. The British and Foreign Bible Society requested permission to adopt this version, instead of the one formerly issued by them. The result of a friendly negotiation was that the American and the British and Foreign Bible Society agreed to publish the version conjointly from electrotype plates furnished by the former.
The civil war which broke out in Syria in 1860, and which was noted for savage massacres on Lebanon, at Hasbeiya, Damascus, and elsewhere, although doubtless injurious to the missionary work in its direct effects, was the means of an interesting development of the missionary spirit. Not less than six different missionary societies were formed, embracing nearly all the Protestants of the various towns and villages, and a commendable degree of liberality was shown by the natives in collecting and contributing. The number of converts increased, churches and stations were multiplied and provided with native preachers and, pastors, and a proposal was made for a Protestant college. The demand for the Scriptures and other religious works was so great that the press was unable to meet it. In 1862 the printing alone amounted to 8000 volumes and 9000 tracts, making an aggregate of 6,869,000 pages. Besides the Protestant college, which was proposed in 1861 and incorporated in 1863, in accordance with the laws of the state of New York, a theological seminary was commenced at Abeih in May, 1869, which opened with seven students. In the year 1870 the Syrian mission was transferred from the American Board to the Presbyterian Board of Missions, under whose care it is still carried on.
Beirut is one of the missionary centers for the revival of Bible Christianity in Bible lands. Among the chief instrumentalities for the development of this city are the benevolent and literary institutions founded by foreign missionary zeal. First among them are the American Protestant institutions under the care of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions in New York. They are manned by a noble band of Christian scholars, as Drs. H. H. Jessup, D. Bliss, C.V. A. Van Dyck, G. E. Post and Profs. James S. Dennis, E. R. Lewis, and Hall. In the year 1877, when Dr. Philip Schaff visited Beirut, a new mission chapel, with a native pastor, had just been opened in. the eastern part of the city.: There are the American Female Seminary and the printing-press and Bible depository, which sent forth in 1876 no less than 38,450 volumes (or 13,786,980 pages) of Bibles, tracts, and other books, including a series of text-books and juvenile works. There is the "Syrian Protestant College," which is independent of the mission, but grew out of it, and promotes its interest. In 1877 it numbered over 100 pupils of different creeds and nationalities. The college embraces, besides the literary department Arabic language and literature, mathematics, the natural sciences, the modern languages, and Turkish law and jurisprudence a medical school, under the management of Dr. Post; an observatory, under Dr. Van Dyck, who sends daily by telegraph meteorological observations to the observatory of Constantinople; a library, and a museum of natural curiosities. The entire Syrian mission of the American Presbyterian Board embraces, according to the statistics of 1879, 29 American missionaries (12 men and 17 women), 3 native pastors, 112 teachers, 15 licensed preachers, 10 other helpers— total force, 140; 12 churches, 716 communicants, 115 received on profession; 66 preaching places, and 45 Sunday-schools with 1895 pupils. The principal stations outside of Beirut are Tripoli, Abeih, Sidon, and Zahleh. Besides these flourishing Presbyterian institutions, the schools of Mrs. M. Mott, Miss Jessie Taylor, and the deaconesses of Kaiserswerth deserve most honorable mention. The Jesuits are also very active in Beirut in the interest of the Roman Catholic Church. They are just now issuing a new Arabic translation of the Bible, evidently in opposition to Dr. Van Dyck's translation, which is widely circulated in the East. From Dr. Schaff's work, Through Bible Lands, we subjoin the following statistics concerning the
Besides Beirut, we may mention Damascus, the hot-bed of Mohammedan fanaticism. A daily diligence connects this place with Beirut. "It seems a hopeless task," says Dr. Schaff, "to plant Protestant Christianity in such a place as Damascus. Nevertheless, the tiling has been done, and not altogether without result." Since 1843 the United Presbyterian Church of America and the Presbyterian Church of Ireland have maintained jointly a mission, with a church for converts from Jews and Greek Christians, and with schools. The buildings were burned during the massacre of 1860, but have been substantially rebuilt. The Protestant community there is now larger than before the massacre. Worship is conducted twice every Sunday in Arabic, and occasionally in English. Besides this Presbyterian mission, there is all Episcopal mission, with a chapel built by the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews. Adjoining the chapel are several fine schoolrooms for boys and girls. Altogether this society employs there a missionary staff of five persons. Connected with this society is also a depot, where Bibles and other books, such as the Pilgrim's Progress, are for sale. The missionary operations at Damascus are but small beginnings;
but the time is not far distant when, as Abd-elKader prophesied, "the mosques of Damascus will be turned into Christian churches." From the work recently published by Dr. Schaff, Through Bible Lands, we extract the following table.
In conclusion, we will mention the fact that the last mission year has been signalized by the establishment of a British protectorate over Syria and all Asiatic Turkey, and by a new departure in the Syrian Protestant College, in the adoption of the English language as the common medium of instruction. See Anderson, History of the Missions of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to the Oriental Churches (Boston, 1872-73, 2 vols.); Schaff, Through Bible Lands (N., 1879); besides the annual reports of the different societies. Some of the publications from the Jesuit press at Beirut are mentioned in Literarischer Handweiser, 1864, p. 209 sq. (B. P.)
Among the most notable missionary efforts in Palestine are the German colonies at Haifa and Jaffa. They belong to a religious society known as "The Temple," which originated among the Pietists of Würtemberg, who accept Bengel's theory of the prophecies of the book of Revelation as set forth in his Gnomon of the N.T. In 1867 an expedition of twelve men, sent out from the parent society at Kirschenhardthof, established a themselves at Semfmeh, near Nazareth, but soon died of malarial fever. On Aug. 6, 1868, another company set out, and, arriving in Palestine in October, separated into two colonies, one settling at Haifa, under the presidency of G. D. Hardegg, and the other at Jaffa, under Christopher Hoffmann. Their object was a religious one, to prepare the Holy Land for Christ's personal coming in the Millennial reign. They purchased land, built houses, and have addressed themselves at once to agriculture. At Jaffa they have two settlements — one called Sarova, about two and a half miles north of the town, consisting in 1872 of ten houses; the second, near the walls of Jaffa, was bought from the surviving members of an American colony which came to grief (for this last see Ridgaway, Lord's Land, p. 485), and this settlement included thirteen houses, with a school and a hotel. The Jaffa colony in all numbered in 1872 one hundred men, seventy women, and thirty five children; two of the colonists were doctors, and some twenty were mechanics, the rest being farmers. The Haifa colony in 1875
numbered 311, having been lately reinforced by new arrivals from Germany. Both colonies are well established, having neat and comfortable houses, and signs of external prosperity, being engaged in various trades and manufactures, as well as farming. They have little influence, however, over the native population and small security for permanence, although for the present fully tolerated by the Turkish authorities and highly respected by their neighbors (see Conder, Tent-Work in Palest. 2, 301 sq.).
At Jaffa there has lately been likewise established an agricultural colony of Jews from Germany, who have a small but flourishing establishment just outside the city.
Besides the episcopal mission in Jerusalem, SEE PALESTINE, MISSIONS IN, the Church of England has mission stations at Nablus and various other points in Palestine, where religious services are held with more or less regularity. At Nazareth is an elegant Protestant church founded by the English Missionary Society in connection with the Anglo-Prussian bishopric of Jerusalem, where an ordained clergyman (formerly Rev. J. Zeller, now Rev. F. Bellamy) officiates, assisted by a native catechist. In the same town is a hospital founded by the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society, which dispenses medical aid to all applicants; and likewise an orphanage, established by the Ladies Society for Promoting Female Education in the East, Which educates and cares for about forty girls, chiefly of Christian parentage. SEE TURKEY.
Missionary work has thus a foothold in Syria, but owing to. the severe Moslem laws against proselytism, it accomplishes as yet but little direct spiritual results (see Collins, Miss. Enterprise in the East, Lond. 1873).