The following remarks, titled “Recollections”, are undated but were probably written by Dad in the late 1970s for presentation at a reunion gathering of former members of the Arabian Mission.
Christina and I were fortunate in being sort of “in-between” members of the Arabian Mission. We were personally acquainted with and colleagues of the pioneers, Dr. Samuel Zwemer and James Cantine during their final years on the field. We also knew the Barneys, Jim Moerdyk, Fanny Lutton, the Van Esses, the Dykstras, the Mylreas, and the other who followed soon after.
I went out in 1922 as the first “short termer” to the Basrah Boys School and Christina and I went out together in 1929 as career missionaries. It was soon after that that the new generation of missionaries started coming out and we had a wonderful fellowship in the work with them. During all this time we had a fine relationship with members and officers of the Board in New York, Chamberlain, Potter, Schafer, Luben, Buteyn and more. When we retired from active service in 1966, a new generation of missionaries had begun coming out to the field whom we never learned to know as intimately. At the same time there were changes in the structure of the Board and the management of the mission. But the purpose of the Church and its mission work was still the same – to share the message of the Gospel with people all over the world who needed it so much.
Most of my career service was with the Basrah Boys School, at first as a teacher and later as principal and teacher. I had the great privilege of teaching Bible classes in the school to all the students, whether Christian, Jew or Muslim. I always tried to do that in a positive way, without debate or argument. Much of what we did in class was memory work, the 23rd Psalm, the Beatitudes and other portions. I was always amazed at the way the Muslim students seemed to have an answer to every claim of the Christian faith, and it was difficult to keep away from argument. But there was one thing for which they did not have an answer. I could testify to my faith in the living Lord and Savior, that he died as a sacrifice for my sin and the sins of all who would accept Him as Savior, that he rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven, but even so was always present with me by his spirit, even there in the classroom.
The climax of my service came near the end of my career on the mission field. We had long been agitating for new school facilities. Our old buildings were beyond repair. We finally got the approval and appropriations for a new school building, and this was constructed in 1964-65. It was a beautiful plant and it was dedicated with three days of observances. The first day we invited all the officials of the area: the governor of the province, the mayor of the city, the director of education, and the great and near-great of the city. The governor cut the ribbon and declared the plant officially open. The second day we invited representatives of the Christian churches of the city: the ancient Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches. They had always been Christian, from early apostolic times. They were mostly of Armenian and Assyrian backgrounds, many originally from eastern Turkey. They had never surrendered to the Muslim invaders but had preferred to pay tribute rather than give up their Christian faith. Some had become Protestants through the mission efforts of the American Board in Turkey. Around the end of the First World War these Christians had been subjected to very severe persecution and assassination by the Turkish army and many had fled as refugees to Syria and Iraq and established their churches there. Representatives of these groups came to our dedication service. For the third day we invited all the former students we could contact. It was an informal get-together. Most of them sat around talking and recalling former days in school, tricks they had played on teachers and other students, and that sort of thing. Two groups were rather excitedly talking together, and what do you suppose they were doing? They were vying with each other as to who could recall the greater number of Bible passages they had memorized in school, some as long as twenty-five years ago. Friends had often asked why we continued to work in Arabia when there was so little favorable response to the Christian message. Our answer always was that we believed that that was where God was calling us, and if we remained faithful we could leave the results in His hands. That day, hearing these boys repeat those passages of Scripture, I thought that if there were nothing else I had been able to do in Basrah over the years, this was something that would stay with them now, and prayerfully, for eternity.
Christina’s work was mainly with the women and girls. She had the “Tuesday” girls, the “Wednesday” girls, and the “Thursday” girls, and the groups were known as clubs. These girls did not otherwise go to school. They had to stay home to help with the housework and take care of younger brothers and sisters. After all, why educate girls?! But they were able to come to the Mission one forenoon a week for playground activities, Bible lessons, singing, health lessons and sewing. Afternoons Christina often went to call at these girls’ homes to visit their mothers. The girls, according to Arab custom, felt that they had to provide some kind of refreshment for their guest, perhaps a head of lettuce or a bunch of radishes or a cucumber. But they had been taught that cleanliness was important and so they took the lettuce down to the irrigation canal and gave it a good dousing before serving it to Christina. Now this was an all purpose canal. It was where they washed their clothes and dishes but it also served as their toilet. Christina says that often as she was returning home she was sure that she was coming down with dysentery or cholera or some other dread disease. But she dared not refuse their hospitality. And the Good Lord vas very good to us and kept us in comparatively good health as long as we were there.
One afternoon a week Christina had a prayer meeting for the mothers of these girls. We had a very dear Christian friend named Khatoon, who was blind, but she had learned to read Braille in both English and Arabic. One year we sent for a complete Bible in Braille for her. Our postman used to come around on a bicycle to deliver our mail. But one day he stopped to say that there was a big batch of parcels at the post office which he would not be able to deliver on his bicycle and asked that I come and get them with my car. They were the Braille Bible, rather a bulky matter, and they filled the whole back seat of the car. We gave them to Khatoon, and she read through the whole Braille Bible at least twenty times in as many years. We also subscribed for the Sunday School Times and one or two other magazines in Braille for Khatoon. She often found interesting articles in these magazines and she would set them aside to read again sometime. But she said that when she got back to them later she found them old and stale and she wondered what she had ever seen in them in the first place. But that was never true of the Bible. As often as she read it she found it fresh and learned something new from it. Christina sometimes asked Khatoon to come to lead the prayer meeting for the women, and she read to them from her Braille Bible with her fingers. This amazed the women who were all illiterate. They said, “We have eyes but we cannot read. This woman has no eyes, but she can read.”
Since our retirement it is not often that we are able to hear from these our former friends in Iraq. But we continue to pray for them. The seed of the Gospel has been sown in the hearts and lives of both the boys in our school and the women and girls of Christina’s groups. Our constant prayer is that that seed may still grow and produce fruit for His Kingdom in the land where we served so long.
appendb.html; 11 July 2012