|Words and Spelling||CONTENTS||Letters from Iraq|
The life shaping moment came sometime in the fall of 1921 when he was summoned to the office of the president. My father, George Gosselink, was a senior at Central College in Pella, Iowa, looking forward to graduation the next spring, though his plans for the future after that were not well defined. While not yet formally engaged, he had an understanding with Christine Scholten, but she was two years behind him in college, so marriage would be put off for a time. He had vague thoughts of continuing his studies at the University of Iowa. He once said that he had hoped to become a mining engineer and go to South America. But it would be surprising if he was not also open to some “higher calling,” a career in the ministry, in teaching, or some other work of the church.
The Dear Folks at Home, 1923
Gerrit Nina Jenny Robert Nick
Dad had been raised in a good Christian family. His mother was especially devout. As a pretty young woman, Jennie Bogaard had attracted the attention of several young men, but she was not to be hurried. One ardent suitor was very persistent, and she must have liked him some, because she kept his letters, but he did not have what she was looking for. Eventually she responded to the overtures of a young farmer and neighbor, Gerrit Gosselink. Even then she was not entirely satisfied with what she found. In several letters, she urged him to stand up for his beliefs, to make a commitment, to attend communion services more regularly. Gerrit was quiet, less outspoken, but solid in his faith, and eventually he won her over. They were married in 1899.
The Church was an important part of their lives and heritage. It was just fifty years since their grandparents had arrived in America from the Netherlands. Gerhardus Hendrikus Gosselink and his wife Elizabeth had come with their seven children, including sixteen year old Gerhard, Gerrit’s father, in 1847. They had traveled with 160 families of afgescheiden, religious separatists, under the leadership of Dominie Hendrik P. Scholte. In Holland Dominie Scholte had preached against the power and practices of the national Reformed Church. He had been arrested and jailed and his followers had been persecuted. In America they sought the freedom to worship in their own way and also hoped for better economic opportunities than they were experiencing in Holland. They found their “Place of Refuge” on the prairies of Iowa and named their new settlement Pella. Jennie’s grandparents, Arie and Wijntje Bogaard and their children, including her father Nicolaas, a two months old baby, arrived from Holland to join the community in 1849.
Many of the immigrants were able to continue in their former trades, but most, including Gerhardus Gosselink and Arie Bogaard, took up farming. The rich soil of Iowa rewarded their hard work and the community prospered. By 1899 Pella was a well established town, with churches and schools, banks and places of business, small industries and a newspaper. The people developed good relations with their neighbors and were quick to adopt American ways. Dominie Scholte encouraged them to become citizens and participate in local government, and he personally became involved in state and national politics. Still, Pella retained much of its Dutch character. The Holland language was still commonly spoken at home and on the streets and it was not until the 1920s that local churches began offering English language services. Gerrit and Jennie certainly knew English, but they often spoke Dutch at home and their children grew up speaking both languages.
Gerrit and Jennie raised their family of four children on a farm located between the De Moines and Skunk Rivers, a little east of Pella. The family attended the Third Reformed Church in town. Their eldest son George, born in 1900, started his education in a one-room schoolhouse in the country and went on to attend high school in town. It was a natural step then to go to the Reformed Church related Central College, also located in Pella. Over the next four years, while majoring in mathematics and science, he was active in the Men’s Glee Club and pep band, joined the local chapter of the Student Volunteer Movement, and enrolled in the Cadet Corps, what we might call ROTC, although World War I had already ended. He was an active, confident young man, just the sort of person President Milton Hoffman, or Prexy as he was affectionately known, was looking for.
“George,” he said, when Dad entered the office, “I have just received a letter from the Mission Board in New York. They need a man to go out to Arabia to teach English in the school there, and I think you are the man for the job.” Here was “the call” that Dad was waiting for. His parents may have been hesitant to have him go so far away but they would have been proud to have a missionary son. Christine agreed to wait for him. And shortly after graduation in June of 1922, he packed his bags and headed off to Iraq on a three year assignment with the Arabian Mission of the Reformed Church of America.
The Arabian Mission had been established in the early 1890s. Those were the heady days of the missionary movement, when leaders spoke of “the evangelization of the world in this generation”, and American churches were sending scores of missionaries to Africa, India, China, Japan and other places around the world. But Samuel Zwemer and James Cantine, seminary students in New Brunswick, New Jersey, noticed there was one place, the Arabian Peninsula, which had so far been neglected. They raised money for an initial survey, traveled through the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, and though they could not penetrate into the heart of Arabia, they eventually persuaded the church leaders at home to support their endeavors to reach the Muslim Arab people living on the periphery of the peninsula
Their first permanent mission station was in Basrah in southern Mesopotamia, at that time a province of the Turkish Empire, shortly to become part of the nation of Iraq. Beginning their work there, just fifty miles east and downstream from where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers join to form the Shatt-el-Arab river, the traditional site of the Garden of Eden, Zwemer and Cantine may have thought of Cain, who went to dwell in the Land of Nod, east of Eden and “far from the presence of the Lord”, and they may be forgiven if they found it still a godless place. Summer temperatures rose to a humid 120 degrees; winters were cold and damp. The officials of the Turkish government were suspicious and uncooperative and the people seemed to lack that tradition of hospitality for which the Arabs are famous. And at first they found no easier conditions or friendlier welcome in Amarah, north of Basrah on the Tigris River, and in Bahrain, Muscat, or Kuwait, the other stations soon established in what was then called the Persian Gulf, all familiar names now but almost unknown to most Americans then. But those pioneers persevered in their work. The number of missionaries grew, and they were confirmed in their commitment to serve the Muslim people in that part of the world.
While evangelism, the preaching of the word and the distribution of Christian literature, was their first priority, those early missionaries could not but respond to the conditions they found, the need for medical care and the hunger for modern education. Hospitals and schools became the primary means by which they reached out to the people and through which they came to earn their respect, trust, and friendship.
Dad was assigned to work at the School of High Hope in Basrah. Dr. John Van Ess had established this school for boys in 1912, the same year that Dorothy Van Ess had opened a school for girls. The first was ground breaking; the second was revolutionary! To accomplish this Dr. Van Ess had had to travel to Istanbul to persuade authorities to give him an iradah, or official permit. While the Turkish officials in Basrah remained suspicious, local shaikhs and leading merchants in town were happy to send their sons, and even daughters, to the mission schools. Sayyid Talib Al Naqib, the leading Sayyid (descendant of the Prophet) of Basrah, and Shaikh Khazal, the paramount ruler of Mohammerah, across the river, were among those who were ready to put their sons under the care of John Van Ess. At that time there were no other schools in the area where students could receive a modern, secular education and become acquainted with the world beyond their narrow boundaries.
Much of the success of the school was due to John Van Ess himself. Arriving in Mesopotamia in 1902, he had immediately immersed himself in the language and culture of the Arabs, traveling extensively through the marshes and desert areas north and west of Basrah, getting to know tribal leaders and common people. By the time he married Dorothy Firman in 1911 and settled down in Basrah, he was fluent in the local Mesopotamian dialect and in classical Arabic, that most valued jewel of Arab culture. That alone would have won him the respect of the Arabs. But he was also friendly and outgoing, loved to spend time in the local coffee houses discussing the news of the world, talking politics and swapping stories. Though he never hid his missionary identity or purpose, he had respect for the people he was trying to reach. He was at home with the Arabs and they were at home with him.
Dad was the first of a succession of ‘short-termers’ assigned to the school in Basrah. His responsibilities included teaching English, geography and mathematics, supervising the dormitory, and helping students with sports and other extracurricular activities. Although his assignment was for three years only, he seems to have known almost from the beginning that he would be returning to a life of service in the Arabian Mission. Nowhere in his letters does he make that pledge explicitly. The only question had to do with what kind of training he should seek to prepare himself for that career. He returned to the U.S. in 1925, earned a B.D. degree in seminary, married Christine Scholten, and served one year as pastor of a church in Accord, New York. In 1929, when circumstances made it possible, George and Christine Gosselink were appointed as missionaries of the Reformed Church. They served in Basrah, Iraq until their retirement in 1966.
George, Christine and Ruth Gosselink
Sheldon, Iowa before departure for Basrah
|Words and Spelling||CONTENTS||Letters from Iraq|
intro.html; 09 July 2012