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The Scottish Churches' Work Abroad
In The Near East


THE story of the first Scottish Mission to the Jews is one of the romances of missionary history. In the quickening of Church life that took place in the years preceding the Disruption, the Church of Scotland, not unmindful of the fact that the Gospel came " to the Jew first," resolved in 1838 to send out four ministers to travel as far as Palestine and discover the most suitable place in which to establish a Jewish Mission. The deputies chosen were the saintly Murray M’Cheyne and his friend and biographer, Andrew Bonar, together with Professor Black of Aberdeen and Dr. Keith, well known as a writer on Prophecy. The two younger deputies completed the survey, travelling out by Egypt to Palestine and returning by Constantinople and southeast Europe. The two older men, however, had to return from Palestine by the shortest route, as Dr. Black had been seriously injured by a fall from his camel in Egypt, and both were suffering from the exhausting heat. In an enfeebled state they were passing through Budapesth when Dr. Keith was seized with sudden illness, and for a time his life was despaired of.

Then help appeared from a most unexpected quarter, and as if by divine intervention. Budapesth is to a large extent a Jewish city, the very metropolis of the Jewish race in Europe. Indeed, it has been estimated that two-thirds of the whole Jewish population of the world are within easy reach of it. It had never been thought of, however, by the Church of Scotland, for it was well known that no Protestant Mission would be tolerated in the Austrian Empire. Yet at that very time, in the Archduke’s palace overlooking the Danube, his wife, Marie Dorothea, a Protestant princess of the House of Wurtemberg, had been praying for years that God would send some messenger of the Cross to Hungary. One night in the summer of 1839 she started out of sleep with an eerie feeling that something was about to happen to her. Every night for a fortnight the strange dream was repeated. Then she chanced to hear that in one of the hotels of the city a Protestant minister was lying at the point of death. Instantly she said to herself, "This is what was to happen." She at once visited the hotel, and under her care and kindness Dr. Keith slowly recovered. During the days of his convalescence the Princess poured into his ear the whole story of her sorrows and of her prayers. Dr. Keith, on his part, told her of the reason that had brought him to the city. Both were impressed by the strangeness of their meeting, and the Princess eagerly undertook to use all her influence towards the establishment of a Mission in the city. Thus it came about, by means so singular and romantic, that the first Scottish Mission to the Jews was planted in Budapesth.

I

The Mission was begun in the summer of 1841 by that great Hebrew scholar and eccentric genius, "Rabbi" Duncan, who was credited with being able to talk his way to the Wall of China. He and the Princess Marie discovered a curious connecting link in the fact that both owned the same spiritual father. Twenty years before, he Princess had heard Cesar Malan preach in Geneva words never to be forgotten, and in far-away Aberdeen, by the same voice, "Rabbi" Duncan had been led into the light. So strangely interwoven are the threads of human life.

At first the Mission had to encounter the most determined opposition, and but for the powerful protection of the Princess Marie it could not have held its ground in the city. It was also aided by the fact that a hundred British workmen with their families were at that time resident in the city, in connection with the building of a suspension bridge over the Danube. Dr. Duncan at once commenced services among them, and this proved an excellent plea for toleration.

It was not long before the Mission was visited by manifest tokens of the divine blessing. In the first few years sixty converts were gathered in, but their quality was more remarkable than their numbers. No Israelite in the city was more respected than Mr. Saphir. A devout worshipper of Jehovah, he came into contact with the Mission, and was led to accept Jesus as the true Messiah. In D. O. Hill’s well-known picture of the Disruption, a bright boy may be seen in front beside a venerable man who is showing him something on a map of Palestine. The old man is Dr. Duncan, and the boy is Adolph Saphir, Mr. Saphir’s famous son, who became a distinguished preacher in London, and wrote various works in defence of the Scriptures. Another notable convert was Alfred Edersheim, the son of a wealthy banker in Vienna. After being led to Christ he took his degree at Oxford, and became a minister in Dr. Duncan’s native city of Aberdeen. He is best known, however, as the author of a valuable life of Christ, in which he brings all his stores of Jewish learning to explain and illustrate the Gospel story. Other names of converts—less known, perhaps, but worthy of honourable mention—are Tomory, who laboured for nearly fifty years among the Jews in Constantinople; Leitner, who translated the Old Testament into Chinese; and James Cohen. Had the Budapesth Mission done nothing else than bring these young and talented Jews into the Christian Church it would have done a great work.

After the Disruption, the Mission continued its career under the auspices of the Free Church. Hostility and suspicion gradually passed away, and the school in connection with the Mission became a recognised institution in the city. A few years before the War, when new buildings were being erected near the centre of Pesth, the Educational Council voted a grant of £2000. The pupils who have passed through the classes are to be numbered in tens of thousands, all of whom have carried away with them some knowledge of the Gospel. At the same time, the Mission has been greatly helpful in quickening into new life the Reformed Church of Hungary, one of the largest Protestant Churches in the world. Copies of the Scriptures and of Christian books, in eighteen languages, are distributed and sold in the city and surrounding districts. Thus through many channels the influence of the Gospel flows out over the land.

II

It says much for the stability of the Mission that it survived the catastrophe of the War, which shattered the Austrian Empire and reduced its proud cities to a shadow of their past selves. Amid much that is adverse, one fact emerges of great hopefulness for the future, namely, a striking change of attitude on the part of the Jewish people to the Christian Church. On Jewish authority it is estimated that about a hundred thousand Jews have entered the Church in Hungary. In Budapesth alone several thousands have professed the Christian faith, and in general there is a widespread desire to hear the Gospel. From these signs it would appear as if the fields in Eastern Europe were whitening to the harvest, and "the time to favour Zion, yea, the set time," might be nearer than many think.

The political unsettlement of the Near East and the scattered and broken state of the Jewish people has made work among them peculiarly difficult. This may account to some extent for the seemingly indecisive policy of the Scottish Churches towards Jewish Missions, as evidenced by the large number of mission stations which have been opened in various places, only to be abandoned after a time. Work was begun at Jassy in 1841 and at Constantinople in 1842. The Free Church carried on a Mission in Prague from 1862 to 1891. The Church of Scotland, after the Disruption, made many tentative efforts, most of which proved abortive. Work was begun among Jews in India, Arabia, and Persia by the Rev. Jacob Samuel, a Jewish convert. Tunis in North Africa, Cochin in the Far East, Karisruhe, Darmstadt, and Speyer in Germany, were all occupied for longer or shorter periods. In 1856 work was begun in Salonica and Smyrna, and soon after in Alexandria, Beirut, and Constantinople.

Of all these stations there now remain, outside the Holy Land, only Constantinople, where the two Churches unite in maintaining a Mission whose future, under the new Turkish Republic, is extremely uncertain, and Alexandria, where the Church of Scotland has a well-attended and successful Mission school. The United Free Church resumed work in Prague in 1923.

The work in Palestine has happily been carried on with much more continuity and success. It was, indeed, regrettable that for financial reasons the Church of Scotland retired from Beirut in 1920, after being in the field for sixty years, and the United Free Church felt compelled to hand over its Mission in Hebron to the Church Missionary Society. Nevertheless, both Churches continue to make a very distinctive contribution to the evangelising of the Holy Land.

III

It was in March of 1873 that there stepped ashore at Jaffa a delicate young Scotswoman of twenty-seven who had come on as heroic a mission as any crusader in days of old. She was Miss Jane Walker-Arnott, the daughter of a Glasgow professor, and a loyal member of the Church of Scotland. Jaffa, the Biblical Joppa, is the sea-gate of Jerusalem, and a place of holy memory and old renown. For thither came the cedars of Lebanon for the building of Solomon’s temple, and there St. Peter lodged in the house of Simon the tanner by the seaside, when he raised Dorcas to life, and was taught in a vision to call no man common or unclean. But in 1863 Jaffa was a "broken-down, filthy, malarial, malodorous place, where a few thousand folk of clashing nationalities and creeds eked out a more or less drab existence under the oppressive Turk." Miss Walker-Arnott was the sole European resident.

To the uplift of the women and girls of Jaffa she devoted herself with a faith and self-sacrifice which never flagged for well-nigh fifty years. Her first venture was to rent a small house in a foul Street, and open there a Mission for girls, which she named Tabeetha, in commemoration of her whose good deeds resounded through Joppa in the days of the apostles. By and by, as the work grew, larger and more suitable buildings were erected. A boarding-school was commenced, and later a department for industrial training. The general aim was to give the pupils a Christian education with a sound domestic training. "Copt and Armenian girls sat side by side with Moslem; Jewish with Greek and Roman Catholic. They went to morning worship together. They met again in Sunday school and Bible class. They formed themselves into a Scripture Union, binding themselves to read their daily portion of the Word of God, and thereby storing their minds with its imperishable truth. ‘Let the book always stay in our house, for there is a blessing in it,’ said a Moslem father, when his little girl of eight, who had joined the Union, brought home her Bible, and her mother also began to read in it."

On Sunday, 21st May 1911, the veteran missionary passed to her rest, and three thousand mourners followed all that was mortal of her, by the orange and lemon gardens, to the little cemetery that looks out across the Plain of Sharon. Her work she bequeathed to the Church of Scotland, and it has most fitly been taken in charge by the Women’s Jewish Committee, by whom it is being prosecuted with vigour and success.

The situation in Jaffa is of the highest strategic importance. Under British rule Palestine is shaking off the languor of centuries, and Zionist Jews are flocking back in thousands to their homeland. Close by Jaffa is the new settlement of Tel-Aviv, the "banner-city" of the Zionists, where only Hebrew is spoken, and even Yiddish is taboo; where no vehicle or horse may enter the town on the Sabbath day, and any Sabbath breaker would be in danger of lynching. No Christian can fail to view with interest this pathetic and untimely effort to revive the old Jewish religion, though convinced that it is doomed to end in failure. Among the hundreds of Jews recently gathered into the Protestant Churches in Vienna was Hans Herzl, son of the founder of the Zionist cause, and it is certain that in the next few years many disillusioned Zionists will begin to feel the need of a more satisfying faith. For this reason it has been truly said of Jaffa, "Make Christ known here, and the perfume of His name will be borne on every wind to the uttermost bounds of Jewry."

IV

The Free Church did not begin work in Palestine till 1884, when a medical mission was opened at Tiberias, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Five years later, Safad was occupied, and the two stations were worked conjointly. When Tiberias, lying deep in the hollow of Galilee, 68o feet below sea-level, becomes unbearably hot, Safad provides a welcome change, for it stands on a steep hilltop near the north-west corner of the Lake, and is probably the original of our Lord’s "city set on an hill which cannot be hid." A secondary school has recently been started in Safad, which, like the girls’ school in Jaffa, bids fair to have an important influence on the new educational system now being organised in Palestine. Evangelistic work is also carried on throughout Galilee.

But by far the most powerful agency for the spread of the Gospel is the Scottish Mission Hospital in Tiberias, which was so long the scene of the devoted labours of Dr. D. W. Torrance, and is now ably carried on by his son and daughter. It is not too much to say that the fame of the hospital has travelled throughout all Syria. As in the days of Jesus, they bring the sick from far and near. Dr. Paterson of Hebron relates the following incident: "Riding up the steep hills which mount westward from the Sea of Galilee, I met, one morning in spring, a poor Arab walking beside a donkey which carried his sick wife. He called to me to stop; he seized my bridle. Did I know of one who healed at Tiberias ? Was he wise ? Was he kind? Would he cure the woman? And as I rode on towards Nazareth, having reassured the man, I fell to thinking that just such a scene might have been enacted on that very road in the days of Him in whose name the missionary doctor at Tiberias ministers to the suffering to-day. For down every road leading to the Sea of Galilee there flocked men and women bearing the sick, half in doubt, half in hope, that One who healed, whom they knew only by hearsay, might be gracious to them also."

The sick, when they return home, carry with them as of old, and spread abroad everywhere, the fame of Jesus. So that to-day, through the skill and love of His servants in Tiberias, He has again become known to the people round the Lake as the Great Physician. "I never expected to see a sight like this on earth," exclaimed a visitor. "Now I understand the life of Christ as I never understood it before." And indeed one might search the wide world in vain to find anything liker the Saviour’s own ministry than this mission of healing to body and soul beside the Sea of Galilee.


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