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The Scottish Churches' Work Abroad
At The South Gate Of Arabia

A MAP of the religions of the world shows a solid block of Mohammedanism in the Middle East. The menace of this great power lay for centuries like a nightmare upon the heart of Christendom. Had its two lines of advance, westward through North Africa and Spain and eastward through the Balkans to Vienna, coincided in point of time, the Western Church might have shared the fate of the Eastern, and the Koran been taught in Oxford. Long after that danger had passed, and indeed down to our own time, the Mohammedan world presented an unbroken front, and instead of being, what from its doctrine of the one true God it might have been expected to be, a halfway house to Christianity, it has proved the bitterest foe and the most formidable rival of our faith.

In spite of this, it must be confessed that comparatively little has been done in modern times to bring the Gospel to Moslems. Nor are the reasons far to seek. By Moslem law conversion to Christianity was forbidden under pain of death, and this dread penalty might be inflicted either by the decree of the ruler or by the fanaticism of the people. There was therefore no opening for missions in many Moslem lands, and even where access was possible, the field was found to be exceptionally hard and unproductive. The whole system of Islam seemed rigidly fixed beyond all hope of change, and so for the most part the Church passed onward to the more promising fields beyond.


The Scottish Churches have come into contact with Moslems through their Jewish Missions in Palestine, Constantinople, and Egypt, where they have freely given help and healing without distinction of race or creed. But it was not till 1886 that a purely Moslem Mission was founded at Aden, the southern gateway of Arabia.

This Mission, though intimately associated with the Free Church, was at the outset the daring conception of a free-lance, who in a spirit of complete devotion offered his life and fortune to the cause. His name was Ion Keith-Falconer, son of the eighth earl of Kintore. He was a man of the most brilliant gifts. His magnificent physique made him a champion athlete, his feats especially as a cyclist on the old high bicycle bringing him a world-wide renown. His intellectual attainments were no less distinguished. When only twenty-nine he was appointed Professor of Arabic at Cambridge. But from earliest boyhood the master passion of his heart had been the winning of souls for Christ. Both in Cambridge and in London he laboured among the outcast, and now, in the bright morning of his married life and with the prospect of a great career, he felt impelled to lay his all upon the altar.

He chose for the site of the Mission, Sheikh-Othman, a village immediately to the north of Aden, on the high road into the interior. There he hoped to get into touch with the numerous caravans which come out of the desert to Aden, bringing for shipment the coffee, gums, and spices of Arabia. His design was, in addition to preaching and teaching, to establish a medical mission, of which he proposed to bear the whole cost. It was a noble offering, and such as gave rise to the highest hopes. But within a year Keith-Falconer was struck down. He had addressed the General Assembly of 1886, and gone forth with many blessings and prayers. To the next General Assembly came the news of his death, and the heart of the Church was profoundly stirred. It smote men with poignant sorrow to think of the blighted hopes, of the rare gifts lost, and of the tragedy of that lone grave beside the barren rocks of Aden, smothered with sand and dust, and far from the green banks of Urie.

But with the sorrow went a strong resolve that work so finely conceived and begun at such a cost must not be allowed to fail. The Church received the Mission as a sacred trust, and sounded the call for volunteers. "Who comes next, when KeithFalconer is down ? "exclaimed the Moderator, Principal Rainy, and Professor Lindsay, the Foreign Mission Convener, passionately seconded the appeal. "Shall this Free Church, to whose service he gave himself, abandon the work he began? God forbid that it should! Who, then, shall follow where he led the way, and bear aloft the banner of Christ which the young leader of the forlorn hope still grasps in his dead hand ? "The appeal did not fall on deaf cars, and Keith-Falconer may be numbered among that immortal band who have done more for the Kingdom of God by their death than by their life.


The mantle fell upon Dr. John Young, who built the hospital at Sheikh-Othman and gave thirty-three years of devoted service to South Arabia. He was in many ways singularly fitted for the work. The son of a sergeant in the Royal Field Artillery, he took special pleasure in ministering to the Scottish troops at Aden, and there were not a few who testified that they had found Christ in the little Keith-Falconer Church at Steamer Point. Lieut.-Col. Jacob voiced the feelings of many soldiers when he said, speaking after Dr. Young’s death, "Aden without him will be a desolation."

His chief work, however, lay at Sheikh-Othman, and for this difficult task he had been prepared not merely by his studies, but by all the arduous struggles of his youth. It was, indeed, an unpromising field. It was impossible to travel beyond the immediate neighbourhood of Aden, except with a large and armed escort. The Sultan of Lahej ruled his people in barbarous Eastern fashion. Frequent cases came into hospital of men whose right hand had been cut off and the stump plunged into boiling tar to stop the haemorrhage. The whole country was in a wild and lawless state, with little respect for human life. Speaking of a journey into the interior after he had begun to win his way with the people, Dr. Young said, "I counted hundreds of cairns that had been raised over the bodies of people murdered for the few possessions they or their donkeys were carrying. In fact, so thick were these cairns in places that I could almost have jumped from grave to grave, while only a few weeks before two villages had been entirely wiped out by the bandit robbers of the district."

The truth that Medical Missions are the pioneers of evangelism and real civilisation has been amply verified in South Arabia. Such was the experience and testimony of Dr. Young. Sufferers came to the hospital in steadily increasing numbers, and carried home with them deep impressions of the skill and kindness of the Mission doctor. In this way an atmosphere of friendliness began to spread through the country, and it became possible, with some measure of safety, to travel among the villages. Dr. Young had charming stories to tell of gratitude and of hospitality received in wild and unexpected places. " I was encamped," he writes, "on the borders of the Subaihi country, a place noted for its lawlessness, and went out for my usual camel ride after getting through my work, just as it was growing dusk. On my way back to the tent, I came upon three fierce-looking men armed to the teeth. As they saw me they all started up and made for my camel, which one commanded to kneel, having seized the nose-bridle. With my heart in my mouth I asked what they wanted, and you may be sure I was pleased to discover that they were old patients, who, out of gratitude, wanted to give me a cup of coffee and a smoke." On another occasion he writes: "Just as I was entering a small village, an old woman hastily baked some scones when she knew who I was, and brought out a large basin of milk, with all the kindliness of a Scottish hostess, refusing the money I proffered, saying, ‘No, no; you have come to me as the guest of God, for you were the means of healing my son.’ And since then that name, ‘the guest of God,’ has stuck to me." Who would not envy such a title ? Surely it is an honour above all earthly dignities to be received among any people as the guest of God.


That the work was not without its dangers may be gathered from another incident. He had been summoned to the neighbouring town of Lahej to operate for cataract on an Arab dignitary. His instructions as to dressings were disregarded by the patient, eager to use his eye, and sepsis ensued. Some days later, Dr. Young’s horse was found dead, stabbed in its stable in his compound. It was afterwards discovered that an emissary of his unfortunate patient had been sent to murder the doctor, but, being unable to make his entrance into the bungalow, had contented himself by killing the doctor’s horse.

His life was a notable example of how antagonisms can be overcome and hostility quenched by the spirit of peace and love. This was true of his influence on Arab and British alike. When Keith-Falconer began his work, the authorities at Aden warned him not to broach religious subjects for fear of a rising, and it must be confessed that British authorities everywhere have shown themselves unduly timid in the face of Moslem religious feeling. But when Dr. Young died he was not only acclaimed as "that grand old man of Aden," but was officially declared to be "our best political asset in the country." Nor were the Arabs less cordial in their appreciation. The Moslem community of Sheikh-Othman, in a letter of condolence, spoke touchingly of the love and kindness which had made his name a household word among them, and of their great sorrow at his loss. "Why should we not weep when we think of all that he did for us and for our country?"

It may appear to some that such lives are as water poured out upon the ground. Even were that so, they might at least be compared to the rivers of Arabia which, though they never reach the sea but are swallowed up by the thirsty sand, yet do not run their course in vain. Along their banks a little strip is rescued from the desert and made green and fertile. But in reality the influence has been far wider, for it is no exaggeration to say that one of the greatest blessings of our time lies in the fact that such Christlike lives as those of Young and KeithFalconer have touched the Mohammedan world. The problem of the Middle East was never graver than it is to-day, and no less an authority than Lord Bryce has said that, towards the solution of it, nobody has done any good east of Constantinople except the missionaries.


Since the War, the Middle East has been swept as by a tidal wave. The ancient changeless East is changing before our eyes with bewildering rapidity. For years before the War, Western influences had been percolating through, but now the gates are wide open, and they are pouring in like a flood. The motor-car, the aeroplane, the newspaper, the cinema, all are playing their part for good or ill. The unbroken front of Islam is a thing of the past, the dream of Pan-Islamism has vanished, and a new spirit of nationalism has taken its place. The Turks have abolished the Caliphate because it stood in the way of modern progress.

The Nationalists of Egypt have united the Cross and the Crescent on their flag. They have declared that "the Koran and the Bible are one, Jesus and Mohammed are one. The Cross and the Crescent on the one flag is proof of our national unity." No one who knows history will fail to perceive what an amazing change of sentiment is here.

Now it must not be imagined that Mohammedanism is about to collapse like a house of cards. Its foundations are far too deep and firm for that. Nor must it be assumed that Western civilisation is Christianity. It has been well said that "to impregnate the mind of Moslem youth with secular Western ideas, to break down through Western commerce Moslem traditional habits of business, to replace peasant industries with a highly organised factory system, is not to move an inch nearer to Christianity. When at dawn the factory siren calling youth to the factory has drowned the voice of the muezzin calling to prayer, and when the factory chimney has replaced the minaret, we have not moved towards the Kingdom of God." It may mean, and in many cases in the Middle East to-day it does mean, a move towards stark materialism and irreligion.

But at least the door is open—a wide and effectual door of opportunity in Moslem lands. If there is to-day among educated Moslems a considerable knowledge of Jesus and the spirit of the Gospel, it is due to the unwearying labours of the pioneers who toiled in that seemingly barren and unfruitful field. And now it would appear, if only the Church has faith and energy equal to her opportunity, that not in a day, nor in a century, perhaps, but in God’s good time, even the desert may "rejoice and blossom as the rose."

I thought I would include some videos for you here to provide some education on some of the lands in the Middle East and Holy Land.

The history of the Aramean people
197 minutes
Watch the complete documentary movie (197 minutes in HD) "The Hidden Pearl" (Die verborgene Perle) in english and learn about the Aramean people before and after Christianity, about their language, their culture, their religion and traditions.

Ottoman Empire Documentary
This is a re-post of a rare documentary on the Ottoman Empire. This is a much better version than before

BBC History of Syria with Dan Snow

History of Iran - The Persian Empire

Behind the Rhetoric: The Real Iran | BBC Documentary

Ruling Elite of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia :: BBC Full Documentary

Promises and Betrayals - Middle East

A History of the Middle East since WWII

History of Jerusalem HD: Reclaiming Zion

Jordan: A kingdom divided?

Jordan The Country

Legacy The Origins of Civilization Episode 1 Iraq

Turkey : The Complete History of Turkey

Egypt History

See also History of Egypt

Inside Story - The Shia-Sunni divide

The Crusades Crescent and the Cross. pt 1 of 2

The Crusades Crescent and the Cross. pt 2 of 2

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