Tag Archives: Bahrain

Review: Apostle to Islam

Rating: ★★★★★

Author: J. Christy Wilson (Sr.) (1891-1973) was an influential missionary in Persia. He published Apostle to Islam in 1952, the year after Samuel M. Zwemer died. (His son, J. Christy Wilson, Jr., (1921-1999), was a pioneer missionary in Afghanistan, and was also nothing to sneeze at.)

Samuel M. Zwemer (the subject of this biography) was a pioneer missionary among Arabs along the Persian Gulf. His later career was spent writing, teaching and mobilizing for missions among Muslims while he was based in Egypt for many years, and later at Princeton Theological Seminary. (Click here for more on Samuel M. Zwemer, or read his biography.)

Overview: This is probably the most comprehensive biography involving Christian work in the Muslim world. It is engaging, multi-faceted, well-researched, and well-written.

Like Ion Kieth-Falconer and others, Zwemer’s life must be divided into several streams:

  • His academic career, which included a chair at Princeton Seminary in his later life.
  • His literary career, which spans 48 volumes—one writer quips that, like Luther, he “threw his inkpot at the devil”.
  • His pioneer work—Zwemer was one of the earlier student volunteers, and he held a position of influence in the movement—with Lansing and Cantine, he also founded the Arabian Mission, which was remarkable for its ambition and sacrifice.
  • His publishing work—Zwemer was the editor of The Moslem World Quarterly from 1911 to 1947.
  • His mobilization work, which, according to Ruth Tucker, was his most important contribution. Year after year, his annual schedule involved platforms and pulpits in three languages in America, India, South Africa, Indonesia, China, Persia, etc.

With so much travel and so many contributions, Wilson mainly focuses on his work; there is not much “table talk” or personal touch. This book is too big-picture for that. The biography itself reads as an account of the revival of interest in evangelical missions to Muslim-majority people groups, and for that reason it is indispensable.

Meat: One of the high points for me was reading about Lucknow 1911 for the first time—a watershed moment in missions history, in which modern missions to Muslims became focused, intentional and organized.

Zwemer seems to have been steadfast, if a little grave; and orthodox, if a bit staunch. His life work is remarkable and unparalleled, and this is one of the best books it has been my high privilege to bring back into publication.

Bones: Something that will disappoint some readers, as Ruth Tucker points out in From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, is that Zwemer had very few converts in his lifetime. He was an eagle in theology; a seer in writing; a “steam-engine” in mobilization, as his close colleague testified; but he himself did not win many people to Christ in the Arab world. For that reason, some reviewers take this book to be uninspiring; I felt—quite the opposite—that his mobilization work undoubtedly has resulted in innumerable converts through the next generation, and from this I took great encouragement as a missionary in an all-but-forgotten field.

Some personal takeaways from Zwemer’s life as a whole: I take a spur and a warning both from this biography. First, mobilization, writing, and conference work are critical elements of our global task. They must not be neglected. Second, the most important work in ministry will always be not publishing, but people—one at a time—and loving your neighbor is harder and more glorious than a mile-long trail of print. This is exactly why mobilization was Zwemer’s greatest contribution; because that is where he was relationally invested.

 

Review: Zigzag Journeys in the Camel Country

Rating: ★★★★½

Authors: Amy E. Zwemer is the co-author of Topsy-Turvy Land and Zigzag Journeys in the Camel Country. A native Australian, she met Samuel M. Zwemer while she was serving as a pioneer missionary in Basra, present-day Iraq.

Samuel M. Zwemer was a pioneer missionary among Arabs along the Persian Gulf. His later career was spent writing, teaching and mobilizing for missions among Muslims while he was based in Egypt for many years, and later at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Overview:

Where Topsy-Turvy Land was focused on daily life in the Arab world—which has, needless to say, changedZigzag Journeys has a narrative basis. Although it’s not always clear who is narrating (whether Amy Zwemer or her husband), the chapters that recount journeys are easy to read and fascinating in their detail.

Meat:

There is a wealth of interest and irony in the Zwemers’ accounts of their journeys, such as “A Pioneer Journey on the Pirate Coast” and “Along Unbeaten Traces in Yemen.” “The Jews in Kheibar” is a particularly interesting and seldom-told tale of the Jews who once inhabited the Arabian Peninsula.

Bones:

This book maintains everything that’s best about Topsy-Turvy Land but in a much less childish style. Adult readers who felt patronized by Topsy-Turvy will find this book much more engaging.

Arab World Pioneers

The Arab World Pioneers series seeks to draw together the best available histories and biographies of the early modern missionaries to the Arab world. Among these pioneers, the most well known are Ion Keith-Falconer (Yemen), Henry Jessup (Syria), and Samuel Zwemer (Bahrain, Iraq, and Egypt). However, even these men didn’t come the earliest, or stay the longest. They must be taken as only a sampling of the host of both men and women who sacrificed and plodded in a place that has remained, even to this day, one of the driest and most difficult mission fields on the globe.

Arab World Pioneers

Candle in the Dark: The Story of Ion Keith-Falconer by Robert Sinker
Douglas M. Thornton: A Study in Missionary Ideals and Methods by W. H. T. Gairdner (coming 2018)
Fifty-three Years in Syria: The Autobiography of Henry H. Jessup (coming 2018)
Heroic Bishop: The Life of Thomas V. French by Eugene Stock
History of the Arabian Mission by Mason & Barny
Apostle to Islam: A Biography of Samuel M. Zwemer by J. Christy Wilson