Author: Robert Sinker.
Who: Ion Keith-Falconer, Arabic scholar, prominent cyclist, and pioneer missionary to Yemen.
Where: The book covers his training and travels in Scotland, England, Germany, Egypt, and Yemen.
Overview: This is the authorized biography of Ion Keith-Falconer, published within a year of his unexpected death by a friend who knew him at Cambridge. It is still the most complete biography of him available.
Keith-Falconer came from a noble Scottish bloodline. He was definitely a son of privilege; but to his credit, he used this privilege to support Gospel work. He liberally supported urban evangelistic work, not only with money, but with his own sweat.
He was an exemplary academic and excelled in Arabic and other Semitic languages at Cambridge. Before he went to Yemen as a missionary with the Free Church of Scotland, he was offered a lectureship in Arabic by Cambridge, and accepted, if only because the requirements were so light, and the benefits so obvious—he would only have to lecture once annually at the minimum.
He also exemplifies “muscular Christianity.” He stumbled into fame as a cyclist when the sport was just budding into existence on college campuses.
He began to seriously consider missions in late 1884, and left for Yemen in November 1885 for a trial visit. He returned with his family a year later, in November 1886, but within just a few short months, he succumbed to several bouts of malaria, and died at the age of 31.
Meat: Keith-Falconer is in many ways the prototypical missionary of the Arabian Peninsula. He taught that hospitals and academic work were an appropriate avenue for missionaries there, and many followed in his wake.
The announcement of his death coincided closely with the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, and as a result, many were moved to consider the mission field after he died.
Bones: The author, Sinker, was an academic and sometimes gives too much detail on Keith-Falconer’s academic life at the expense of his personal life. An ideal biography would give a better sense of Keith-Falconer’s habits and daily life.
A member of the Yemen mission, James Robson, later produced a bite-sized biography, Ion Keith-Falconer of Arabia (1923), which essentially abridges the material found here.
Quotes: “Still, it seemed as if some scheme ought to present itself in which Christian zeal and linguistic power might work hand in hand, or rather, shall I say, in which his intellectual attainments and his learning might be to him something more than a mere parallel interest, existing side by side with, but having no connection with, work for Christ.” (loc. 2116)
“The efforts already made to Christianize Mohammedan countries have produced commensurate results.” (loc. 2724)
“The heathen are in darkness, and we are asleep. . . . While vast continents are shrouded in almost utter darkness, and hundreds of millions suffer the horrors of heathenism or of Islam, the burden of proof lies upon you to show that the circumstances in which God gas placed you were meant by Him to keep you out of the foreign mission-field.” (loc. 2797)