Samuel Zwemer Apostle to Islam

Samuel Zwemer was born in his father’s Reformed Church parsonage, April 12, 1867.

He was the 13th child (of 15) of Adrian and Katherine Zwemer, Dutch folk who had emigrated to America 18 years earlier.  Adrian was pastor of a Reformed Church in Michigan.

Adrian raised his children to serve the Lord and so all six of the girls became schoolteachers and five sons entered the ministry. One son died as a missionary in Arabia.

In 1890 Samuel was ordained, and the following year ventured forth to Arabia as a missionary. Years later Zwemer learned that his mother had dedicated him for missionary service when he was a baby.

While at college, Zwemer and two friends determined to become missionaries to the heart of the Moslem world, Arabia. But no missionary society would accept them for such a field, so they created their own, the Arabian Mission.

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On 18 May, 1896, in Baghdad, he married Amy Wilkes, a Church Missionary Society (CMS) worker from Australia who he had gotten to know by teaching her Arabic.  The CMS were not overjoyed about this, however, and required Amy to repay the cost of her journey to the field.  Samuel did so – and thereafter joked that he had ‘purchased’ his wife in accordance with Arab custom!

His ministry among Muslims earned him the title “The Apostle to Islam” – and for 40 years he edited The Moslem World, a magazine devoted to evangelising those people.   Fifty books came from his pen. Amy once said, “Samuel is always writing”, and this intensity of energy and entrepreneurial drive persisted throughout his life. Samuel was also a powerful preacher.

He travelled extensively and accepted many influential posts, including lecturing at Princeton Theological Seminary and speaking at major conventions around the world. He was highly successful at raising money and at energising others to missionary service. He loved the Moslem people and did all he could to reach them, personally, with print, and by meeting their needs. At one time he set up a rudimentary mission medical base, using the knowledge he had acquired and his wife’s professional training as a nurse.

Zwemer’s travels took him to the USA and UK, but also to South Africa, various parts of the Middle East and to Indonesia.

Zwemer’s younger brother, Peter, died in Arabia, and so too did the first two girls born to Zwemer and Amy. Zwemer took their deaths as inspiration for his unrelenting zeal to reach the Moslem world.

In 1937 his wife died.  Three years later (at the age of 73) he married Margaret Clarke, “considerably younger”, who had worked as his secretary.  She died 10 years later, whilst he lived on another two years, passing to his Reward on 2 April, 1952, following a heart attack, at the age of 85.

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at:

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Ramon Lull, Missionary to Moslems

This is the day that … Ramon Lull was stoned to death by a Muslim mob in North Africa, in1316.

He was born on the isle of Majorca, off the coast of Spain, in 1232. In teenage days he served as a courtier to the king of Aragon, and was educated as a knight. After a life of ‘utter immorality’ (to quote his own words), at the age of 30 he experienced a vision of “the Saviour hanging on the cross” and dedicated his life to God.

The composition of the “vain song” he was composing was now neglected as he gazed at that figure “in great agony and sorrow”. He penned a quaint verse:

Pardon I sought at break of day;

contrite and sad, I went straightway

my sins before the priest to lay.

(Bear in mind that this was 200 years before the Protestant Reformation).

Ramon Lull felt the call to missionary service almost immediately. But it was almost another 30 years before he boarded a ship bound for North Africa. By this time he had written a number of books – “the most voluminous author on record” (Man, Myth and Magic, volume 59)! There are volumes on grammar, politics, medicine, law, Antichrist, geometry, astrology, homiletics, theology – you name it, Ramon Lull seemed to have written on the subject. “Two hundred and forty of his books still survive”, although we know he wrote many, many more (Dictionary of the Christian Church, page 608).

And he had equipped himself for his missionary expedition by learning Arabic from a Moorish slave.

“Since Thou, O Lord, art ever ready to aid … how can any Christian fear to preach our holy faith to the infidels,” he wrote.

His biographer, E.A. Peers, states that the conversion of unbelievers “was the ruling passion of his life” (Fool of Love, page 28).

There were three missionary journeys: the first at about 60 years of age, when he was imprisoned and then expelled from the country; the second when he was 75, and again he faced imprisonment and then banishment; and the third when about 83! He even commenced writing a new book during the voyage (page 102)! This time he was stoned to death. Marcus Loane, in By Faith we Stand, gives the date as 30 June, 1315 (page 71). However, most books say 1316.

With all his curious beliefs (the Pope refused to canonise him because it was believed he practised alchemy), he can claim the title of “first missionary to the Moslems”. He was utterly devoted to the service of Christ.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at

First Temple Excavation

Recent news from the Israel Antiquities Authority has people buzzing. Remains of buildings from the First Temple period have been uncovered in Jerusalem and there are some interesting implications. In a location west of the Temple Mount excavators have worked through several historic layers to finally come to these ancient remains. 

The ruins date from the 800-600BC era, before the destruction of the First Temple, and have been preserved from plunderers since the Roman period, because of construction directly over the remains. The heavy limestone pavers encased the ruins, sealing them to be revealed 2,000 years later – echoes of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The site is about 100 metres west of the Temple Mount on the eastern slopes of the Upper City. Building walls are preserved  to over 2 metres high. Remains are characteristic of the Kingdom of Judah in the latter part of the First Temple period. 

So much for the archaeological summary – now to the significance. There is keen reaction from those who are incensed by Moslem revisionist efforts to suggest that the First Temple did not exist and that the Jews do not have a claim to the Temple Mount site. The recent finds support the Jewish presence on the site and seal the Israelite claim to the city. In another twist it has also been suggested that it may be possible to re-build the temple on this adjoining location, thus avoiding the problems presented by the mosque currently on the traditional site of the First Temple. 

For those with an interest in things archaeological here are some further tid-bits: The city of Jerusalem has had a long history and been affected by multiple constructions on previous ruins. The Christian Byzantine era provides a 6th Century map of Jerusalem which features the Roman Road, named the Eastern Cardo, part of which has been removed to reveal these fresh finds. That map, a mosaic design excavated in Madaba in Jordan, shows a city that exists with no regard for the Temple Mount, which at that time was a ruin. Several churches were identified – since the Christian locations were of more significance than the expired Temple.  

Note also that the ancient Temple site has become an icon to many. The Moslem world occupies it. Some Jews want it back and worship it. [consider these comment from Jews who learned of the recent excavations: “The temple mount is the holiest place on earth.” “The Third Temple will be built sometime over the next 41 years…”] Many Christians see the need for a new temple on the site, in preparation for Christ’s return.

Removal of the mosque from the site thus becomes an issue for some. Note the sentiment of this posting in response to the news: “Take it back now!!! ALL ARABS OUT!! BOMB THE DOME!!” Unholy passions run high around the Holy Land.