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.
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: www.donaldprout.com
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