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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Dr Theodore Leighton Pennell Medical Missionary

Dr Theodore Leighton Pennell died on March 23, 1912, at the age of 45.  His conviction was – in his own words – “a missionary, like a soldier, should obey without question, and go where he is sent.”  And go he did – to North-west India, on the border of Afghanistan.

Pennell was a brilliant medical student who won numerous honours during his studies. He achieved his academic supremacy despite being devoted to Christian work as well as his studies. He worked among the working class lads of Euston Road, supporting the working boys’ club in Tottenham Court Road.

He was son to a gifted missionary doctor who had served in Brazil and died when Theodore was but a lad. His mother then saw to his education and also impressed upon him that missionary service was the highest call on a man’s life. He was keen to get to the field as quickly as possible, but his mother restrained him until his studies were complete.

He was 25 years of age when he went to India – and his widowed mother went with him!

In 1892 lie went out to India as an honorary medical missionary under the Church Missionary Society, and was at first appointed to the existing Medical Mission at Dera Ismail Kihlan. In 1893 he was transferred to the village of Bannu, on the North-West Frontier of India, where he had the responsibility of opening up a medical mission.

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He erected a hospital – of sorts – and before long “he was treating as many as 220 patients a day” (Blazing New Trails, by A. Wallace, page 80).

He also incurred the wrath of the Moslem mullahs, who would often stone him when he attempted to preach.

Dr Pennell adopted Indian dress, ate Indian food, and became proficient in their tongue.  Once, during a visit to Lahore, he attended a service in the Cathedral, only to find that the verger denied him entrance into the “English” pews.  After nine years in Bannu there were 26 converts.  Fear of Islamic retaliation kept many from placing their faith in the Lord Jesus. The year 1903 saw him awarded a silver medal by the Indian Government for medical services rendered, and in 1911 he was awarded a gold one.

During a brief trip home to England for an operation for the removal of a loose cartilage in his knee, his mother took ill in India and died. In 1908 he married a well educated Parsee lady named Alice, who heartily shared in his medical work. He also did much toward education, and included sport activity for the male students, to help strengthen their physical frame. Pennell wrote a captivating book about his experiences in northern India, “Among the Wild Tribes of the Afghan Frontier“.

On his return hundreds of Indians gave him a rousing welcome.  He recalled that when he first arrived hardly anyone would even give him a drink of water. Two years later he again returned to England, taking Alice with him. He needed to recuperate from a severe attack of enteric fever. The demands of his work had taken a toll on his body and his resilience.

Back in Indian in March, 1912, he was operating, when he caught septicaemia, and passed into his Saviour’s presence. Just a few days earlier a younger doctor from London, William Barnett, who was sent to work with Pennell, also died of septicaemia in the Bannu Hospital at the age of 32.

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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:

David Livingstone I Presume

David Livingstone was born as the second son to Niel and Agnes Livingstone at Blantyre, Scotland, on March 19, 1813, into a devout Congregational family whose spiritual convictions caused them to maintain “family worship morning and evening, regular attendance at church and strict observance of the Sabbath”.

David worked in a cotton mill at age 10 and studied at night. He had a determined nature which stood him in good stead. Books greatly influenced him. Dick’s ‘Philosophy of the Future State’ led him to confess Christ and the examples of Henry Martyn, first modern missionary to Moslems and Charles Gutslaff, medical missionary to China, fixed his life purpose.

As a young medical student his first desire was to serve His Lord in China.  But the infamous “Opium War” had closed the door to that land, and Livingstone turned his eyes to the fever-ridden jungles and arid sun-burned deserts of Africa. This course was influenced by Robert Moffat, pioneer Missionary to Africa.

Livingstone farewelled his father at age 27 and never saw him again.

Livingstone’s venture into Africa is an epic story of human endurance … the attack by the lion (“which shook me as a terrier would shake a rat!”); the tortuous crossing of the Kalahari Desert; the trek across Africa and discovery of “the smoke that thunders!” (Victoria Falls); the clash with Portuguese slave traders; the incredible saga of the Ma Robert, a paddle-steamer that had engines “not even fit to grind coffee in!”

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On arrival in Cape Town, Livingstone was offended by the European attitude toward the natives. He showed compassion and gave medical care and was convinced that treating them nobly would be much more effective than the abusive attitude taken by others.

In 1844 David married Moffat’s eldest daughter, Mary, and they enjoyed a happy marriage which produced six children. However their dedication to the lost meant that the couple sacrificially spent long periods apart.

Livingstone’s heart for the lost caused him to feel indignant that good men were sitting back at home splitting hairs about theology while the interior of Africa had not been penetrated. His letters home raised the appeal, “Who will penetrate the heart of Africa?”

Eventually he saw that he had to do it on his own. He took his family to Cape Town and tearfully shipped them back to England. Then he ventured north, finding opposition from the Dutch Boers who destroyed his dwelling and his goods. The depravity of the natives, with polygamy, incest and cannibalism was matched by the murderous brutality of the slave trade. These horrors shook Livingstone as much as the fevers and physical deprivations.

After 16 years in Africa Livingstone made his first visit back to England, arriving December 9, 1856. He received a gold medal from the Royal Geographical Society among many other honours. He was a hero, as one who had come back from the dead. However the London Missionary Society felt that his explorations were not true Missionary endeavour and so he withdrew from their membership and returned to Africa engaged with the Royal Geographical Society and as the Queen’s consul.

March 10, 1858, Dr and Mrs Livingstone sailed from England with their son Oswell. At Cape Town Mrs Livingstone became so ill that she had to remain behind and did not rejoin her husband for several years. The list of Livingstone’s discoveries is significant. He found sites for mission bases, preached, healed the sick and exposed the horrors of the slave trade.

When Mary died in 1862 the fearless Livingstone said, “For the first time in my life I want to die“. Then, after a final visit to England, Livingstone set off again, not to explore but to preach. In the heart of Africa this man of God “preached to thousands and tens of thousands of natives”.

In 1871 his health failed. “Feet sore from ulcers; teeth falling out through sickness; weary of body and sick of heart, he lay in his hut for eighty days, longing for home, now far beyond his reach. His sole comfort and help was his Bible, which he read through four times during this period, and upon the flyleaf of which he wrote these significant words: ‘No letters for three years. I have a sore longing to finish and go home, if God wills.’ Supplies and letters had been sent, but were intercepted by the Portuguese. The Royal Geographical Society had sent out a search, but found him not.

After Livingstone virtually disappeared in central Africa Henry Morton Stanley of the New York Herald set off in search for the missing missionary. That hard-bitten reporter testified after living with Livingstone: “For four months and four days I lived with Livingstone in the same house, or in the same boat, or in the same tent, and I never found a fault in him … Each day’s life with him added to my admiration for him.  His gentleness never forsakes him; his hopefulness never forsakes him” (How I Found Livingstone, by H.M. Stanley).

Livingstone refused to return with Stanley, choosing to keep pressing forward. And so he died in Africa – on his knees beside his bed – at the furthest point of all his exploratory journeys, on 1 May, 1873.

A blog post about Henry Morton Stanley and his discovery of Dr Livingstone can be found at:

A blog post about Robert Moffat, who preceded and outlived Livingstone can be found at:

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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:

Amy Carmichael Becomes Missionary Mum

Amy Carmichael met Pearl-Eyes on March 7, 1901.

Born on 16 December, 1867, into an Irish Presbyterian home, and the oldest of seven children, Amy was truly converted in a Wesleyan Methodist school at the age of 16.

The next crisis in her life was nearly three years later when she attended a holiness convention in Glasgow.  Here she made a full surrender to her Lord. As a young woman she ministered to the women working in Belfast’s textile mills.

Amy heard Hudson Taylor of China Inland Mission describe the great need for missionaries. “In China,” he said, “four thousand souls a day are dying without Christ”. Amy’s all-consuming desire to spread the Gospel, coupled with her love of excitement and strong personality, seemed a perfect fit the mission life. Amy decided she would never marry or have a family, but would spread the Gospel in foreign lands.

So in 1893 (March 3, at the age of 26) we find her sailing for Japan, the first missionary sent out by the Keswick Convention (UK).  Two years later – after health problems forced her to return to England – we find her in Bangalore, India.  And there she remained for 56 years without a furlough!

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Then Amy met Preena (or Pearl-Eyes) – a seven year-old girl who had escaped from one of the Hindu temples where she had been sold by her parents to work as a ‘temple prostitute’.

Preena had escaped from the temple once before, making her way back to her mother. The mother, however, was afraid the gods would punish her so she took the terrified and screaming child back to the temple. Preena’s hands were branded in punishment.

On her next attempt to escape Preena ran to a church in the village where one of the local women took her to Amy. Preena climbed onto Amy’s lap and called her “Amma”, which is Tamil for Mother.

Displeased people from the temple came screaming and yelling, but their anger slowly subsided and the crowd dispersed. Thus Amy was left with Preena.

Amy had already given up the idea of family, so she could serve the Lord unencumbered. Now she was faced with a child who needed her care. She knew the Tamil saying, ‘Children tie the mother’s feet’, and wondered if the Lord was calling her from her teaching and preaching to the more mundane domestic role of mother.

So began the work of what would later be known as Dohnavur Fellowship.

A righteously angry Amy Carmichael began her crusade against the infamous child prostitution practice. Initially dozens of little girls were rescued from temple prostitution and hundreds of others from extreme poverty or neglect. By 1923 Amy was running 30 nurseries to care for these young girls who had been dedicated to prostitution, either by “sacred vow” of family members or for money.

In 1945 a missionary statesman visited her headquarters at Dohnavur and wrote:  “The number of children about to be dedicated to Hindu gods who were rescued by Miss Carmichael now runs into several thousands…  There are now over 800 children in her three homes…”

Dohnavur is situated in Tamil Nadu, just 30 miles from the southern tip of India. It was a safe, secluded place when Amma and friends decided to live there, but has since developed into a bustling city.

Amy did not treat her project as an orphanage. Children are taken into the community as life members. They even take on a new family name, Carunia, which is Tamil for ‘lovingkindness’.

Temple prostitution was officially outlawed in India in 1948, which did not eradicate the practice, but reduced it significantly.

Amy’s orphans experienced an amazing revival in 1905, known as the Donhavur Revival. Further information about that great event can be found at another post:

Amy experienced a serious fall in 1931.  “For nearly 20 years she scarcely left her room, and for the last two and a half years of her life she could not get out of bed at all.”  (God’s Madcap, by Nancy Robbins, page 93).  Her longing for the Lord to take her home was fulfilled on 18 January, 1951.

Amy’s heritage was to be totally abandoned to the Lord Jesus, not to lead a life of ease, but to give one’s life for others.

“If by doing some work which the undiscerning consider ‘not spiritual work’ I can best help others, and I inwardly rebel, thinking it is the spiritual for which I crave, when in truth it is the interesting and the exciting, then I know nothing of Calvary love.” Amy Carmichael

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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:

Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg Converts the Tamils of India

Bartholomew Ziegenbalg died on February 23, 1719.

Born in Saxony in 1682 and raised in the university town of Halle, Germany, Ziegenbalg became a pioneer Protestant missionary to India, and the first to translate the Scriptures into an Indian language … some 80 years before the more famous William Carey.

This young German had been converted at the age of 17, and fired with Christian zeal by the Pietist movement within the Lutheran Church.

It was King Frederick IV of Denmark who saw the need to send missionaries to the fledgling Danish settlement of Tranquebar, on the southeast coast of India (in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu). August Francke, who was the leader of Pietism at the University of Halle, recommended Ziegenbalg as one of two men for the task.

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On 9 July, 1706, at the age of 22, Ziegenbald arrived at the Coromandel Coast in South East India with Heinrich Plütschau; the pair being the first protestant missionaries to India and encountering opposition both from Roman Catholicism and ungodly merchants. But within eight months Ziegenbalg was able to converse in the native Malabar Tamil tongue, within 10 months of his arrival he was baptising the first five converts, and on 14 June, 1707, he laid the foundation stone of his church “in spite of official jeers and opposition.” By 14 August, 1707, he could write that “63 persons gathered for worship and another to be baptised tomorrow”.

Ziegenbalg took keen interest in the new printing technology emerging in Europe. He preferred the printed word to the spoken sermon. He began writing books on Tamil language, dictionaries and manuals on printing.

After 2 years in India Ziegenbalg had compiled Biblithece Malabarke, a list of 161 Tamil books he had read, describing the content of each book.

However all was not clear sailing for this enterprising and gifted missionary. Militant Hindus opposed the work of the missionaries and the local Danish authorities did not want unrest in their new settlement.

In 1708 opposition reached its height, and Zeigenbalg was imprisoned for four months, charged with encouraging rebellion by converting the natives. But “the converts multiplied.” In October, 1708, free from prison, he commenced his translation of the Tamil New Testament, a task that was completed in three years.

Ziebenbalg found the weather a further challenge, added to the religious and official opposition. He wrote, “My skin was like a red cloth. The heat here is very great, especially during April, May and June, in which season the wind blows from the inland so strongly that it seems as if the heat comes straight out of the oven”.

In 1709 Ziegenbalg asked that a printing press be sent from Denmark and he sent back drawings of Tamil type faces he needed made into printing blocks. When the Tamil type blocks arrived in 1712 they were too large, so Ziegenbalg had locals caste smaller type blocks, from cheese tins.

The first press and paper came through the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge (SPCK) in London, arriving in 1713, but the printing hand sent with the press ran away. Ziegenbalg then recruited and trained a German soldier to print his first book in India, in Portuguese.

Ziegenbalg was further assisted by Johanne Adler, a printer who arrived in Tamil Nadu in 1713 and who set up a type-making factory near Tranquebar to supply Ziegenbalg’s press. In 1715 a paper mill was set up in the village. And then Adler began making printing ink as well. Ziegenbalg’s printing ambitions were ready to be met, locally.

In 1716, the press produced the first English language book printed in Asia; “A Guide to the English Tongue”. Next year, the press produced a Portuguese ABC book.

Ziegenbalg and Plütschau encouraged the indigenous Indian Christians into positions of leadership. In 1733 they ordained the first Indian pastor, whom they had converted from Hinduism.

When Ziegenbalg died, at the age of 36, he left behind 350 converts, a missionary seminary, a grammar and lexicon of nearly 60,000 Tamil words, and the entire Bible in the Tamil language, along with Luther’s Catechisms, and other works translated into Tamil. We might add that he brought to India a respect for Christian missionaries, and an example for others to follow.

Ziegenbalg is credited for not only printing the first English book in Asia but also writing the first Tamil dictionary.

Ziegenbalg married in 1716 and at the same time official opposition lessened with the arrival of a friendlier governor. He set up a seminary to train the native pastors.

Another contribution from Ziegenbalg is seen in his keenness to reach the marginalised. He reached out to the untouchables and others whose place in the caste system restricted them. He sought to elevate them socially, as equals in the gospel. He also started the first school for girls, so they could be given opportunities previously denied them.

We are told that on his deathbed he shaded his eyes and cried out: “How is it so bright, as if the sun shone in my face …”

Upon his death in 1719 he was buried at The New Jerusalem church in Tranquebar, which he and his associates completed the previous year.

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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: