The Arabian mission
What started as an idea in New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA is now celebrating one hundred years of hard, dedicated work in the field of medical care. In 1888 at the Theological Seminary of the Dutch Reformed Church, a teacher and his three students had the calling to begin their work in Arabia. Dr. John G. Lansing had inherited his interest in Arabia from his father, a pioneer worker in Syria and Egypt. Born in Damascus, John Lansing had always felt the call back to Arabia. With the help of his three students Samuel M. Zwemer, James Cantine and Philip T. Phelps (who later decided not to go to Arabia) he formulated a plan to create what was to become known as the Arabian Mission.
At the time, there were very few missionaries being sent to Arabia. Dr. Lansing, Mr. Zwemer and Mr. Cantine would need to come up with their own finances to fund the Arabian Mission. On May 23rd 1888, the group signed their plan, and work began to get approval from the Board of Foreign Missions. On June 26th the board passed their acceptance and the Arabian Mission was born. Through the personal donations of several people, the Arabian Mission finally had enough money to send their first missionary out.
On October 16th, 1889 James Cantine was sent out to begin language study in Syria. A year later, on June 28th 1890, Samuel Zwemer followed and met up with Cantine in Beirut. Subsequently, Cantine travelled to Suez, Aden, Belhaaf, Muscat, Bombay, Bandar Abbas, Bushire, Bahrain and Basra, where the Arabian Mission first made its base.
Samuel Zwemer, who followed after Cantine on his travels through Arabia, stopped-over in Bahrain frequently, and on Dec 7, 1892 rented a room, which led to the opening of a medical dispensary in the Old Souk in 1883. This is how one man, Samuel Zwemer, ignited the vision of a health service for Bahrain with a single step.
A famous Arab proverb symbolises the struggle: “A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step”. By the grace of God, one man’s desire of providing modern medical care in the Arabian Gulf has produced today’s American Mission Hospital. As a non-profit healthcare institution, the hospital has flourished with strong community support for a century and is preparing for a bright future ahead.
The spirit of these missionaries inspired American Mission Hospital’s mission statement: “American Mission Hospital maintains a century-long commitment to provide quality, affordable medical services to all who seek our care, to carefully manage the process by which quality care is delivered, and to embody the Biblical principles of grace, truth and love.”
Foundations Laid in Stone
On January 26th, 1903, after much hardship, the Mason Memorial Hospital, Bahrain was dedicated to God and Arabia.
“Where a year ago were mat huts now stands that magnificent building – [a] glorious monument to the generosity of the Mason family… On Sabbath, Jan. 26th, the hospital was dedicated to God and Arabia.”
Soon after, following [the] problems with the newly sunk water well, the Reformed Church at Waupun (Wisconsin) had donated an American windmill and sent it over to Bahrain. Zwemer, who thought he knew much more than he actually did, assembled the wind tower as the other men helped to put it all together. By now several hundred were watching this magnificent performance. As Zwemer gave the signal, the steel structure rose to an angle of fifty degrees, buckled, and crashed to the ground! Subsequently sailors of the S.S. Assyria and an old friend of the missionaries, Engineer Corbett repaired the structure and hoisted it up giving Bahrain its first working windmill.
In March 1903, the first of many epidemics hit Bahrain in the form of smallpox. The late rains had caused an increase of fever, pneumonia and diphtheria cases, amongst other diseases. On April 26th, just as the weather had begun to warm up, Dr. Sharon Thoms was presented with the first case of bubonic plague. Most of the victims hit by the plague were dying within forty-eight hours of their first symptoms. Each night a long death wail could be heard through Manama as yet another funeral procession made its way to the hastily dug graves in the cemetery behind the hospital. Whole families were destroyed by the disease.
Shortly after the plague broke out some of our enemies did their best to spread reports that the Christians had poisoned wells.
109 years later, the tradition of the missionaries and their service to the island of Bahrain still embodies the principals on which we serve the people of Bahrain.