A Lasting Legacy of Samuel and Amy Zwemer in Bahrain
Despite winning only a handful of converts, Samuel Zwemer was the greatest missionary the United States has ever sent to the Muslim world. Of him, the historian Kenneth Latourette said, “No one is more deserving of the title, ‘Apostle to Islam.’” He was a gifted evangelist, a prolific author, a compelling speaker, and a dedicated professor—never deviating from this message: Muslims need Jesus, and Christians need to reach them.
When Zwemer was asked to be the keynote speaker at the very first Urbana missions conference in 1946 (before it was called “Urbana”), he chose the theme “The Cross in Christ’s Commission.” This was seven years into his “retirement,” and six years before his death.
World War II had just ended the year before. The world was reeling under the uncertainties of atomic weapons and how the new antagonistic superpowers would go forward. Zwemer began his message,
All of Christendom and the best thinkers of the non-Christian world face the New Year with deep forebodings and a consciousness of crisis. It may be doubted whether there has ever been a time when the Christian church was beset by so many and such powerful foes. . . . Everywhere we read of persecution, closing of doors, bitter opposition, the patience of unanswered prayer, or the flaming sword of martyrdoms. The Christian church is under fire in a hostile world — a world of disillusionment and hopelessness.
This was seventy years ago. It reminds us that there never has been an ideal time for a great missionary movement. The time is always now. Into this setting, Zwemer spoke the only message that he believed could carry the day in such a world: the message of the cross…
The Zwemer Center can be traced back to “the Muslim Research Institute” of the US Center for World Mission, Pasadena, CA in September 1977. It was founded to undertake the concentrated research needed to finally open the Muslim world to the Gospel.
The following year, a “Muslim Evangelization” conference in 1978 was held at Colorado Springs, that co-opted the Board of the Muslim Research Institute. It added several members to it and commissioned them to develop an institute to serve the missionary community. The community they had in mind was yet a fledgling community of missionaries to Muslims. The Institute was to undertake much-needed research to discover who our Muslim neighbors (local and global) are, what they believe and practice, and then explore and experiment with new initiatives to present them with the Gospel.
Reaching back into history to find a suitable name, the Board chose the name of Samuel Zwemer. He was the greatest missionary America had ever sent to the Muslim world and earned the title “Apostle to Islam.” Zwemer lived and traveled in North Africa and the Middle East, mobilized students for missions, founded and edited the academic journal “Moslem World,” taught at Princeton Theological Seminary, and wrote about 50 books about Muslims and the religion of Islam. He also wrote tracts in Arabic for evangelistic purposes.
The missionary among Moslems (to whom the Cross of Christ is a stumbling-block and the atonement foolishness) is driven daily to deeper meditation on this mystery of redemption and to a stronger conviction that here is the very heart of our message and our mission. The secret of the missionary passion.