The Missionary Mindset series looks into the lives of notable missionaries to provide valuable insights and inspiration. Read the last post in the Missionary Mindset series here.
By the end of his life, Samuel Zwemer was known as the “The Apostle to Islam.” The hard soil of the Middle East did not deter him from following God’s call to Muslim strongholds in hopes of sharing the Son and glorifying the Father. Though he saw few come to faith, Zwemer’s courageous faith in the midst of great opposition paved a path for those called to Muslim ministry today.
Before he was born, Zwemer’s mother prayed he would be a missionary. And God was faithful to answer her prayers.
In 1887 he graduated from Hope College in Holland, Michigan and dedicated his life to the Great Commission. He continued his education at New Brunswick Theological Seminary where he met James Cantine. By the end of their theological studies, the pair had a mutual desire to “go to some needy field and possibly start a new work.”
They chose to go to Arabia together, which was an area known to be incredibly difficult field and an Islam stronghold.
Zwemer and Cantine soon learned their passion to impact Muslims with the gospel was not shared among many missions organizations. Middle Eastern soil was hard, and no ministry was willing to support their work.
With no sending agency backing them, the pair petitioned each other’s church networks to fund their work. The result was the formation of the American Arabian Mission. Zwemer began his Muslim ministry in Busrah, Bahrain in 1890.
In 1896, he married Amy Wilkes and the couple worked overseas together until 1905 when they returned to the United States on furlough. Their time stateside was spent advocating and influencing many to serve in Islamic settings.
The Zwemers’ next long-term missionary stop was Egypt, where they spent 16 years publishing Christian resources geared toward a Muslim audience. Most of their ministry was located in Arabia and North Africa, but the couple also spent substantial time working in Asia Minor before permanently returning to the States in 1929.
Although he would remain stationed in the States for the remainder of his life, Zwemer did not stop mobilizing believers to the unreached. As a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, his missionary mindset impacted thousands of students toward the mission field.
He retired at the age of 70, but continued sharing the lessons the Lord taught him through public speaking engagements and publications. In 1952, Zwemer passed away in New York City at the age of 84.
Zwemer’s legacy extends far past his time of service in the Muslim world.
Though he spent decades in the field, Zwemer only witnessed a handful of people trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But that wasn’t his measure of success. In a journal entry he wrote, “The chief end of missions is not the salvation of men but the glory of God.”
And God was certainly glorified by Zwemer’s life.
On the field, four missions stations were set up through his efforts, the church he established in Bahrain continues to gather and grow today, and his Christian publications have had an immeasurable impact in the Middle East, North Africa, and around the world.
His paper trail of influence continues today through 37 years worth of publications of The Moslem World—a quarterly missionary publication on Muslim missions—and the books he authored throughout his lifespan.
And lastly, his public addresses lit the passion of many missionaries who embarked on a journey to some of the world’s hardest spiritual soils.
There is no doubt that calling Samuel Zwemer “The Apostle to Islam,” accurately describes a man whose lifework was centered on leading Muslims to Christ.
More Inspiration from Samuel
The words Zwemer penned continue to convict and inspire believers to respond faithfully to the Great Commission. Below are some of our favorite quotes:
- “The great Pioneer Missionaries all had 'inverted homesickness' this passion to call that country their home which was most in need of the Gospel. In this passion all other passions died; before this vision all other visions faded; this call drowned all other voices. They were the pioneers of the Kingdom, the forelopers of God, eager to cross the border-marches and discover new lands or win new-empires.”
- “If God calls you and no board will send you, bore a hole through the board and go anyway.”
- “The unoccupied fields of the world must have their Calvary before they have their Pentecost.”
- “The chief end of missions is not the salvation of men but the glory of God.”
- “The history of missions is the history of answered prayer.”