Sunday, September 15, 2013

Cyrus Hamlin - The first BAM practicioner in Turkey

Business as Mission and Business for Transformation (B4T) are something being "discovered" by the Church thanks, in part, to people like Patrick Lai. But as I read books from the 1800s, I discover a whole lot of history, ideas, and "pioneering" that have simply been forgotten...there really is "nothing new under the sun" (Ecc. 1:9).

Cyrus Hamlin is a case in point, a truly remarkable American missionary to Armenians in Istanbul from 1838-1876. His life story is told in his autobiography, My Life and Times, which you can read for free. It is that book which which I quote from below.

Before entering full-time ministry, Hamlin had been an apprentice silversmith and jeweler in Maine. He had an engineering mind, and even created the first steam engine in the state of Maine while he was an undergraduate. He took his skills overseas when he was posted to Istanbul, after completing seminary.

Hamlin helped establish a Protestant seminary in Istanbul, reaching Armenians. His students were poor, requiring scholarships, and were facing heavy persecution from both Armenian Catholics and the  Armenian Orthodox, which forbid congregants from doing business with them, and tried to get the seminary shut down.  Hamlin begged the American Board to grant him funds and permission to start a workshop at the school to teach his students' viable trades. The board complained that Hamlin was trying to "secularize the ministry:"

"The skill and industry of the boys became too interesting and attracted too much attention. The Turks considered me specially Satanic, because, has has been stated, all skill and invention according to their theology, or demonology, come from Satan. Then, too, my Christian brethren feared that I was secularizing the missionary work. It was not liked at the Missionary House. My brother Hannibal, then residing in Boston, heard so many unfriendly criticisms, that he wrote to me, begging me to make a defense of my course...I was doing, in a poor feeble way, and in only a few cases, what our Saviour did for the lame, the halt, and the blind. I had the lame and the blind, and I resolved to help them in the best way I could and to the extent of my ability, fearing naught" (276-278).
Hamlin's plan worked. Training students in basic metalwork and carpentry helped them secure jobs and start businesses of their own.

"The success of our workshop enabled me to give various employments to the most necessitous of men with families, who had not been able to obtain any work" (291).

The Christian nature of Hamlin's students endeared them to the community, as one customer said "These Protestants do not overcharge and cheat like other men, but they are just and speak the truth!" (292).

These tradesmen went on to pastor churches, and provide income for churches they were a part of. Hamlin converted part of the workshop into a bakery that became wildly successful-- Hamlin secured the contract to be the sole provider of bread to the British Army's hospital in Istanbul during the Crimean War. Hamlin credits these enterprises for the funds to build thirteen protestant Armenian churches in Turkey (272). There was apparently a great movement of God in seeing Armenian churches planted in these years, and Hamlin's courage to teach enterprise alongside theology was a part of what helped it grow.

Hamlin's reputation in the community and around the world helped him found Robert College, an institution which still stands in Istanbul today. I'm sure he'd find it amusing that in 2013 several missions organizations are now exploring "business as missions" and maybe even patting themselves on the back for their pioneering work.

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