The DNA of Legacy Ministries (aka Samuel Zwemer Muslim Ministry Conference)
Engraved on the Zwemer family headstone in Pilgrim Cemetery in Holland Mi is the following bequest...My sword to my successor , to him that can my courage…These words taken from John Bunyan’s pilgrims progress were spoken by Mr. Valiant for Truth. I could and did take up the courage and the sword and inherited legacy offered by the Great Apostle to Islam Samuel Marinus Zwemer.
Legacy…what is it?
2 Tim.2: 2-3 records Paul’s bequests to Timothy...And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. Share in suffering as a good soldier.
Legacy is a marvelous concept. It is that which is handed down from a predecessor, a bequeathed property or heritage that will not be permitted to defect from the intent of the one who made the will and embodied the legacy. Legacy is a sacred trust to be received and passed on
Why the Legacy of Samuel Marinus Zwemer?
Samuel Zwemer was a pioneer missionary to Muslim peoples. Of those laboring among Muslim peoples, there is no one like him, singular in vision, wisdom, spiritual truth, prayer, strategy, mobilization, courage, winsomeness, influence, scholarship and leadership earning him the title…”The Apostle to Islam.” This is a kairos moment Muslims. Our heavenly Father has orchestrated times and circumstances to complete the inheritance of the nations. He promised to his Son, our Lord Jesus. That inheritance largely consists of 1.8 billion Muslim peoples.
The legacy of Samuel Zwemer has its genetic DNA in the soil of Western Michigan. In 1887 the first band of students from the student Volunteer movement that coalesced at Mt Hermon MA 1886, came through Hope College in Holland Michigan calling Hope students to join in a generational calling of ‘ The evangelization of the World in our generation”. Princeton student Robert Wilder gave the challenge and Samuel Zwemer signed the World missions pledge card. During the decades of the Student Volunteer Movement approx. 100,000 students committed themselves to the evangelization of the world in their generation.
While still at New Brunswick Theological Seminary in NJ, Zwemer, 2 other students Phelps and Cantine and Hebrew professor DR. Lansing formed the Arabian mission board to send students Cantine, Zwemer and others after them to the Muslim peoples.
Zwemer embodies an apostle in the legacy of the apostle Paul. His labors were profound and foundational, plowing hard soils and planting seeds of the gospel among Islamic peoples. His character was stellar, his spirit robust likeable instilling vision and courage to thousands of young adults and decades of missionaries who would plant and harvest after him. Zwemer’s legacy is also one of sound orthodox Biblical Theology, studied and experienced research, mapping, translating, statistic gathering. He opened the church to Muslims and the high priority for Muslim missions and evangelism. Muslims knew him as a man of prayer, kindness and love of discussing the faith and the gospel of Christ. After serving faithfully among Muslim peoples, he dedicated himself with even more fervor to call, train and send the next generation and the church to carry on the kingdom advance among Islamic peoples.
After WW2, liberalism crept into the mainline churches and the protestant missionary movement, necessitating another wineskin to hold new wine for the next era. One of those wineskins was Urbana where Zwemer was the first speaker.
Rejected and reclaimed
The legacy and teaching of Zwemer fell into disfavor especially in his denomination the Reformed Church in America and at Hope College until the calling of Rev. Ben Patterson as the Dean of the Chapel in 1995. A group of students had been praying for a spiritual revival thus bringing a worthy shepard of that revival . During Rev. Patterson’s leadership a generation of students were infused with a love for Christ, his love for the world and their place in that kingdom work especially among the nations. Chapel attendance grew form 20-40 to 1500 where it remains to this day.
I served on staff with Rev. Patterson in New Jersey when he accepted this calling. I remembered that one of my favorite mission articles “ The Glory of the Impossible” was written by a man from Hope College in Holland Michigan. My mentor Dr. J Christy Wilson was a friend and colleague of Zwemer and had greatly influenced us at Gordon Conwell to consider Muslims as the highest priority for the gospel. I called Christy and asked him what he knew about Zwemer and Hope College and informed him of Rev. Patterson’s calling there. He informed me that he and his wife Betty had been praying that Ben Patterson would be used to start the second Student Volunteer Movement and to complete the work begun by Zwemer. He suggested that I was to be part of reclaiming that legacy.
That was my call to move to Holland Mi and for a while just believe and speak that to others. Part of that reclaiming involved starting the missions class Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Christy Wilson was the first professor asked to teach. He came from Gordon Conwell and told the Zwemer story to a packed Chapel, the Perspectives class, and to Hope students who had accompanied him to Zwemer’s grave at Pilgrim Cemetery. He prophesied reclaiming that legacy. Many did take up that courage and started a wave of world Christian workers among Muslim peoples.
Soon thereafter I founded the Samuel Zwemer Muslim Ministry Conference. Its purpose is to envision, train, mentor and send multitudes to these 1.8 billion Muslims. Through a statewide partnership of workers among Muslims, we determined that the training would be culturally enhanced by moving it to Dearborn Michigan, the most Arabic concentration of people in America.
We take up the prayer of Abraham, Zwemer and the Arabian Mission Board…OH THAT ISHMAEL MAY LIVE BEFORE THEE
Rev. Barbara Yandell
Founder of Hope for the Nations and the Samuel Zwemer Legacy Conference
December 1, 2008