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VOL. LXIX. - JULY, 1873. - No. VII.
BITLIS - EASTERN TURKEY.
BY REV. GEORGE C. KNAPP.
Bitlis is a straggling town of 30,000 inhabitants, ensconced on the precipitous slopes of high mountains, and twelve miles south of the western end of Lake Van. It is situated on the Bitlis River, which from this place commences its rapid descent of 3,000 feet, passing through a most romantic gorge of thirty miles extent, credibly supposed to be the retreating route of Xenophon's " Ten Thousand." No other feasible pass by which to ascend upon the high tableland of Armenia is to be found within one hundred and fifty miles.
Bitlis abounds in numerous mountain springs, affording a bountiful supply of excellent, pure water. Many valuable mineral springs are also found. These are already appropriated, to some extent, by the people, and may, as civilization advances, become a notable resort for invalids. A bottle of effervescent water from one of these has recently been sent to Harvard College, and a careful analysis: furnished by the courtesy of the Analyst, Prof. E. H. Swallow. From one of these springs, five miles south of the city, is a wonderful deposit of calcareous rock, twenty rods long and fifty feet high, jutting down to the river, wholly obstructing the way for travelers. To effect a passage here, a cut fifteen feet wide and twenty feet high was made in some distant age — by some supposed to be the work of Queen Semiramis.
The engraving opposite, from a sketch taken at the summit of a rocky peak, 2,000 feet high, on the east of the southern half of the city, gives a faithful view of the wild mountain scenery of Koordistan; as well as a bird's-eye view of about one half the city below. Mr. Knapp's house (1), — near which are the Protestant chapel, girls' boarding-school, and parsonage, - is located near the edge of a bluff that overlooks the river, two hundred feet below; while at the center of the town (2) is an ancient impregnable fortress, one hundred and fifty feet high, and overlooking the many bundred trading stalls and shops at its base. Belonging to the 10,000 Armenians of the city are four monasteries (one of which is at figure 3) and as many church edifices. Being so far in the inte
1 “Number of grains to the United States gallon were, of calcium, 13.5; magnesium, 2.1; sodium, 10.2; potassium, 6.1; iron, 2.8; sulphuric acid, 12.6; chlorine, 6.6; carbonic acid, 43 ; boracic acid, 5.3.” – Professor Swallow.
rior, the place was seldom visited by Europeans, and the people, consequently, were simple and ignorant. It was, some thirty years ago, ruled by an independent Koordish chief, famed for his tyrannical oppression, from whom the city was wrested by the Turkish Government, and he was carried into exile, where he died two years since. Many a time the only apology for insult offered to the missionary or his family, while passing through the streets, has been, “O, this is Koordistan!”
When, in the spring of 1858, Mr. Knapp sought this place as a healthretreat, no missionary had visited it, but it was thought very desirable to have missionaries located here. Mr. Knapp was joined by Rev. L. T. Burbank in 1860. The first few years of missionary effort were filled with instances of severe persecution, endured by the trembling few who had the courage to abide by their convictions of duty. But seven long years of trial were rewarded by the formation of a church of five members. This church was increased by the addition of over twenty as fruits of the revival of 1866, and by forty or more as fruits of the remarkable revival in 1870. Out of the eighty present churchmembers, five have been educated as preachers, and others are now receiving education. The girls' boarding school, started in 1866 — in the main self-supporting — has prospered finely since the Misses Ely took charge of it, in 1868. To give an idea of the bigotry of the Moslems here, even at this late day, it may be stated that these ladies were unable to use a bell, furnished them by the good friends of St. Albans, Vermont, last summer (1872), although bells are used in other interior cities of Turkey; and it now remains to be seen whether our Ambassador can succeed in restoring its use.
MISSION TO ITALY.
In Italy, where of all places it would seem desirable that evangelical men should be united in the one common cause, there is, unhappily, the most intense partisan spirit. The very air seems to be infectious. Good men from this country and England, after a few days or weeks, and even after years of residence there, according to the influences they come under, seem imbued with the spirit of party, and can see no good in any other than their favorite organization or pet enterprise. The most “trustworthy” and “thoroughly reliable sources of information,” are thus at variance; and opinions expressed with the utmost assurance by the most competent observers,” but as conflicting and contradictory as they could well be, must be accepted, or great offense will be given. The poor Secretary must be very stupid not to see what is so clear to everybody.
Although much time and effort had been spent in sifting the information gained from the greatest variety of sources, yet when, upon the withdrawal of the American and Foreign Christian Union, the Prudential Committee authorized Mr. Alexander to remain in Italy, they also decided to request Mr. H. N. Bar. num, who was about to return from the United States to his field in Eastern Turkey, to take Italy on his way, and spend some weeks there. He was desired to confer not with Mr. Alexander only, but with other evangelical workers in that field, and obtain what information he could as to openings and prospects, and what
it might be best for the Board and its missionaries to attempt; and bringing his valuable missionary experience to bear upon the case, to aid both Mr. Alexander and the Secretaries and Committee at home, with suggestions and counsel. It was well understood that the difficulties to be encountered would not be slight; that the one missionary of the Board then on the ground would be urged by different friends to widely different courses ; and it was believed that he would desire, and need, the aid of a judicious counselor. This was found to be true. Greatly to Mr. Alexander's satisfaction, Mr. Barnum spent four weeks in Italy, and had favorable opportunities to see persons whom he desired to meet, and to obtain needed information. His conferences with Mr. Alexander were free, and his letters to the Missionary House full. Most of what he wrote was not intended for publication, but a part of the letter in which he presents the conclusions to which he had been brought, may properly be given here-enough, perhaps, to indicate that there will be, hereafter, many perplexities in the prosecution of a work in that land, and that missionaries who may have that work in charge will need, not less than others, to be sustained by the sympathy and prayers of the churches at home.
Mr. Barnum wrote from Venice, April 26th :
“We are to leave here on Tuesday for Vienna, and that will complete four weeks since we entered Italy. I think that you appreciated the difficulty of my position, coming into such a country for so limited a period, and without a knowledge of the language. I have done the best I could. I have written you at great length, but more in the way of narrative than of definite impression. I will try, in this letter, to give something of the results of my experience and observation.
“1. There is, on the whole, more to encourage than I had anticipated. The changes that have taken place within sixteen years, since I was here before, are very great, and apparent to the most casual observation. Not only have the governments, which then were so bigoted and despotic, given place to one that is liberal and tolerant, but the very appearance of the people has changed. They seem to occupy a higher plane. There is everywhere an open door. The truth is spreading widely, and the leaven is fairly introduced. The Government is favorable to progress. They are improving the system of education, and I am credibly informed that they look with favor upon Protestant agencies, – not, perhaps, because they are Protestant, but because they contain elements of progress. A great change, too, is going on within the Roman Catholic Church. This is in part, it is true, toward indifferentism and infidelity, but it is also in part toward a spiritual faith. The religious sentiment has not wholly died out, as has often been said to be the case. There is more good material to work upon than I had supposed. There is, too, more hope of being able to accomplish a good work in connection with the churches already organized, than I had expected.
“ 2. The difficulties are, however, very formidable. Some progress has been made in the direction of organization, but it will be a good while before the churches will take an orderly shape. It is to be feared, also, that they are largely composed of unconverted persons. This is true of all denominations alike. Respectable Protestantism is, I fear, a general passport to the communion-table. Every worker is earnest to show proof of success in tangible
results, and what more tangible than a rapid growth in membership? It is a very common thing for church-members to work on the Sabbath. An attempt to justify this is made on the ground that many are in the employ of Papists, and would lose their places were they to refuse. The Protestant name in Italy has no such association of a high-toned morality connected with it, as in Turkey. The Free-church people appreciate this, and call themselves Evangelical, instead of “Protestant. I hope that this term may become the synonym for a noble, Christian life, but I could not learn that it has become so yet.
“ The want of an educated ministry will, I trust, be soon supplied. The preaching consists too much, now, of violent attacks upon the Papacy. Such preaching does not attract the best classes, - the religious, — but rather liberals and unbelievers, who come because they relish the denunciation of the priesthood and its system. This is not the best element out of which to build up congregations and churches. Besides, there is no advantage in simply destroying a man's faith in his own system. It is better to teach fundamental truths, and these will supplant error. The trouble too often is, that we do not get beyond the unsettling of confidence in the false, and the man becomes an infidel. There is no question that infidelity is wide-spread, but it is not as bad here as in France. God grant that the introduction of the gospel may arrest this movement and save the country from atheism.
“ There is a good deal of bitterness of feeling between the Free Church and the Waldensian, which is productive of much harm. It would be a great gain, on both sides, if leaders were to lay down their weapons and labor together like brethren ; if they would not try to occupy small towns together; would not encourage a faction, and crowd in when there is a small church of the other denomination. This has been a source of much bad feeling. An •Intermissionary Committee' has been recently organized, to whom all questions of controversy between denominations are to be referred, and I hope it will save much trouble. It would seem desirable, that when a Free Church and a Waldensian are feebly struggling for existence in a small town, the weaker should give place to the stronger.
“ Another serious obstacle is the disinclination of the people to contribute money for the support of their own institutions. They have not been accustomed to give, and have little thought of doing anything for themselves. This is true of all denominations. The difficulty of remedying this evil is greatly enhanced by the multiplicity of agents engaged in this work of evangelization. Besides the societies represented, there are a good many individual enterprises. Many churches and laborers are supported by private persons, and it will not be easy to secure anything like a definite system. Mr. is a thorough convert to the theory of self-support, and he and Mr. Alexander will try to reduce the theory to practice among the Free churches, and to persuade the Waldenses and others to adopt the same. A tract on the subject, which I prepared by request, is to be translated into Italian and to have a general circulation. In that tract I also urged the necessity of individual labor for Christ, after the example of the primitive churches.
“ Such are some of the difficulties in the way, — difficulties very formidable, but which I trust may be overcome by steady, intelligent effort, and especially by the coöperation of the Holy Spirit.