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Spoiling For a Mission

Spoiling For a Mission

I marvel that the first foreign language heard by the first missionary of the ARP church was Arabic. This occurred when Mary Galloway Giffen arrived in Cairo in 1875 and represented our denomination’s first efforts to reach the Muslim people with the Gospel.

In the 1860s, more than 50 years after the establishment of the ARP denomination, Mary Galloway petitioned the ARPs to send her as their first missionary. Shortly after this request, however, Rev. W. A. Wilson offered to give himself to the mission field. In the book, Life and Letters of Mary Galloway Giffen (here quoted throughout) her relative, Rev. J. C. Galloway comments, “The whole church hailed this step with unfeigned rejoicing as the omen of a better and brighter day for our Zion, feeling that our reproach among the thousands of Israel was now taken away.” Family troubles though prevented Rev. Wilson from being sent.

The first ARP Missionary United Presbyterians (UPs) well aware of Mary’s desire to be a missionary, had long encouraged the ARPs to not stop trying to send a missionary to the point of exhorting them in this letter, “You have a young lady who is spoiling for a mission.”

The UPs formally petitioned the ARPs to join them in sending a missionary to Egypt. Dr. Bonner, then President of Due West Female College and Secretary of the Board of Foreign Missions, urged her to join the UPs in this work. Mary answered, if “it was the concurrent wish of the Board,” she would willingly go. She was unanimously appointed. Most in the denomination were excited about this though a few remarked, “Why all this excitement and enthusiasm; it is only a woman. Why send her; she can’t preach the Gospel?” In hearing this, Dr. James P. Pressly instantly responded, “Indeed she will.”

Eighteen months after arriving in Cairo, she married a fellow missionary and bore three children. She spent her time starting schools, helping grow churches, and evangelizing many. Mary’s time in Northern Africa was limited to seven years, as she died of an unknown disease shortly after the birth of her third child. Her tomb resides in Cairo.

A question may well be asked of the good of such a short-lived career in such a hostile environment. On this side of history, however, we have a peek into what God did through her. First, at her farewell meeting in Due West, Rev. N.E. Pressly was so moved by her being sent out that he devoted his own life to missionary service in the country of Mexico. His work would lead to the birth of the ARP denomination in Mexico. Secondly, missionary Minnie Alexander commented that Mary’s book, Life and Letters, inspired her to take the Gospel to what is today, Pakistan, where a third denomination was thereby established. Thirdly, Mary’s courage to work in one of the most difficult evangelistic environments gives us the impetus to consider that the work in Africa is not done. From her letters, she declares, “Fanatical devotion to Mohammedanism is rare except among the poor. But Christianity is not taking its place. There is a great spectre stalking through Egypt, and that is infidelity… the religion of Jesus is nonetheless abhorred.” Almost 150 years later, we see that, if anything, the work among Muslim people is greater than ever, especially in Africa. In the next ARP magazine article, we will be studying Africa as a field of great potential for foreign missions.

Thank you, Mary Galloway Giffen, for your inspiration and pointing our denomination to the heartbeat of God for those perishing in darkness, especially in Africa. We agree with Prof E. L. Patton who, in the 1880s, said, “I do not hesitate to say that if the Due West Female College had sent forth from her walls only one such woman as Miss Mary E. Galloway, this institution would have been entitled to the lasting gratitude of the ARP church, of which she was the pioneer missionary.”

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