“Adult Sunday-Schools Among the Nestorians”

BIPOC Voices in the Victorian Periodical Press

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ADULT Sunday-schools are a very useful instrumentality, and we have known them worked with great effect in country parishes at home, where the services in the church have been morning and afternoon. The village school was filled in the evening with a number of persons, many of whom would find it difficult, if not impossible, to attend on a week-day evening—persons of different ages, and several amongst them very old. Such as could read occupied the foremost benches: the clergyman stationed himself in the midst of the circle. A chapter was read verse by verse, questions asked and encouraged, and instruction given; and amongst other effects produced, many were induced to attend the week-evening adult school in the winter season, that they might also be able to read the Holy Scriptures.

We now give some account of an adult Sunday-school in a far-distant part of the world: it is in connexion with the work which the American Missionaries are carrying forward among the Nestorian Christians on the borders of Turkey and Persia. The account is given by Yonan, a native teacher, in a letter addressed to his friends in the United States. We think it will be read with interest.

I thought I had better teach the old women, because they are very ignorant, and very little esteemed in this country. I desired from all my heart to take pains with them. Miss Fisk gave me "Line upon Line," and I have taught them in this to the time of the Israelites' leaving Egypt. I also teach them more than this book contains; and there are women who can commence at the beginning of the Old Testament and recite as far as this perfectly.

When I commenced this class there were only six or seven women; but now I have thirty-seven, sometimes forty; for those women who come see how good it is to learn, and, like the Samaritan woman, go and proclaim it to others, and from this the number continually increases. The Nestorian women, especially the aged women, have a habit, when two meet together, to engage earnestly in relating old wives' fables, in slandering, and idle conversation. These women were such; and whenever they came to church, whether on the way or during the preaching, we could find no way in which to stop their injurious, lying conversation. Awakening sermons and fearful words were to them as seeds cast by the wayside. Though they have heard preaching for fifteen years, still we find them very ignorant; and they themselves are becoming sensible of their ignorance. They often say to me, "If you had taught us in this way during these years that are passed, we should now have been well acquainted with the Scriptures."

And, friends, it is true that we find this kind of teaching, these Sunday-schools, the best net we have spread for these women, as well as for others. What I teach on one Sabbath I require them to be ready to repeat on the next; and to do this they are obliged to almost entirely forsake their gossip. As soon as they come out of the church they lay hold of the readers on the way, and those in their houses, to ask them about what they have heard, that they may not forget it. If you were to see their diligence and great effort in this work, and the great change in their habits, you would wonder and rejoice. When we teach them about Adam and Eve, and their fall, or about the deliverance of Noah and the destruction of others, or about Abraham offering his son, or about the journey of father Jacob, or about Joseph in Egypt, and we ask them if they are like these persons—if they love God as they did—then the tears roll down their cheeks, and it is evident they are deeply affected.

There is one woman in the class who was a Nestorian by birth, and became a Mussulman for as many as thirty years. She followed the religion of the false prophet, but she is now again with us, studying the Scriptures. When we commenced the class there were several young women in it; but I gave them spelling-books, and told them it was not proper for them to sit with the aged women: they were not too old to learn to read.

Another class is taught by John. At its commencement there were only ten in it, and sometimes there were less; but now there are thirty or forty white-bearded men in this class. John takes a great deal of pains to teach them, and they have learned from the beginning of the Old Testament to the building of the tabernacle. He asks them questions, and they answered very well indeed. He was once asking them questions in regard to what he had previously taught them, when an old man cried out, "I know nothing; but this I know, that the Missionaries, and this kind of instruction, are right." Though that man is very ignorant, still he rejoices in this work.

Before we had the school in the church we could not keep these men from going to the market on the Lord's-day, nor from idle conversation about this and that. They used to assemble in the streets, sit in the sun, and spend the Sabbath in idleness. About half the time they would appear in the preaching exercises, and then we lost sight of them. They would never spend an entire Sunday without bringing into it some worldly business. I blame them not, because they are not readers; and weak human nature grew weary under six sermons. But they are delighted with the school, and when we wish to close the exercises they are not willing. They do not wish to sit in the streets now on the Sabbath, but to sit in the church and learn; and when they see other men in the streets they bring them with them to school. If one of these men is absent for a Sabbath he is very sorry the next time, because his companions have gone before him; so all try to be present every week. There were at first some young men in this class who thought they could not learn to read, but we gave them books last Sabbath, and charged them to read.

Now I will tell you about the women and girls who have learned to read in these two years. One girl, who has never been to school, has read her New Testament twice through, and has begun to read the Old Testament, translating from the ancient Syriac. There are sixteen women who have learned to read well in the New Testament. These women have never been to school, nor have they time to go, for they are labourers, and have a great deal of work. But they love to read; and when they go out in the summer to their vineyards or fields, to weed, they carry their books with them, and when they sit down to eat and rest a little, while their companions sleep, they read. Others, who have not oil to light their houses, read by moonlight. Others, when they are spinning, put their books on a little shelf, and spin and read. All these women love the Sabbath-school dearly, because it helps them in their reading.

Of the men who have these years learned to read, one has finished his Testament, and fourteen others read well. It is a very difficult thing for them to read, for they have a great deal of work in winter and summer. They are very poor, and cannot leave their work to go to school. This they do that they may learn. When they go out to plough, or dig, or harvest, they put their books in their pockets, and at the time for rest, when their companions lie down, they read. Though they may be very tired when they come from their work at night, they always read, however late it may be. One of these men of whom I have spoken is so earnest to read, that when he gets up in the night, to take care of the cattle, he never sleeps afterwards, but reads till morning. When his family knew this, they waked him no more to work in the night, because he burned so much oil. There are some of these men who give a little child a cent, to give at the monthly meeting, for teaching them, and so they gather up knowledge. When they come to evening prayers they bring their books with them, and read till the people assemble. Besides these, we have men and women who read in the spelling-book. They read so well, that they are almost ready to go into the gospels. These, also, are very zealous in their work.

Digital Publication Details

Title: “Adult Sunday-Schools Among the Nestorians”

Creator(s): Anonymous; Yonan

Publication date: (1852) 2022

Digital publishers: One More Voice, COVE

Critical encoding: Kenneth C. Crowell, Dino Franco Felluga, Cassie Fletcher, Kayla Morgan, Jocelyn Spoor, Adrian S. Wisnicki

One More Voice identifier: liv_026016

Cite (Chicago Author-Date): Anonymous, and Yonan. (1852) 2022. “Adult Sunday-Schools Among the Nestorians.” Edited by Kenneth C. Crowell, Cassie Fletcher, Kayla Morgan, and Jocelyn Spoor. In “BIPOC Voices,” One More Voice, solidarity edition; Collaborative Organization for Virtual Education (COVE). https://onemorevoice.org/html/bipoc-voices/digital-editions-amd/liv_026016_HTML.html.

Rights: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International

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