Protestant Missions Impact on the Church of the East
In 1869 the Church Missionary
Society of Great Britain commenced work in Esfahan and in the
following year renamed the undertaking among Nestorians the
"Mission to Persia." The Presbyterian Board of Foreign Mission
now took over the stations already founded in Tehran, Tabriz,
Hamadan, and Rasht. Meanwhile, the Nestorian Evangelical church
established itself as a separate organization. By 1880, the
Protestant community had a civil head representing the community
before the government.
In 1877 the Anglicans who had
been absent for thirty-five years owing to the ill-fated mission
of Badger, were back at work among the Chaldean Nestorians. This
time, they were better received by Persian officials. Even
American missionaries fared better after acquiring a fuller
knowledge and appreciation of Nestorian culture.
Support for Chaldean
Nestorians was boosted with the archaeological discoveries of
Nineveh and Assyria and with the growing belief that the
Chaldean Nestorians were descendants of the warrior race that
had lived there.
British interest in them was
aroused at the highest level of government and the Ottoman
government was urged to safeguard the Nestorians interests and
heritage in the face of increased Kurdish aggressiveness. When
British efforts failed them, the Nestorians did not hesitate to
turn to the Russians for protection after the latter had
expanded southward into the Caucasus . To gain this support, the
bishop of Urmia promised to renounce "error" and return to
Christian orthodoxy. Petersburg church authorities dispatched
priests and monks to Azerbaijan in 1897 to aid in the process.
When Japan defeated Russia in 1905, however, one Nestorian
congregation joined the United Lutheran church, demonstrating
the political nature of the Nestorians' move. Meanwhile, the
Anglicans moved their headquarters to Van. The German Orient
Mission established an orphanage in Urmia, and various
denominations of Baptists followed.
The Ottomans were growing
suspicious of all these Western missions and began to refer to
the Armenians as the "Americans," which only aroused opposition
to the American missionaries. The American missionary Benjamin
Labaree was killed by a Kurd near Urmia in 1904. World War I
brought the retreat of the Russians, and American missionaries
found themselves caring for refugees of all denominations.