A Town No More
Miss Maria Anna Gerber and the Zion
Orphanage in Zinjidere
|Chapter 5 of Anatolia, Anatolia! By T.
Cosmades deals in depth with Aneta Bostanjoglou's
memories of Miss Gerber and the Zion Orphanage in
AT ZION ORPHANAGE
The Zion Orphanage
in Zinjidere was run by Swiss and Swedish
missionaries. Its founder was a single-minded
Swiss woman, Miss Maria Anna Gerber, who for a
while had accompanied D.L.Moodys
evangelistic team as a soloist.
accommodating more than two hundred orphan boys,
this well known center became a hub of spiritual
activity. A continuous flow of speakers passed
through preaching on the deeper life. What a
company of Christian luminaries in Anatolia
ministered in this place!
Prior to my
coming, this remarkable woman was in full charge.
She looked after the spiritual ministry as well
as the administrative duties -- a hard task for
any foreigner, but especially for a woman! She
always had to encounter government officials, who
as Muslims considered the female gender
second-rate creatures, only half the value of
of a picture of Miss Maria Anna Gerber and
children of the Zion Orphanage in Zinjidere
However Maria Gerber
was never put down by them. She seemed always able to
tackle a mountain of problems and encounter difficult
situations with skill. Finally, the pressures did force
her to look for a capable director to manage the affairs
of the orphanage.
The orphanage was
completed in 1908 and began operating a year later. From
its inception Haralambos offered much painstaking time
and effort to secure the necessary permission from the
government. As the need for an able administrator became
increasingly obvious, Maria Gerbers choice centered
He was traveling across
Anatolia and preaching effectively in many churches when
the invitation from the orphanage reached him. The whole
matter exercised him, so he prayed earnestly. It became
clear he was to accept the responsibility. His new job
would not terminate his preaching and evangelism.
Maria Gerber, a woman of
spiritual insight, always sought single-hearted men and
women who would not waver from their call. She confided
to me that the reason she sought my services was her
conviction that I would be attached to my task and not
This illustrious servant
of God was born in Tramelan in the Canton of Berne of
Switzerland. She was one of twelve children. Being an
ambitious girl she left her fathers farm to study
nursing and midwifery. Following her training she pursued
higher goals so went to the United States to study at
Moody Bible Institute.
After several waves of the
Armenian persecution Maria felt the urge to assist these
oppressed people in Anatolia. She persuaded another
student, Miss Rose Lambert, to accompany her. They were
not associated with any missionary organization. As the
common saying goes, they went out on faith. And what
faith it was!
They reached Mersin in the
south and moved inland. Their destination was Hajin, not
too distant from Adana. This very poor Armenian city of
thirty thousand people of whom more than two thousand
were widows, became the center of their hard labor. The
population had already sustained severe blows, and more
were in the making. Maria and Rose became the Lords
angels to thousands of bereaved, deprived people. God was
pleased to use Maria in a mighty spiritual awakening in
the midst of overwhelmingly grim and sad circumstances.
Marias next city of
service was Iconium (Konya). She gathered abandoned
orphan boys whose futures, if left alone, would have been
macabre. She placed them with families who had room and
paid their board.
She had a very wide range
of Christian friends in many lands who assisted her
ministry through prayer and gifts. The German Mennonites
were quite well off in the then-Czarist Russia. They
owned vast farmlands realizing high profits from their
crops. A great portion of her needs were met by these
Christians. How radically times and conditions have
Maria was a very
industrious person, a good organizer. She took in a few
young girls to work for her without pay. "Were
doing everything for Jesus", she would say.
The number of orphan boys
in homes quickly grew. Konya was not the ideal location
for this type of work. While this concern was occupying
her mind, an offer of free land came from Christians in
Zinjidere. It was indeed a brilliant suggestion to move
to a town with a vast Christian community, an ideal
climate and in a location removed from fermenting centers
No offer could have been
more appealing. The imaginative Swiss lady took another
step of faith. She moved on to Zinjidere to launch a
building program in a place of which she knew nothing!
Maria prayed for suitable building stones and was led to
an ample supply of beautiful granite.
One of the persons who
offered volunteer service in the building was Hampartsum
Pambukian, Haralambos old friend from Tarsus. He
installed all the plumbing. Others also joined hands to
put up the four large buildings. God so provided that an
unusual home for many orphan boys was completed.
But alas! The orphanage
was not going to operate for long. In less than ten short
years the Government took it over making it an army
barracks. This was a crushing disappointment.
There were two-hundred
fifteen lively orphan boys, both Armenian and Greek, from
several parts of Anatolia. Twelve male teachers, and I as
the only woman, taught in the school. As a bashful novice
I needed much training. Several widows worked in the
Two boys had come from the
back country with practically no training of manners. I
was given a class where most were from similar
background. Cosma, twelve years old, and Lazarus ten,
were shepherds. Their language was neither Turkish nor
Greek, but an incomprehensible village dialect. I tried
hard to make sense of this strange babbling!
Day after day I struggled
to offer the boys a measure of knowledge. But their
insistence on speaking their unintelligible dialect made
my task insurmountable. All efforts to impress on them
the benefits of speaking ordinary Greek or Turkish fell
on deaf ears. They reasoned with me that I should learn
their language instead.
Little progress was made.
One day during class they started intonating Greek
Orthodox Church chants in their dialect. The other boys
laughed, but they were not dismayed. They carried on,
asking me to join them. At my response of being
unfamiliar with it, they retorted, "What kind of a
teacher are you with such an inexcusable lack?" To
think I was unaware of church chants in their beautiful
language was insulting to them. "If you refuse to
learn our language we will ignore your teaching"
That initial year at the
orphanage school was replete with on-the-spot training.
My inefficiency as teacher became clear as I struggled to
cope with all the challenges in the classroom. I prayed
Patience toward these
wounded boys became my daily aim. After all, they were
entrusted to my care; they were my responsibility.
Consequently I did not give in to the temptations I was
facing. When the school decided to expel Cosma for his
unruly conduct, it was through my intervention that he
stayed in school. In the end, both he and his friend made
good progress and were kept from returning to the
mountains as illiterate shepherds.
During this period a
respectable distance was kept between the principal and
me. Being an eligible young man he was the object of
attention of a number of girls in town. We had had a few
exchanges of letters prior to his assuming this task.
Throughout my whole tenure in the orphanage there was
only one private conversation between us.
At the end of the year in
the orphanage I turned in my resignation to assume duties
at the American school. Miss Gerber was unhappy about my
departure and tried to convince me to stay on.
Reprinted with permission from www.armenianbiblechurch.org
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