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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 Zinjidere.

Chapter 5

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.Moody’s evangelistic team as a soloist.

Besides 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 man!

Detail 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 Gerber’s choice centered on him.

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 pursue marriage!

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 father’s 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 Lord’s 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.

Maria’s 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 changed!

Maria was a very industrious person, a good organizer. She took in a few young girls to work for her without pay. "We’re 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 of unrest.

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 kitchen.

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" they threatened.

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 for guidance.

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

http://www.armenianbiblechurch.org/food corner/anatolia/anatolia_index.htm

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