Glossary of Missionary and Humanitarian Terms

Glossary of Missionary and Humanitarian Terms

Acronyms save time in writing and speaking—but only if you know what they mean. ABCFM? ACASR? ACRNE? And what exactly is “Oriental”? This glossary of missionary and humanitarian terms will help you keep it all straight.

The Acorne
This was the weekly newsletter of ACRNE. Cute, eh? It was an especially good name when you consider the saying: “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow”, meaning that something small and unimpressive may grow into something great. The newsletter consisted of condensed reports, letters and shared tips from the relief workers in Turkey, and advice from the governing committee. It was printed in 1919-1920, changing to Near East Relief when ACRNE became NER.
American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (American Board or ABCFM)
ABCFM was created in 1810 by Congregationalists in Massachusetts. It was among the first American Christian mission societies, and by the late 1800s was the largest, having missions in Africa, India, China, Japan, the Ottoman Empire, and other places, such as Hawaii and later Mexico and Spain. By the early 1900s it had turned over its missions in Persia to the Presbyterian Board, and had closed its unsuccesful mission in Jerusalem. In its publications it referred to its missions as being in Turkey, rather than the Ottoman Empire, even though its “European Turkey” missions were actually in the Balkans. Its “Asiatic Turkey” missions were divided into three groups: Western, Central and Eastern (see map). Though there were missionaries from other countries in Turkey in the early 20th century (British, German, Danish and Swedish), ABCFM missionaries constituted the largest numbers, by far. One important thing (for me) to note: The foreign missions of the Congregational churches in Canada merged with the American Board in the mid-1800s; as in keeping with our population ratio of 1:10, approximately 10% of ABCFM missionaries were Canadian. In 1961 ABCFM ceased to exist when it merged with other Christian mission societies to form the United Church Board for World Ministries, an agency of the United Church of Christ.
American Committee for Armenian and Syrian Relief (ACASR)
In April 1915 American Ambassador Henry Morgenthau notifyed his boss, the Secretary of State, about the atrocities directed by the Ottoman government against its Armenian citizens. Within weeks James Barton, head of the ABCFM, approached a group of prominent New Yorkers to help. By September, he and Cleveland Dodge, a mining magnate and friend of President Woodrow Wilson, had organized ACASR. At their first meeting on September 16th they raised $60,000 ($1.4 million today), which they sent to Morgenthau for relief distribution. Dodge personally covered all operating expenses as ASACR began serious fundraising campaigns.
American Committee for Relief in the Near East (ACRNE)
Sometime in 1918 ASACR changed its name to ACRNE when it became apparent that destitute people in the Near East (see Orient) other than Armenians and Assyrians needed help, too. Its name changed again in 1919 to NER, perhaps because the workers themselves shortened the full name to “Near East Relief” when referring to their employer.
Armenian Relief Association of Canada (ARAC)
Canadian fundraising efforts were not organized on a large scale until 1916. Before that contributions were individual, and sent to the American or British organizations, due to the Canadian affiliation with ABCFM and Canada being part of the British Empire. By June 1916 there was a massive campaign under the banner of ARAC, organized by The Toronto Daily Star, and publicized by The Globe and 25 other Ontario newspapers. By 1922 Canadians from across the country had contributed almost $1 million ($14.3 million today) to the relief effort.
The Puritans were among a group of dissenters who broke away from the Church of England in the late 16th century to try to purify Protestantism of its Roman Catholic roots and rituals. Most of the various Protestant denominations were governed by a central ecclesiastical authority, but one group stood out from the others because of the members’ conviction that each congregation should govern itself (hence, Congregationalists). They chose a minister to lead them in religious services, and deacons to help guide their decision-making, but no minister or deacon had any greater status or voting rights than any other member of the congregation. They believed that each person had the right to a personal interpretation of the principles of Christianity. The Puritans who settled in “New England” in 1620-30 were Congregationalists. In fact, I was able to trace the ancestry of missionary Susan Wealthy Orvis all the way back to these Puritan settlers. Some Congregational churches merged with other evangelical denominations over the years, though there are many Congregationalists still practising throughout the world today.
The Levant
The Levant is an ancient term that refers to the region of countries surrounding the eastern Mediterranean Sea, from Libya and Egypt to Turkey, and on to Greece. The origin of the word is Italian levante, meaning rising, as the sun does in the east. The term was common in travel writing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today it is mostly used by archeologists.
Levant Trade Review
The American Chamber of Commerce for the Levant published this mostly-monthly newsletter from its base in Constantinople in 1911-31, though it was suspended from late 1916 to June 1919, during WWI. It advised its subscribers of trade opportunities in the region, and of the political situations that could affect them.
Life and Light for Woman
The journal of the WBM was a monthly, consisting mainly of photographs and excerpts of letters from the women missionaries the WBM supported. There were, of course, letters from men that were published, too. In its first year, 1871-72, it was known as Life and Light for Heathen Women, but by 1873 the editorial committee had become enlightened and dropped the word heathen. It ran until December 1922, when the decision was made to merge the WBM with the ABCFM, and only publish one journal: The Missionary Herald.
Lord Mayor’s Fund
Similar to the creation and timeline of ASACR, a group of prominent Londoners, led by Lord James Bryce, Liberal politician and former Ambassador to the United States, created a fund to raise money for relief. In the United Kingdom, it was offically known as The Lord Mayor’s Armenian Refugees Fund. Similar Lord Mayor’s funds were established in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and other parts of the British Empire. (See ARAC for Canada’s contribution.)
The Missionary Herald
The journal of the American Board was a monthly, consisting mainly of photographs and excerpts of letters from missionaries. The publication ran from 1821 to 1934.
Near East Relief (NER)
NER evolved from ASACR and ACRNE, and was created in 1919 through a US Congressional charter. From 1915-22 the NER contributed $4.2 million (60 million in 2016 dollars) directly in goods and services, 730 personnel, and $73 million ($1.06 billion today) in financial aid to the relief effort. In 1930, NER was renamed Near East Foundation (NEF) to reflect the new focus on long-term social and economic development, rather than on emergency relief.
Orient / Oriental
Traditionally, history has been written by the most powerful. From the Middle Ages until World War I, that meant Europeans. From their perspective at the centre of the universe, every other place was defined geographically in relation to Europe. Therefore, before the “discovery” of North America, everything was east of Europe, making Europe “the West”. The term “Orient” comes from Latin: oriens meaning east. Thus, anything from or pertaining to the east was known as oriental. By the mid-1800s, China, Japan and other Asian countries became known as the Far East. Being much closer to Europe, the Ottoman Empire was the Near East. (The term Middle East came into use sometime after 1922.)
The Orient
This was an English-language weekly newspaper published by Bible House in Constantinople starting int 1910. It reported on the comings and goings of missionaries in ABCFM’s Turkey, included translated excerpts from other newspapers in the region, and editorials. It was heavily censored in 1914, suspended at the end of 1915, resumed in 1919, and ceased existence in 1922.
Red Cross / Red Crescent
The International Committee of the Red Cross, a name adopted in 1876, was founded in Geneva, Switzerland in 1863 to support national relief societies for wounded soldiers, and ensure protection for them and the volunteer forces providing relief for them. A white armlet with a red cross became the recognized protective symbol for medical personnel in the field (the inverse symbol of the flag of Switzerland). Each country was responsible for creating its own Red Cross organization. During the war with Russia (1876–1878), the Ottoman Empire organized the Red Crescent society with the half-moon symbol an inverse from the one on its flag.
Relief Work
Relief was the term commonly used for government or charitable assistance until after WWII. Today international relief is called humanitarian aid. The shift from religious relief to humanitarianism began with the work of ACASR, ACRNE and NER. Keith David Watenpaugh documented the significance of these early efforts in his 2015 book, Bread from Stones: The Middle East and the Making of Modern Humanitarianism.
Woman’s Board of Missions (WBM)
It was clear to mission societies in the 1830s that women were needed as missionaries. In most of the homes the societies were trying to visit, women were secluded and were not allowed to be with a man who was not their husband. In Britain, the societies started recruiting single women for this purpose. In the United States the head of the ABCFM, Rufus Anderson, was (in my opinion) a misogynist and wouldn’t hear of the idea. American women had to wait until he retired in 1866. By 1868 they organized a sister organization called Woman’s Board of Missions. It was based in Boston, as was the ABCFM, but grew so well that within a couple of years, WBM supported women missionaries on the East Coast, and had two affiliates: Woman’s Board of Missions of the Interior (WBMI) and of the Pacific (WBMP). Its journal was Life and Light for Woman. Collectively known as WBM, the organization eventually became professionally run in way that would rival any of the best charities today. In fact, it was so successful in recruitment, publicity and fundraising that some men in the ABCFM became jealous. Under considerable pressure, the WBM merged with the ABCFM in 1923 and ceased to exist.
Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA)
The YMCA was founded in 1844 by George Williams in London to put Christian principles into practice. The three sides of its familiar triangular red logo represents the three healthy components of a man: mind, body and spirit. Until the mid-20th century the Y had a strong emphasis on “spririt” and Christian faith, manifested in a variety of charitable activities. Before the Russian Revolution, the American YMCA sent volunteers called “secretaries” to act as lay preachers and supporters for Russian soldiers. Susan Wealthy Orvis travelled across Siberia with several YMCA secretaries on her journey to Alexandropol [Gyumri] in 1917 on behalf of the ASACR.
Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA)
The YWCA was never part of the YMCA, though many YW and YM organizations are affliated. It was founded in England in 1855 by Lady Mary Jane Kinnaird and Emma Robarts. The original aim was to support single women who moved from rural areas to London to work. It adopted the triangle of the YMCA, but in blue, and was committed to the positive development of Christian women. Though not as active internationally as the men’s organization, it did have a small presence in the late Ottoman Empire.

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All covers used in the montage above are in the public domain, most courtesy of Wikimedia. The NER logo is courtesy of Records of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, affiliates, and successor organizations. Turkey and the Balkans, 1825-1999. American Research Institute in Turkey, United Church of Christ, SALT Research.

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