This is a complete and accurate transcript of the first part of the oral history interview of Mr. Paul Votaw (Collection 105, #T2 in the archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words which were recorded were omitted. In a very few cases, the transcribers could not understand what was said, in which case "[unclear]' was inserted. Also, grunts and verbal hesitations such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. Readers of this transcript should remember that this is a transcript of spoken English, which follows a different rhythm and even rule than written English.
... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence of the speaker.
.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
() Word in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
 Words in brackets are comments made by the transcriber.
This transcription was made in the first half of 1987, by Fran Brocker and Robert Shuster.
Collection 105, Tape #T2, Interview of Rev. Paul Dean Votaw, interviewed by Robert Shuster, March 2, 1980.
SHUSTER: This is a continuation of the interview with Reverend Paul Votaw on March 2, 1980. We were talking about your interview with Herrick [sound interference]....
VOTAW: Herrick B. Young? Yes, we got to this...to the railroad station and I met them. He said, "You're just the one we're looking for. We've been praying about you all day." Oh, and then on the other tape I said that it wasn't until February that I began to make out the, the application blanks for mission work for the Presbyterian Church for Syria-Lebanon...reams and reams of paper to fill out.
SHUSTER: What kind of things did they want to know?
VOTAW: Well, they...like most such papers they want to know your past history, your education, your inclinations and why you want to...or are applying to the Board of Foreign Missions. I was already an ordained minister, having been ordained in Kansas City in 1945...uh, April. But why we want to go over there, and why we choose Syria....Of course the reason I chose Syria because they said they said there's an opening. And then they asked a number of questions about your commitment to Christ, conversion, and then the development of your faith through the years, and something about theological beliefs, and your stand in relation to the church as over against Bible, Christian faith, whatever, which is the same kind of a questionnaire that we get still, you know, in the church to keep our papers up-to-date.
SHUSTER: Had you ever thought of being as missionary with some board besides the Presbyterian board, or an independent mission board, or...
VOTAW: I think that I had thought of such a thing, but it never came about, and maybe this was part of a fault of my own indecision. But on the other hand I felt that through the process of the years in the moves from one school to another, including the move to Princeton these moves were definitely through the guidance of the Lord. So I didn't feel that I could question particularly the fact that I hadn't made a decision earlier for non-denominational mission. I think if I had done such it would have been to the China Inland Mission, or Africa Inland Mission. I knew people. Of course in those years I guess China Inland Mission was not taking recruits, I guess. But my moves into the Presbyterian Church (and kind of back and forth, Methodist to Presbyterian) I also felt were through through the Lord's guidance. Because at Ft. Worth, which I mentioned on the other tape, I had been going to the big Methodist church downtown close to where I lived, and to go way out to a small church that was a basement church, didn't even have a second floor on it yet, was not my nature at all. But the people there were my nature. And it is this sort of thing, the experience with Christian people that has led through the years. So when it came right down to it, I had been through college, seminary, and had now done graduate work at Princeton in the field of missions, ecumenics and missions. there appeared to be no openings of churches at the moment, even though I had been preaching nearly every weekend. Incidentally, at Wheaton one of my big things was weekend gospel team work.
SHUSTER: Oh what was...what was that?
VOTAW: We had a...there was a group of 4 of us, sometimes 5, that would go into Chicago or to churches in the area, to missions in Chicago, and do quartet singing, use our instruments. And we'd have a chance to witness or the two fellows and myself and another one. The other one changed from time to time (Bob Itrich [?] was one)...we would do the preaching.
SHUSTER: Was it rescue missions or...?
VOTAW: Pacific Garden Mission, the Industrial League Mission, I think, was one of them. And I think that there was a Swedish Mission or Swedish Church we...maybe it was a Swedish Mission Church...that we'd go to. And other churches, small ones and large ones. One time we went way down into Illinois somewhere. I forget the town, but we had a fall weekend down there.
SHUSTER: Did you go to the same place several times, or was it, uh...
VOTAW: Yes, we did. Not consecutively, that is, week after week, but in 3 years you know you do, you do a repeat engagement.
SHUSTER: Did you get a chance to get to know some of the people who were converted, or who had come forward at, uh...
VOTAW: well, only on the spot. We didn't keep up with...for some reason. At least I didn't. I don't think the others did either.
SHUSTER: But there were converts?
VOTAW: Oh yes, I think...I'm convinced that there were converts. I also think that sometimes in the rescue missions the men will respond to an invitation in order to get a bowl of soup and a place to sleep. I think this is an accepted [laughs] explanation of some of the activity. But it was just this type of opportunity--the man was willing to respond to an invitation so he could sleep. That gave us an opportunity to deal with them personally and get some decisions.
SHUSTER: Was this kind of work helpful to you later in the mission field, or later still in...as a pastor of a church?
VOTAW: I think it was helpful in that it gave experience appearing before the public for one thing, experience in preaching. And also it gave some experience in dealing on a one-to-one basis. One of the summer years during vacation (I was at college), I was at the, at the mission camp of the city mission in Kansas City (I was there must have been 4, 6 weeks) where we did deal with young men and boys on a one-to-one basis during a camp period. And also [at] this camp they had older men who did the farming. (It was down in central Missouri.) that camp is still in existence.
SHUSTER: That's similar to the work you did in Syria then, isn't it. The reading room with the...
VOTAW: Yes, that's right...this kind of thing.
SHUSTER: What was the strategy of the Presbyterian Mission Board for their work in Syria and Lebanon? How did they want to reach people? What did they want to do?
VOTAW: Well, I could approach this immediately from a positive point of view, but maybe to get the negative out of the way I could do it by saying that in the Moslem world it was an acknowledged fact that you didn't just do too much standing on the corner, preaching. Uh we approached mission work in Syria-Lebanon from an indirect point of view. This at first...at first was a little bit across my grain because I didn't see any reason for being indirect about it until I got over there and...and came to understand the reasons for the indirect approach. The difficulty that did exist in Syria, in particular, for people to make a drastic change from the Moslem faith to the Christian faith. So the indirect method is used by the mission, and these methods are various--education, schools, hospitals, the clinics, the sanitariums. They had an area they called "rural evangelism." Rural evangelism basically was a renovation of rural places like little villages, trying to up-date some of the sanitation systems and still make them so the rural people could manage, see but improve on conditions.
SHUSTER: Something like the Peace Corps?
VOTAW: Yes, sort of like that but of course there was the ultimate goal to direct them or to win them to Christ. And...and so the indirect method, I came quickly to accept it as a way of life and my first assignment was Girard Institute where I was teaching English. Sometimes it would become a little laborious. I thought I was wasting my time, and I was not trained to teach English anyway. But you'd think I should be able to, being English-speaking. And I taught English there my first year, and my wife also taught in the Sidon Girls' School. Incidentally, we were married in Beirut, Lebanon. She was a girl from my home church and it wasn't until I got overseas that I realized that she was the one and only for me. And so we had her come over. She had to apply to the Mission Board same as I did, answer the questions that I did, and say as a reason for her going overseas that...so she could get married. Which we often laughed at, but the Mission Board said, "Don't worry about that. One of the best of things a missionary can have is a live partner." And so she came and we were married in Beirut, and she taught our first year at the Sidon Girls' School.
SHUSTER: When you were still in the United States, did you have any preparation such as candidate school or training by the mission before they sent you over?
VOTAW: Had a few days at the Mission Board in New York. Then it was at one fifty-six Fifth Avenue. Now it's in the Inter...Interchurch building at Riverside Drive. We had a few days there of training, but I think that apart from that the training that I got was in seminary, the mission courses I took at Princeton with Christie Wilson. And also in Jerusalem where I spent four months, (four or five) in language school at the Newman School of Missions. The purpose, however, of the language school was not just simply to get introductory Arabic and the other Arab languages that were offered, but also to take courses in missions and Islamics, this sort of thing, to prepare....
SHUSTER: Do you think then you were adequately prepared when you started working as a missionary?
SHUSTER: As adequately as you could be without actual experience?
VOTAW: I suppose we were prepared as adequately as we could be under the circumstances. I think maybe nowadays they have a much more intensive preliminary course. And of course my going over was...it wasn't on the spur of the moment, but it was of such a nature after the years of my training and up and to the point "Now I've got to be doing something." that there wasn't too much of a period in there for good orientation, that is, lengthy orientation.
SHUSTER: What do you think from your education at Dallas and at Princeton was helpful to you in your work as a missionary?
VOTAW: Well, at Dallas, my major was Bible and theology and a minor in Greek. And I did a full four years at Dallas at my own volition. I had plenty of encouragement to transfer to Princeton sooner. But I insisted on finishing Dallas and the reason was that I wanted to get the full scope of their Bible oriented (English Bible) program. And I'm grateful for this, and I think this was the great contribution of Dallas to my ministry in missions, as well as the ministry, that the overview of the Bible I had received in full, see. I couldn't have gotten this in any other place that I know of, not in the years that I was spending. I've already indicated that the study of the Greek was helpful in...in preparing me to know what to expect in the Arabic language. And Hebrew also at Dallas was helpful. There are similarities...many similarities between Hebrew and Arabic. At Princeton I did take courses in ecumenics and missions, Islamics and the modern missionary movement under Christie Wilson and Dr. Jersei[?][unclear] who was Lebanese-Syrian himself, at Princeton. So the Princeton preparation was really mission-oriented more than it was Bible, though I took some Greek and Latin.
SHUSTER: So you sailed on the Vulcania...
SHUSTER: ...for...for Syria and then landed in Alexandria, Cairo, and on to Jerusalem. Do you remember much of those few weeks you spent in Egypt, impressions. [Break in tape]
VOTAW: We landed in Alexandria. We were the first passenger boat to land in Naples, as well as Alexandria, after the war. And so we of course were novelties to the people. Anything American was a novelty after the war. The...the Egyptian life and culture was sort of a shock, I guess, but I don't know what one might have expected.
SHUSTER: What impressions...what what was it like?
VOTAW: The things that I remember, I guess, [pauses] in Egypt the city streets, just people milling about. And a lot of donkey drawn carts. In fact, our worldly goods were dragged between hotels and the train station by donkey and cart. It didn't need to be that way. I think we must have gone in a...a taxi, an old taxi. [Sound of a train passing in the background.] But this is one of the impressions. And the American dollar was in great demand then after the war, and everybody was wanting to exchange our money. This was true also in Naples. In those days they'd...the people would do anything to get cigarettes. Well, we didn't carry those. If we had [laughs] they would have come in real handy just to bargain with. We had only three days (the weekend of Palm Sunday) in Alexandria. And from there on Monday we went to...to Cairo where we were to wait for passage on the...on the Egyptian railroad (Orient Express, I guess) up to Haifa. But we did take the railroad from Alexandria down to Cairo, and were surrounded by the natives, which was an unusual kind of experience. Going through the villages and along the Nile River. Cairo...we were there for 10 days. We experienced such mundane things such as getting dysentery...sick, and bed bugs and all that. And then trying to find ourselves a way to get rid of it all. However this was not the main thing of Cairo. We were able to visit around to the different monuments, the pyramids, the Sphinx. I went one day with a group, and another day I went on my own and walked all around to the smaller pyramids, then down into the what might be called the open catacombs, up around that area on my own one day. And then we visited the...the great churches of...of Cairo and the mosques. And on Easter Monday (if I remember correctly it was the day after Easter) we went to one of the British schools for...where...where all the mission English and American personnel were invited to a kind of a picnic. Easter Monday was a holiday. I don't remember specifics of the holiday, but it was a gathering of the...what to Egypt was the foreign personnel. There were with us on the Vulcania people who docked in Alexandria who were going to southern Africa, south Rhodesia, Tanganyika. My roommate on the boat was from Tanganyika, I think, an older man.
SHUSTER: Was the entire boat missionaries or was it just...?
VOTAW: No, we had everything, just everything. A good lot of them got off at Naples. A lot of Greeks, and a lot of Jews returning. And we were fortunate to have respec...fairly respectable quarters on the boat. But it was a boat that had been refurbished for transporting soldiers. So there were huge barracks, like, in the hulk of this boat. And most of the people really, they just had to live and exist in these huge places. We, though, had a room, two of us together. Right around the corner was a couple going to Iran, the Don Wallaces. People also to South Africa, and some to India. So we were gathered, see, waiting in...in Cairo for passage in all directions. It took us...there was a railroad strike in Cairo at the time. And it took ten days to get passage. And we finally did, and one of the ladies who was a nurse from Rhodesia, she knew that I was sick...had gotten sick along the way. And she felt that I shouldn't be traveling, but she didn't want to tell me so. She took my temperature after we got on the train. We were lucky to get passage, see. After we got on the train. And later on about a month later she came up to Jerusalem. (She still hadn't gotten to Rhodesia.) She told me there in Jerusalem when we were walking one day to Bethlehem (about five miles), she said, "Do you know what your temperature was that day on the train? 104 plus." She said, "I didn't have the heart to tell you to get off the train." She said, "I just went back to the hotel room and prayed." [laughs] But I got over that. Strep throat and all that went with it.
SHUSTER: And then you went through Jerusalem to Beirut?
VOTAW: We went from Cairo. We went through Port Said and up to Haifa. At Haifa we got off the train. There was no train service between Haifa and Beirut. We took a...a taxi-car...it was a public, long distance taxi), from Haifa to Beirut. And we...that was about a one-day drive, I think. I don't know if we did that on the same day we arrived in Haifa or not.
SHUSTER: Now was the work in Lebanon and Syria all together under one...?
VOTAW: It was under one mission board. Headquarters was Beirut.
SHUSTER: How...how large was the board? How many staff people were there?
VOTAW: The Mission...Presbyterian missionaries, I think were about thirty. We worked in conjunction with the Congregational Church both in Beirut and also in Aleppo. And I think that there probably were maybe twenty Congregational missionaries. In round figures it would make about fifty of us.
SHUSTER: Was there also work in Israel...in Palestine?
VOTAW: Our church did not have. But they did have their missionaries...the new missionaries, go to Jerusalem for study.
SHUSTER: How many stations were there?
VOTAW: We had...it's easier if I list them off. There weren't too many. In Beirut we had a...a girls' school and...and a junior college for women, which was the first college for women in the Near East, a very attractive place they made it. In Sidon a boys' school, and a girls' school, and off into the villages from Sidon in one place is Nabatieh. There's a boys' school there and...
SHUSTER: How is that spelled?
VOTAW: N-A-B-A-T-I-E-H. It's Nabateih. It's not far from the headwaters of the Jordan River. You go a little bit farther from Marjayoun, and look down and see the headwaters of the Jordan River and the waters of Meron before they get to Galilee. So the mission work there was close to the...I guess now, I think, maybe Golan Heights in that area. Then up the coast in Tripoli there was a boys' school and a girls' school and a hospital, a very fine hospital, Kennedy Memorial Hospital, which incidentally I understand. In the process of indigenization turning it over to the natives, the nationals through the years I think they decided there's...they cannot keep up this hospital, and there are sufficient government hospitals or other facilities in Tripoli so that was dropped But the missionaries in Tripoli, Dr. Boyes and his wife..
VOTAW: B-o-y-e-s, B-o-y-e-s, yeah, Dr. Boyes. They had a very wonderful evangelical pro...project going. A strong hospital, out not in Tripoli, but in El Mina, in the port area, the harbor area, of Tripoli with a strong evangelical thrust. And I feel that of all the...the Syria-Lebanon mission, from our point of view at least, this was one of the strongest influences of all the Near East. Then up in Aleppo, where we spent three and a half years after Sidon, there was the girls' school down in town, and the Aleppo College, where I taught. The president of the Aleppo College, Alfred Carlton, was of the Congregational Church, and some of the staff there was also. But I taught there and then the rest of the faculty was...was the natives. We...and it was in Aleppo that our assignment was to begin an...an evangel...evangelism project. But this again was to be done in an indirect way, which brings us back to where we were, I guess. So we started a reading room...community center in...on the ground floor of the apartment where we had our home, on the second or third floor. And in this reading room we used at the outset the Laubach[?] literacy method of each one teach one, very elementary things, in Arabic. And then ultimately used the Bible stories, as we had put them in Arabic, and then the Gospels. And we had young men come to our reading room who were really eager to learn Arabic because they had no other way to learn. And we also had eager ones to learn English. We concluded that maybe this was a part of our mission. So at least I could do a little more that way. And my helpers did the Arabic, but I taught English and taught English Bible to these young men who wanted to learn.
SHUSTER: Now you yourself had taken Arabic at the Newman School,...
SHUSTER: ...I'm sure, when you were at Jerusalem. You were there for the rest of '46 at the language school?
VOTAW: I was there from May,(April or May), until September. And at that time the mission had decided that they could do better with tutoring in Lebanon, than the mission...rather than the Newman School of Missions, was doing in Jerusalem. I differ with...or differed, with their opinion. I think that we were gaining much more in Jerusalem than we did with tutors. But when in...with the tutors we were able also to teach in schools, and I think there was also a need there too.
SHUSTER: How was the mission governed? Was it governed on the field or from the United States?
VOTAW: Well, we were attached to the Mission board in New York and we were responsible to them. For one thing they held the purse strings, but they also gave the directives on their....
SHUSTER: In decisions such as the one you were just talking about, using tutors instead of the Newman School. How was something like that arrived at?
VOTAW: It was arrived at by the leadership among the missionaries. The language committee, I guess, would have done that. But the report of the committee work went to the executive committee of the mission there, and the executive committee was responsible to New York. So in the long run, come or go, give or take a little, New York got the message and was in charge. But on the other hand, the mission itself was...it wasn't autonomous, but they were...they had a hold of things and were given tremendous lot of freedom.
SHUSTER: Did all the staff members have a vote after a certain time in the country?
VOTAW: I think any missionary...full fledged missionary had a vote. I don't recall that I was ever deprived of a vote.
SHUSTER: Were there annual meetings of the entire staff?
VOTAW: There were annual meetings usually in the mid-summer. But one year we were there, there was a meeting in September. And the missionaries from all parts (and some of the nationals also were invited) came to a focal point in Lebanon in the mountains in the summer where it was cool, and we had our meetings. About one week meetings. Just kind of like General Assembly in a small way.
SHUSTER: To go back for a minute to your...your time in Jerusalem. Of course while you were there one of the events was the was the bombing of the King David Hotel. [Mengin] Begin, I believe, was involved...and his group was involved in that. Did you have any contact with...with the Jewish groups, with the terrorist groups, the fighting groups.
VOTAW: We didn't have any contact with the fighting groups except as they made inroads on the peace of our living. However, I was close to the King David Hotel at the time of the explosion, and I think a half hour or an hour later I would have been right across the street at the YMCA there. But I lived in a...a hostel of the Church of God. It just happened that three of us Presbyterian missionaries were living there along with others. And we were a distance of two or three blocks distance away, I guess, from the hotel. But those blocks were just an empty field behind the YMCA hotel up on Manila Road, and King...King George the Sixth Avenue, I guess it was. So we felt the concussion of this explosion. It just about tweleve thirty, lunch time. It slammed the doors, and the little servant girl carrying the food fell to the floor and practically fainted. And we all were alarmed. We were used to hearing noises in the city and shot guns and all the rest. Our...our house was in curfew area whenever curfew was put on, which was put on that day. But our first move was to go to the roof of our home...our house, (flat roof), and look across. And we could see the dust and the debris going up and down. There were about seventy-five, if I remember correctly, who were killed in that incident. Some of these were students at Newman School of Missions who were Britishers, or at least these people who didn't know Arabic who were learning. And the daughters of one of the teachers...well, the...one of his daughters, was killed. She was buried in the Russian Orthodox...White Orthodox Church in the Garden of Gethsemane. We went to it. So you see we were close to it.
SHUSTER: Was Jerusalem a dangerous place to live in at that time?
VOTAW: I guess it was, but we tried not to let this bother us. The British were still there. The Zionists were active. I looked out my window one day and heard two shots, and a couple of British soldiers were shot just up the street from us, toward Jewish agency which was the headquarters of the Jews at that time. And pulled up right behind them was a...an ambulance. It was a fixed incident of demonstration. A Zionist...demonstrators, whoever they were, shot at the soldiers and they fell. Didn't kill them, but the hospital...or rather the ambulance pulled up and took them to the hospital. This kind of thing was going on all the time. There was no man's land outside of Damascus Gate and up toward the American colony. It was still that in 1950 when we returned for an Easter vacation. Like I said, our house was a...within the curfew area when the government put on curfews during the time of the stress. The front garden, rock garden, of our home, was occupied at such time by Scottish Highlander soldiers. So they didn't make an encampment there, but.... We could get out the back door and go way around the other side of the city and do most anything we wanted to. I remember one night we had an invitation to the Danish mission right at one of the severe periods during curfew. We got there. We went out the back door in a roundabout way and came back, no problem.
SHUSTER: Was there any consensus among the Protestant missionaries about the struggle between the Jews and the British, and the Jews and the Arabs? Was it...?
VOTAW: Well...this...among the missionaries there was. For me I guess there was too, opinion. But I had also a little bias which is related to prophecy. But so far as mission and missionaries were concerned, our mission was to the Arabs, see. And what we did was a ministry to them or for them on their behalf. So it was not the popular thing to be pro-Jewish, see. However the native people were not unaware of what was going on, and they were not unaware of the future possibilities of...at the time of the partitioning of Palestine, and then President Truman's declaration of [American recognition of] the state of Israel in May, 1948. In Aleppo, Syria, we were in the midst of some of the most severe demonstrations in all the Near East in Moslem countries...was right where we lived.
SHUSTER: Anti-American demonstrations?
VOTAW: Anti-Jew, anti-American. And at that time the young men, for instance, or the teachers of the College, would ask us how much of the Near East are the Jews going to get [chuckles]. Well, this even is a little debatable. Even from the Biblical point of view, I guess. I haven't quite discovered the last word yet. But they were...they were concerned about this. Especially this was true of the Christian Arab who had some concept of the Christian view of things and of the...of the Jews' return, and the possibility of what it was going to be in the future.
SHUSTER: The Arab Christians were put in a difficult situation, then, between nationalism, the Jewish state?
VOTAW: I don't know that they were in a difficult situation, but if there should ever come a real struggle, you see, war in the Near East, they might certainly be involved, Arab against Jew. Depends upon what side you're...you're on. And I think the average Arab was not about to be Jewish...at least on the side of the Jews.
SHUSTER: Well, when you.... You also had language study in Sidon?
VOTAW: Yes, we studied in Sidon and even on vacation in the Lebanon mountains, and up in Syria with tutors who were teachers or persons selected to be able to give us a good....
SHUSTER: Now were you also teaching or evangelizing as you were in language study?
SHUSTER: What kind of work did you do in Sidon?
VOTAW: My work there was I was a teacher in the school. I taught English grammar and literature to some of the students in the boys' school which was elementary and high school. And I guess these young fellows were...my students were between age ten and fourteen, I'd say.
SHUSTER: Where did the students come from?
VOTAW: Many of them came from right near Sidon in the near vicinity, those who didn't go to government school. There were some thing good about going...studying in American school, see. It was a missions school, but it was an American school and there was status feeling about it, if they could afford it. And it did cost more than government school. However these students came from all over. They came from Syria down to Sidon, they came from Iraq and maybe Iran, (I'm not sure about that), from Arabia. There were a few, you see, from the distant points. I...I taught the crown prince of Bahrein. He was in my class, just another boy. So it was quite a mixture from the different countries.
SHUSTER: So it was the upper children...upper class?
VOTAW: I suppose, yes, those who could afford, if upper class is the well to do.
SHUSTER: Did the Arab Christians also send their children to these mission schools?
VOTAW: Yes, I do not know exact figures. But let's say that Sidon...even though Sidon town was distinctly Moslem, there was a Christian element. And maybe there was a little more than half Moslem in the school.
SHUSTER: And in the school was there direct evangelization, or was...? Was there direct evangelization in the school?
VOTAW: Not direct. They did have chapel and it was required chapel, I guess. And there were chapel messages, and sometimes these were pretty well watered-down. If I gave a message, I tried to make things a little clearer. Though we were instructed, if not warned, not to get too explicit or else your rights and privileges to be doing what you are doing would be taken away from you.
SHUSTER: Were you closely inspected by the government?
VOTAW: I wouldn't say closely inspected, but the students could take home to their parents any message that they wanted to. I don't think that this was as much a problem in Sidon as it was in...in the college in Aleppo. The college in Aleppo...the president of the college, a Congregational missionary, was closely...not related to, but he was close friends with government people...the mayor of the city, and the chief of police who gives permits to do things. And so we were allowed to do what we were doing. I was allowed in my work, reading room work...Laubach[?] work...allowed to do it as long as I didn't put up any sign to say what I was doing. And even when complaints were brought against us, and we were called into the police headquarters, the chief of police. This happened more than once. We would sit there in the room for an hour and talk about the time of day, drink Arab coffee, eat little candy bits, which was the hospitable thing to do. And at the end of such conversations, the chief would say, "Now you just go back and do what you're doing. We can't get you a permit to do what you want to do. Its against the law. But we're friends. You do what you want to do. Just don't put a sign on the window. And those who...the priests of the Roman church who come and complain to us about you having their boys, they don't have a leg to stand on as long as you don't have a permit."
SHUSTER: So it was Roman Catholic priests who would...
VOTAW: They were some, yes, who did that. They literaly did....
SHUSTER: Were they some missionaries or native...?
VOTAW: No, they were priests of the...they may have been missionaries, I suppose, but they were priests in the local churches. This is one thing we haven't touched on and.... (Don't worry about the time for me.) We haven't touched on the, the Christian community.
SHUSTER: I was going to go into that later, but if you...
VOTAW: I was going to say that the Christian community is a very interesting thing over there. we were...our work was related partly to the Evangelical Church which was established by the Presbyterian or the Congregational missions through the years. And this church in Aleppo city met in the girls' school on Sundays. In Sidon they had their own church building. But these evangelical Christians were a very small minority of the Christian community. The Christian community was made up of groups like the Roman Catholics, the Greek Catholics, the Roman Orthodox, the Greek Orthodox, the Russian Orthodox churches, the Maronite churches. And then the same set of churches for the Armenians, Armenian Catholic, Orthodox, Armenian Protestant, Evangelical, you see. And then there was a church that was just called the Latin Church. A very fine thing that this community did, though, once a year at Christmas time was to have visitation by invitation to any one of the, of the upper echelon in the Christian community, or the missionary community, or the government community. So on Christmas day we would go to the churches, all these churches, seven, eight, ten of them, for a brief visit with their bishop, [and] sit around and drink coffee sip coffee, and candy, which was the way they entertained people, and meet the bishops and some of the others of the churches. And the people doing that were we missionaries, other missionaries like us from other parts of the world (Danish missions, English missions). And also the Moslem leadership from the city of Aleppo: the mayor, chief of police, the government heads, department heads. They'd go over here to these various churches to pay their respects. That's what it was. It was a community idea. Then on New Year's Day the Protestant American community would do the same. These people would all come to the Mission headquarters, either at the College or at the Protestant church girls' school in town. Which was a way to meet people.
SHUSTER: Was, was the Christian community--Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Maronite--a close community in Aleppo or in Syria generally, or was it just annual events like this where they got together, or was there any conflict between them?
VOTAW: Well, I think that the answer is yes and no. At times like this they were friendly. At times when there was strife or struggle that was Moslem-related, the Christian community would stand together and be glad to be able to stand, see. But I've already indicated when the work that we do is reported to the chief of police, at such time we are not together at all. We were not. And so it just depends upon the situation of the day whether you stand together or you run and hide [laughs].
SHUSTER: How did a church like the Maronite church regard Protestant missions?
VOTAW: I think that they tolerated the existence of us, and you know, were friendly. Everybody do his own thing.
SHUSTER: Did you have much contact with [Maronite christians]?
VOTAW: Not too much. Not as much as I did here in the states in the ministry.
SHUSTER: You mentioned that one of your professors was from Lebanon. Was he a Maronite, uh...
VOTAW: I think he was a product of the evangelical mission. His background may have been Orthodox or Catholic, but he was more in the evangelical tradition up-to-date, and partly on the basis of this he would be on the faculty at Princeton.
SHUSTER: You talked a little about the actual study of the language, Arabic. You learned it by 2 different methods, classroom teaching and tutorial methods. How would you compare those two as far as effectiveness. You said a little bit about it, but, uh...
VOTAW: Well, I think the tutorial method has an advantage in that it's a one-to-one encounter. And so you do get personal attention, and your full hour is a productive one, or kind of receiving as an individual. In the Newman School of Mission, however, things were on a classroom basis. And in classroom encounter may have been just as beneficial, but not in the same way. And in classroom encounter there were various approaches. One classroom would be reading, one would be speaking, one would be grammar... maybe some other angle of the language, angle of approach. So and the teachers for these were different teachers, so you really benefited from the teaching ability, rather than getting all of this crammed down your throat by one person. The one person tutor method I personally found rather laborious. I liked going from room to room, class to class, and then having on top of this in the school approach the extra studies in Islamics or missionary methods. The school method is more a campus, even though it was behind huge wooden doors on the Street of the Prophets.
SHUSTER: Did how would characterize the language itself, Arabic?
VOTAW: Arabic language is one of the most difficult languages in the world. They used to say Arabic next to Chinese is the worst. And it is difficult. And one reason for this difficulty is that there is the,the classical language, and there is a colloquial. So the language that you speak is not really like the language you read or learn, the classical language.
SHUSTER: Isn't that true of most languages though?
VOTAW: I guess that is. But I never thought of it so much in the English language. I just thought in English we speak properly and that's the only way to do it.
SHUSTER: That's true to a greater degree in Arabic.
VOTAW: A great degree in Arabic. And apparently the different locales have their different dialects and different vocabulary. I don't know much about New York, but it would be like going from Wheaton to the Bronx or somewhere in Boston, you know, to get a completely different slant on the language in the colloquial or the [unclear]. In classical we deal with the Hebr...the Arabic in its purest form, if indeed it is pure. It is...the pure form of Arabic comes from the Koran, which was given by God, quote-unquote, and is perfect. But the problem is that it has thousands of variations to the rules because of its imperfection. it is a script similar to Hebrew language, and has little marks for the vowels like Hebrew has. and in the true classical Arabic, like Hebrew, you don't have the vowels marked at all. I have a Bible in Arabic (like I have a Hebrew Bible) but there are no vowels at all marked in this Arabic Bible.
SHUSTER: How do you know where they are?
SHUSTER: That's the question. [laughs].
VOTAW: You're just supposed to know what it says, [pauses] or find out.
SHUSTER: Do you think the language is...colloquial language, one that's easy to express yourself?
VOTAW: It's easy to express yourself. Much easier than using the classic, if you have the right vocabulary for the right people. For instance my wife was pretty good at Arabic, though her learning of it was more limited than mine, and she did real well in the kitchen. Kitchen language with the little servant girl. But get out in some of the market places, or speaking to someone at the college possibly, or at the church who didn't know English, it would be more difficult for her and for me too.
SHUSTER: But you did gain a proficiency for teaching...work in the reading room?
VOTAW: Yes, except I should hasten to add that I did not ever teach Arabic unless it was the basic essentials to some of the boys. I wouldn't even pose to be teacher of Arabic. I didn't...I never taught...I mean, preached in Arabic either. I did some preaching with interpreters and we did some evangelism work in the prayer groups of the church...met in homes, and we do this in Arabic.
SHUSTER: Did you still retain your Arabic?
VOTAW: I come across quite often with some of the phrases. That's the way we express ourselves at home still, in Arabic. It's a part of your life.
SHUSTER: I guess your children learned some too, or were they too...?
VOTAW: Very little. They were too young. We had taught them some, but they were really too young. Though if we had remained there...missionary children become adept in the language, more than the missionaries themselves. Because they're brought up in schools with the Arabic children.
SHUSTER: After Sidon then you went to Aleppo?
SHUSTER: And that's when you began the reading room work and teaching in the College?
SHUSTER: What class of people did you mostly come in contact with in the reading room?
VOTAW: Well, I would say the class of people there were middle class to low. As a matter of fact, the first boy we had in the reading room. His name was Sibhi[?]...no, Akmud[?], his name was Akmud[?]. Sibhi[?] was a Palestinian refugee. Akmud...we got him by going out into one of the main marketplaces on a Sunday afternoon. Our helper went...found him sort of in a street gutter. He was dirty, he had a hand sore, wounded, that was pretty bad, and he talked him into coming over to our house. We took him up into our home, and we washed him up and we dressed his hand. And got him all in better condition. And we said, "Now tomorrow you come back again and we'll do this all over again. We want to get this hand well. And also we're starting a meeting place downstairs. We want to teach you Arabic if you want to learn." He didn't know, so he said, "Yes, I want to learn." "And we'll play games too." So this is the way we really started, and it came out of the gutters. Maybe I shouldn't say gutter, but off the streets.
SHUSTER: Like in the parable of the bringing the people into the banquet.
SHUSTER: Well, I think we're just about out of tape, so this might be a good point to end. I want to thank you for all the time you're willing to spend the time in the interview.
VOTAW: Well, I appreciate having [noise interference]...say though that in spite of the indirect approach to missions in Moslem countries, and specially in Syria and Lebanon, we felt there were quite a number of believers who were ready at any point to come over with an outward profession. In fact there were some who were already professing outwardly their faith and wanting to be baptized by the Christian church. This is an entirely different part of the story which there's lots to say about. But there are the secret believers, and some outward, who have come [noise interference and end of the tape].
END OF TAPE