It is the 3rd of October 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
It was only in 2021 that the United States of America formally recognized the tragic events in the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century as a genocide. Recognition of the as many as 1 million killed by the Ottomans has led to renewed study of various figures from this dark episode in history. One character who has been recently recognized is an Estonian Missionary, Anna Hedwig Büll, who was responsible for, among other things, saving thousands of Armenian orphans from execution. Let’s tell her story against the backdrop of the Armenian genocide.
Armenia, you might remember, was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity- this back in 301, predating the Christianization of the Roman Empire. However, its location proved precarious with the rise of Islam, and the Christians of Armenia would live as minorities in the Middle East. They were afforded special status in the Middle Ages as “people of the book,” along with the Jewish population, but this would evaporate with the coming of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, with the Ottomans beginning to sense a fragmenting and dissolving empire, some called for a pan-Muslim alliance through the Empire, and this threatened the autonomy of Christian Armenians. With the coming of World War I, Armenians who were Christian and on the Russian border would be held under suspicion, conscripted, sent to camps, and killed. Some would fight with the Russians and the Triple Entente against the Central Powers, further suggesting to the Turks that they were traitors.
In Estonia, to the north, there was a young woman, Anna Hedwig Bull, who had decided that she would devote herself to mission work wherever she might be called. She initially sought to work with the Russian nobility, who held out the last hope to influence the church in the face of secularization. But it was upon hearing a traveling evangelist of the plight of the Armenians that she decided- amidst some considerable pushback- to work amongst this persecuted people. She would travel to Marash, a city in Southern Turkey where a considerable Armenian population lived in exile. She spoke six languages and was known to use her influence as a foreigner and missionary to take in the orphans of Armenians sent to their own deaths. She would use whatever options available to keep the government from sending the children into the desert death camps- one on occasion changing the orphanage records to reflect that the children were all members of the one protected Christian church. By 1915, she was so respected amongst the Turks in Marash that they turned a blind eye to her work, and when the call to send the orphaned boys to the camps came, the command fell on deaf ears. Anna, or Mother Büll, had enough influence that she was able to protect the orphans in her care.
With the end of World War I and the French occupation of parts of the old Ottoman empire, Mother Büll was sent away from her work as she was considered a “German,” having been funded by the German protestant church. She was kept from working in Armenia, and so she went to work in Aleppo in Syria with Armenian refugees there. It was then the Soviet authorities who kept her from traveling to Armenia on account of her work being explicitly Christian. When she attempted to move back home to Estonia- the country, now part of the USSR, also refused to grant her the new soviet citizenship she would need to be repatriated.
And so Mother Büll spent the rest of her life in Europe, where she would work as a missionary to the Turkish immigrants- many of them lower class and looking for work in the West. Once again, she found herself amongst the despised as the majority Muslim Turkish immigrant population was looked down upon in the West.
She would live out the rest of her life in exile, keeping in contact with many of the Armenian orphans she helped to raise. The senior home she lived in received hundreds of letters addressed to her, and she kept a detailed address book. It was on this, the 3rd of October in 1981, that Anna Hedwig Büll was called to glory- her last request was that everyone in her address book be contacted and told of her death. She would be remembered as “the mother of Armenia” for her role in saving the next generation of Armenian children and her tireless work amongst the exiled Armenians after the war. Born in 1887, Anna Hedwig Büll was 94 years old.
The last word for today is from the daily lectionary from the daily lectionary and Philippians 1.
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 3rd of October 2023, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who was told that the Armenians were not enemies of the Calvinists but something altogether different- he is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who wonders if not for Mother Anna, would we have the Kardashians? I’m Dan van Voorhis
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be OK.