Medical Missionaries in Turkish Arabia

The Perilous Calling of Arthur and Christine, 1904-1916

Non-Fiction - Biography
235 Pages
Reviewed on 08/07/2019
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Astrid Iustulin for Readers' Favorite

Christine Bennett’s Medical Missionaries in Turkish Arabia tells the wonderful and sad story of her grandparents, Arthur Bennett and Christine Iverson. Two graduates from the University of Michigan’s School of Medicine, Bennett and Iverson joined the Arabian Mission and set up a hospital in Mesopotamia between 1904 and 1916. There, they worked for the sheiks and common people, fought diseases, traveled, and learned the Arabic language. At last, the outbreak of the First World War forced the missionaries to face a different situation. Written with quotes from letters, memoirs, and other personal and published documents, Medical Missionaries in Turkish Arabia is a biography that will delight readers fond of history.

Medical Missionaries in Turkish Arabia has all the charm of a book set in a different era, environment, and culture. Christine Bennett has been able to create a precise and compelling image of Turkish Arabia before the discovery of oil. Through Bennett and Iverson’s story, the reader will discover a cross-section of a world that does not exist anymore, and that is fascinating for its exoticism. Through informative details and first-hand accounts, the narrative is fluid and enthralling. The contextualization of the events makes use of in-depth historical research. A wonderful set of pictures familiarizes the reader with people and places. But the best thing about Medical Missionaries in Turkish Arabia is that this is not just an exhaustive piece of history. This is Christine Bennett’s magnificent tribute to her family, and she has made it enjoyable for everyone who reads her book.

K.C. Finn

Medical Missionaries in Turkish Arabia: The Perilous Calling of Arthur and Christine, 1904-1916 is a non-fiction biography penned by author Christine I Bennett, focusing on the work of a couple who gave much of their time and made great sacrifices to work at the front lines of medicine in Arabia at the turn of the twentieth century. Whilst the runaway Arthur’s bold move to become a surgeon and work in Arabia is a powerful tale, more incredible still is Christine’s journey to gain an education in medicine at a time when women were denied so much in cultures across the globe. This is the story of how the pair found one another, and of the many missions and surgeries they faced.

Author Christine I Bennett has done a wonderful job collecting data, writing around and honoring these two amazing people and their life’s work. Aside from the boundary-breaking social moves that the pair made, one of the most engaging things for me was seeing how daily life went for missionaries at that time and how they were received by those they treated. Bennett writes with smooth and informative prose, but also with clear compassion for her subject, telling a moving story of medicine and retaining that human touch. Overall, Medical Missionaries in Turkish Arabia: The Perilous Calling of Arthur and Christine, 1904-1916 is a fascinating read for both fans of medical history and social history: an inspiring story of the lengths some people go to in order to help others around them.

Deborah Lloyd

Medical Missionaries in Turkish Arabia: The Perilous Calling of Arthur and Christine, 1904-1916, written by their granddaughter, Christine I. Bennett, is a fascinating historical accounting of two amazing people. Arthur King and Christine Iverson Bennett graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School, but their love relationship did not begin until several years later. Christine was a remarkable female student during an era when few women became physicians. They were committed Christians who worked with the Arabian Mission and established a hospital in Mesopotamia before World War I. They learned Arabic to be able to communicate with the people of this foreign country. The author has peppered this historical chronicle with personal writings and photographs, bringing this couple and the experiences of working in these foreign countries to life. The photographs of people who lived in this part of the world, in the first decades of the twentieth century, are compelling indeed.

The author writes masterfully, engaging the reader from the first page to the last. Detailing many aspects of the people and the culture during this time period through the lens of a young, committed physician couple adds a unique perspective. The dangers of working in this area, including life-threatening diseases, are also outlined. This book could be read a few times to absorb all the information it contains. Author Christine I. Bennett has gifted the world with a lovely historical memoir in Medical Missionaries in Turkish Arabia: The Perilous Calling of Arthur and Christine, 1904-1916. It is an enriching read; anyone who enjoys a historical work, especially one revealing an unfamiliar culture, will greatly enjoy this book.

Rabia Tanveer

Medical Missionaries in Turkish Arabia: The Perilous Calling of Arthur and Christine, 1904-1916 by Christine I Bennett is a poignant story of two people who changed the lives of many with their hard work and diligence. Arthur Bennett ran away from home to do what he wants and through his hard work, he fulfills his dream of becoming a surgeon. He joins the Arabian Mission in 1904 and quickly finds his calling as he regularly fights hard to save lives. His life takes a surprising yet a welcome turn when he meets the young and beautiful Christine Iverson. They fall in love with each other and find out that they have the same passion and drive to help people in need. So together, they travel to Busrah, Arabia where they work hard to save people’s lives. When the First World War hits, they spend all their energies saving soldiers and helping them get back on their feet. However, fate had other plans for them as an outbreak of typhoid fever infected many soldiers.

This biography is unlike any other I have ever read. The author (who is the granddaughter of Arthur and Christine) shares family pictures all the way back to Arthur’s childhood, their family tree and to the most recent pictures of Arthur with his family before he died. The way the author went into detail, went back to history and detailed every single milestone of Christine’s life was commendable. She showed a side of the First World War that I have never read before. One always reads about the horrors of the war, how the soldiers were killing and being killed, but I never read about how there were soldiers dying of other diseases such as malaria or typhoid. Arthur and Christine’s drive to do something good at a time when things were terrible was very impressive. I enjoyed their relationship, their dynamic and how they started to fall in love with each other, and their work was a joy to read. Christine’s efforts made a huge difference and resulted in a beautiful family that valued the life of a living being over everything else. This is a tremendously enjoyable and educational book. Impressive, historically accurate and very gripping!

Edith Wairimu

Medical Missionaries in Turkish Arabia: The Perilous Calling of Arthur and Christine, 1904-1916 by Christine I. Bennett recounts the experiences of two missionaries dedicated to serve and spread the Gospel. After fleeing home, Arthur lives with his uncle and obtains a medical student’s certificate. He later graduates from the University of Michigan’s School of Medicine and joins the Arabian Mission. Born in Denmark, Christine grows up in America where she later studies and graduates from the same university as Arthur and also joins the mission. They meet at the Mission's Annual Meeting in Bahrain and their relationship begins. Language barriers, threats of death and disease, lack of material comforts and unfamiliar cultural and religious dynamics do not diminish their commitment to the mission’s course. They establish a hospital in Basra, Iraq, where they devotedly care for the people despite the political tensions present at the time.

Christine and Arthur K. Bennett’s devotion reflects a deeper commitment to love people and place them before themselves. Despite the uncertainties involved, both leave behind their families and country for the sake of communities they are not familiar with. When faced with obstacles such as the need to learn the Arabic language, they do not give up. Their efforts in taking care of people from different cultural and religious backgrounds are inspiring. The work also contains many moving moments, some heart-breaking but many amazing ones. It is compelling as it contains different intriguing characters and incidences. Medical Missionaries in Turkish Arabia is touching through its main characters who choose to forego their own needs and contribute to the lives of others.