The Psalmist wrote that “Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God” (Ps. 68:31). This text has inspired the prayers and labors of many missionaries, but today’s post highlights the Rev. Gulian Lansing (1826-1892), known to history as the “Great Father” of the American Mission in Egypt, whose missionary narrative emphasizes this very verse.
Ordained as a pastor in the Associate Reformed Presbytery in 1850, he served six years in Syria, and then from 1857 to his death in 1896 he labored for the kingdom of God in Egypt, originally in Alexandria, and then based in Cairo, from 1858 under the auspices of the United Presbyterian Church of North America. Lansing recounted the early experiences of his travels and labors in Egypt’s Princes: A Narrative of Missionary Labor in the Valley of the Nile (1864, 1865).
Heather J. Sharkey, American Evangelicals in Egypt: Missionary Encounters in an Age of Empire (2008), p. 21, writes:
At first glance, Egypt’s Princes looks like a standard work of the missionary adventure genre that was so important to rousing American Protestant interest in missions. However, Lansing tried to his book from the “stirring and romantic,” noting that missionaries in Egypt, unlike their counterparts in Central Africa, found no wild beasts to slay. On the contrary, Lansing suggested that the big battle and “hard toil” facing missionaries in Egypt was learning Arabic: “I would rather traverse Africa from Alexandria to the Cape of Good Hope, than undertake for a second time to master the Arabic language.”
Master it he did, and he went on to perform translation work, served as an educator, and with the assistance of the Hon. Elbert Eli Farman, U.S. Consul General in Cairo, he did much to bring about official legal standing for the Protestant Church in Egypt in 1878. He worked tirelessly to promote the knowledge of the Arabic Bible and Psalter among the Coptic Church and among Muslims. The seeds he sowed further laid the groundwork for the establishment of the American University in Cairo in 1919 under the leadership of Charles R. Walton (1871-1948).
The Scottish-born historian of the American Mission in Egypt, Andrew Watson, who was laid to rest in the same cemetery as Lansing wrote of this missionary giant:
He was one of the chief factors in the mission whether as preacher, professor, writer, counselor, as will be seen by any reader of this history. The central premises of the mission in Cairo are a monument of his faith and his works, for though others shared in the collection of the funds and in the erection of the building, no one will deny that the plan was his conception, and to his tact and perseverance we are indebted to securing its completion. His letters in the Church papers and in the monthlies and quarterlies were always interesting and profitable. I have written at length about him when speaking of his death in Chapter XXIII. His mortal remains lie in the American cemetery at Old Cairo, waiting by the side of his co-laborers for the resurrection morn.
Gulian Lansing was truly a “prince in Israel” (2 Sam. 3:38) who loved and labored for Egypt’s people and princes.