Aden - Yemen

The work in Aden began in 1904 when Missionary Oluf Høyer had an agreement with the Church of Scotland Mission. The mission was named: Danish Church Mission in Arabia - and merged with DMS in 1948.

Mission in a changing World

Since England conquered Aden in 1839 and made it their naval strongpoint and base for the traffic between Europe and Asia, the town underwent a rapid development. The number of inhabitants increased from 500 in 1839 to 45,000 in 1939, and more than doubled to 100,000 from the outbreak of World War II until 1951. The dramatic development arose from the strategic importance of Aden, both during the war and the subsequent period, with the Suez Canal still being the main road between Europe and Asia. The harbor, regarded as one of the busiest in the world, had 4,000 ships totaling 20 million tons calling at the port in 1950, and in addition, 2,000 of the special Arab sailing boats, dhows, resulting in a trade turnover of 1,000 million DKK in 1951.

Local Arab men at Aden chewing Khat (Qat). Photo 1973.

Big changes, however, were on their way for both Aden and the political worldview. In the winter of 1926-27, the American Charles R. Crane visited Yemen and Saudi Arabia and made investigations in the occurrence of minerals in the territories. The investigators found oil in Bahrain and assumed the Arabian mainland had oil as well. American companies got oil concessions in Saudi Arabia in 1933, but only began exploiting the Arab oil wells and associated long-distance pipelines up to the good harbors, refineries etc, when America’s oil consumption rose sharply because of WW II. Although the area around Aden had little oil, many jobs at a big oil refinery built here in 1952 influenced the development.

As oil opened Arabia, great expectations arose for evangelism. In his annual DMS report 1949, Secretary General C. Rendtorff wrote: The conditions in Arabia are changing in many ways. The European and American interest in oil will make cultural and social Arabia look quite different in the future, and together with opening to the mission the obvious obligation to Christian countries is to do everything possible to bring the Gospel to the Arabs.

However, it was not that easy after the war. The structural distribution of power changed. The victorious European great powers were unable to maintain colonial supremacy. The colonies claimed independence – and eventually got it. The mission field also had difficulties. Western contact was not the obvious mission factor envisaged. The West too had changed during the war. Secularization became the characteristic of the Europeans and Americans who settled in Arabia during the adventure of the oil, and Arabs would pick up secularization brought by the ‘the Christian Westerners’ rather than Christian values as imagined by the mission societies.

The growing nationalism was a natural reaction to American and European influence through the oil industry. It awoke gloomy memories to the Arabs. After breakdown of the Muslim empire followed the humiliation through foreign colonial supremacy now apparently replaced by a new economical colonial supremacy: the oil or the black gold. Together with the worldwide claim for independence in all the old colonies, a nationalist reaction was provoked.

The proclamation of the Jewish state of Israel in 1948 too had far-reaching consequences to the entire Arab world and intensified nationalist forces. Throughout centuries, Jews and Arabs had lived together in the Arabian Peninsula – also in Aden. Now bitter enmity between Jews and Arabs broke out, not only in Palestine but all over the Arab world. To be safe a great number of Jews flew from Aden to Israel and out of 7,290 Jews in 1946, only 650 remained in 1956. This also affected the mission in Aden as some of the Jewish teachers left the girls’ school, and the remaining Jewish girls were afraid to use the school. The conflict implied, vice versa a growing number of Christian Arabs in Aden, as some of the Palestinian refugees who found a job in the rapidly growing Aden were Christians.

The apparently one-sided Western support to Israel doubled the front against the West: a colonial liberation as well as the Palestinian frustration. In 1956, the anger against the West increased seriously after the Suez War, by the Arabs considered a gross Western violation against Egypt, at that time the leading Arab state. The Six-Day War in 1967 underlined the tensions.

Mission Work after World War II


During the Inter-War period, the mission did not have own buildings. However, soon after the end of WW II, they bought a site, made a building for men in 1949 and one for women in 1951. This improved conditions for the girls’ school, started by the Danish mission in 1920 – and gradually had developed. In 1949 the school had 107 pupils aged 5-12 years and a fine turnout of 85%. Being the first and only school for Arab girls in Aden, it was a cultural change of dimensions to make parents understand the importance of their girls having a formal school education. Here too, a pioneer effort of the Danish mission impressed the authorities. In 1950, the government intended to increase the teaching capacity for girls from 350 to 1150 in all the Aden girls’ schools.

Missionary and Principal Grethe Jensen teaching at the DMS Girls’ School in Crater, Aden. Photo 1963.

Missionary Grethe Jensen, principal of the school, wrote in her 1949 annual report that all children and the Arab teachers were Muslims, and most children came from poor families. From the end of 1949, they had a Christian Arab teacher from Palestine, married to a physician at the Scottish Mission Hospital. The poor living conditions made it impossible to let children take their textbooks home as the books would disappear. All ‘homework’ had to take place at school. A hymn and prayer in the name of Jesus started the day, and stories from the Bible were told daily as well.

As the British prepared transfer of the Aden Colony to Arab self-government, and Arabs (Muslims) became more involved in the administration, an increased critical view of missionaries and their work arose. And in her annual report 1956, Grethe Jensen informed that the school no longer could teach Christianity. The following years the school bypassed the regulations by inviting the girls to Bible stories immediately after school and had the pleasure that 75 % of the girls volunteered. To meet the need for trained Arab teachers the school made a ‘college of education class’ of former students who had taken the full course at school. These young girls were able to manage part of the teaching as assistant teachers.

In 1957, the government planned compulsory school attendance for all girls but was in lack of trained teachers. However, the development was clear, and Grethe Jensen told about the building of a government hospital with 7 student nurses from Aden – one of them Arab, ‘and now sometimes you hear of the ‘strange’ fact that a young Arab woman wants to learn English to become a nurse at the new hospital. A big event in the history of Aden that Arab women want to take up nursing work!’

Evaluating the influence of the girls’ school, of course, professional qualifications obtained by the girls are important. However, if possible, an even more important point is to be seen in an anecdote told by Martha Holst, teacher at the school from 1958, in one of her first circle letters: A Dutch official in New Guinea said to a South African poet: ‘People here are not grateful for the help we give to them. We have built schools, hospitals and new roads’. The man answered: ‘Yes this is true; but maybe you have never had the right twinkle in your eyes, when talking to the people here. Martha Holst ends her letter: … might my manner show some of the spirit of the Lord I am serving. Only the love of Christ teaches us getting the right twinkle in our eyes when meeting with people so different from what we know.
The DMS Girls’ School was not only teaching girls ordinary school subjects. In addition, the school was the center of an extensive women’s ministry with adult education and various meetings.


A challenge for the Aden mission before WW II was the many short-time missionaries causing lack of continuity. Exceptions had been Anna Andersen and Mette Skovhus, returning home in the 1950’s after 30 years of service, and the pastoral couples Eleonora and Marius Borch-Jensen and Anna and Richard Madsen – from the mid 1920’s working for a long period in the Aden Colony.

Rev. Richard Madsen at Baptistery and Altar in the Church of South Arabia, Aden. Photo 1961.

After WW II missionaries serving for a longer period created more continuity in the work. Missionary Karen Olsen worked in Aden from 1948 to 1964. She set up a weaving workshop to train and help women secure an income and support their families. Karen Olsen returned home due to illness and worked as mission secretary for some years. Several missionary nurses, sent out after WW II had vital importance to health work at the clinics in Aden and the protectorate as well as to the women’s ministry. Emsy Nielsen came out in 1948 and was the last Danish missionary to leave South Arabia in 1979. From 1950, Anna Nielsen served for a period of 15 years. In 1952 and 1953 the two deaconess nurses, Sister Dagny Bach and Sister Erna Petersen came to Aden. Erna Petersen stayed until her evacuation after the church fire in 1965. Later as a regional secretary based in Aarhus she joined the effort to involve young people in the work of DMS. And finally, from the end of the 1950’s two missionary nurses worked in Aden for a longer period, Esther Poulsen (1958-71), who continued to Oman from 1968, and Emmy Jørgensen, one of the missionaries evacuated after the church fire who did not return.

In early 1940, Grethe Jensen, an experienced teacher came out and became principal of the Aden Girls’ School. During her leadership, the school was progressing strikingly. In 1955, the young teacher Inge Jepsen became her energetic and visionary colleague, and she left her clear stamp on the mission in Aden. Later Inge Jepsen married Pastor Verner Tranholm-Mikkelsen who arrived in 1961. Both were evacuated after the church fire in 1965 and did not return to Aden. However, for many years they took a great share in the Islam mission in Denmark. Both served for long periods in the DMS Board of Directors, Verner Tranholm-Mikkelsen as the chairperson from 1992 to 1999. The last Danish missionary in Aden was Martha Holst, teaching here from 1956 to 1973. Subsequently, she became missionary in Oman for some years. And later Martha Holst served as a vicar in Denmark.


The bookshop started back in 1886 as a small Bible depot for The British Bible Society and grew after WW II in line with the development of Aden. In his 1953 report, Richard Madsen wrote that the rapid teaching develop-ment in Aden had increased the income of the bookshop. The growing number of schools in the colony bought many textbooks; and several other customers visited the shop resulting in self-sustainment of the bookshop by 1953. The British Bible Society reported that sales in 1953 were the biggest ever in South Arabia with 3,418 copies of Bibles, New Testaments and Bible parts. In 1955, Bible parts sold 3,757 copies in 14 different languages. The many languages reflect the international population. Some were sold to the Scottish mission (CSM), others directly from the DMS Bookshop. But most were sold through ‘colportage’ by missionaries from the Red Sea Mission Team (RSMT) and an Arab Christian from Palestine, a former orthodox priest who had lived in Aden since 1948 and earned his living through this sale.

Danish Mission Bookshop at Crater, Aden. Mubarak Ibrahim with costumers.

The steep expansion in the early 1950’s continued. In 1957-58, the turnover for ordinary books had risen to 122,406 Shillings while Bible parts accounted for 1,354 Shillings. No doubt, the increase was a result of Missionary Pastor Erik J. Stidsen who from 1955 spent all his time in the bookshop. Simultaneously, the growing population created increased needs for books of all kinds. Since his baptism the Christian Arab, Mubarak Ibrahim had been a loyal staff member of the bookshop.

The increased sale underlined the wish for a professional bookseller to take care of the shop. With DMS Bookshop being the only one in the Aden Colony, the possibility of using the economic potential for the congregation existed. And the mission wanted a trained bookseller who as a missionary was able to use opportunities for religious dialogue and evangelism. The alternative would be cutting down the bookshop to the original Bible depot.

M. Borch-Jensen was aware of the possibility of evangelism in connection with selling books and always carried his colporteur bag when walking in the streets of Aden. Finally, the bookshop had a small and well-visited reading room with Bibles, Christian literature, newspapers and magazines. And this facilitated many important conversations over the years.

Establishment of the Church of South Arabia


The Church services started with Sunday school run by the missionaries, for a long period assisted by a RSMT missionary. Usually parents accompanied their children and the lessons reached both parts. Sunday school gradually merged into the proper service. More and more attendants joined the congregation attracted by the hymns sounding in the street. Groups often tried to break up the congregation by shouting: It is Murawwi (the seducer) who talks, get out. Sometimes they threw stones through windows and doors to disturb the church service. However, others came because they were spiritually searching, wanted to learn about the Christian faith and join hymn singing and prayers.

Missionary Pastor Marius Borch-Jensen conducting Church Service in Aden.

Three happy celebrations opened the year 1951. On 7 January, Richard Madsen baptized Mustafa Abdullah in the chapel,on 3 February, M. Borch-Jensen baptized a young woman, Shafiqa in the living room of missionary Madsen, and on 11 February Borch-Jensen married the couple in the chapel. Danish missionaries and the few Christian Arabs as well as missionaries from the other missions in Aden attended all the celebrations. Further-more, many Arabs filled up the chapel to see how a Christian wedding took place. Shafiqa was one of the girls whom the girls’ school had given the possibility to change her life. The school became her meeting with the Gospel too, but her conversion to Christianity was not without challenges. Her mother and brother broke every relation to her but Shafiqa maintained her decision, even though many people tried to pull her back to Islam. Apostasy is a serious matter in Islam – to the renegade as well as to those who might have prevented this. That is why the social control is so widespread. However, as her family realized she was determined to remain a Christian, eventually they started to re-establish relations.


Besides the Church of Scotland Mission (CSM) and the Danish mission (DMS), working in Aden since 1885 and 1904 respectively, the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) had settled here to reach British Somaliland. They failed and began working especially among Somali workers in Aden. In 1952, the British American ecumenical Red Sea Mission Team (RSMT) led by Dr G.L.L. Gurney, a former doctor at the Scottish Mission hospital in Sheikh Oth-man, started work in the Aden Colony to help existing mission societies without aiming formation of a church. Over the years, RSMT has assisted DMS as well as CSM in connection with missionaries’ leave or the like.

Secretary of International Mission Council, Erik W. Nielsen visiting Aden, 1958. Here seen with Sister Dagny Bach, DMS missionary 1952-1960.

From 1954/55, missionaries and others talked about creating a united church for South Arabia comprising the various denominations in Aden and open to all races – however, not all four missions agreed to the last issue. Theological discussions took place but no negotiations for the constitution of such a church. Because they disagreed very much on baptism theology, this question mainly occupied missionaries. Consequently, they agreed that no mission society should re-baptize any member – child or grown-up – from another society.

Erik W. Nielsen, secretary of The International Mission Council, 1950-58, and secretary general of DMS from 1959, visited Aden for a longer period in 1958. His agenda was to make recommendations for future mission work, and is described in a comprehensive report, among other issues including proposals for joint promotions of a united church in the area. This report was appreciated by the DMS and CSM Boards of Directors.

On 27 August 1959, a society of baptized and saved Arabs and Somalis was formed to be run by a committee, consisting of the Arab Christian Doctor, A.S. Affara as president, Marouf Khalil as secretary and six other men. At the meeting, Dr A.S. Affara said: It was a historic event that Christians here in South Arabia were united… The purpose of the society was… to coordinate the work and prepare the formation of a church, especially by assisting saved and searchers to be baptized. With this an important step was taken to form the coming Church of South Arabia.


The Danish and Scottish Missions asked the experienced missionary in Kenya, Dr R.G.M. Calderwood, to be their Senior adviser in forming an Arab church in Aden. He became the chairman of a Joint Policy Committee with missionaries from both missions and Arab Christians and visited Aden and the protectorates three times until December 1960 to learn about the mission work in the areas. Members of the committees of the two missions met several times in Copenhagen and Edinburgh to consider the reports and suggestions from Aden.

In 1960, they decided to establish the Church of South Arabia. It was a small church counting 10 Arab Christians (seven men and three women). One male and two female grown-up members were Arabs born in Palestine, some were Muslims believing in Christ but fearing the consequences of baptism, and a few had ‘begun tasting the word of God’. In addition came the European missionaries in Aden who had to consider their position in the church very carefully. In India and Africa, missionaries were the minority at church meetings and in committees, but Aden had two missionaries to each baptized Christian, and a church dominated by Europeans might repel searching Arabs.

The three institutions until now run by the two missions, 1) The Hospital in Sheikh Othman (CSM), 2) The Girls’ school (DMS), 3) The Bookshop (DMS), in future were to be managed by a committee representing the church, the two missions and persons with skills wanted for the work. To express solidarity between the European founders and Arab Christians, the word ‘Partnership’ was chosen.

The new Church expressed the mission theory of Henry Venn about Self-government, Self-support and Self-propagation. However small, the church was full-grown and responsible for its own life in a very difficult period. The Church Council took care of evangelism, women’s ministry, Bible studies, Sunday school, etc. Responsibility for all the Christian work in the area should be shared and led by the Joint Council, a forum of missionaries and Christian Arabs. The new Church, however, had no Arab pastor and asked the missionaries Richard Madsen (DK) and James Ritchie (Scotland) to be the first two pastors in Crater and Sheikh Othman, respectively.

However, disappointments occurred along the way. Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) and Red Sea Mission Team (RSMT) did not join the Church of South Arabia. With two pastors being Europeans, RSMT did not recognize the church as proper Arab ’indigenous’, nor did they accept possible influence by missionaries as church members. Furthermore, they did not recognize Dr A.S. Affara as president of the church, as being attached to the Scottish Mission Hospital he was depending on Europeans. Finally, they were not able to join a church wanting mem-bership of the Near East Council of Churches (NECC), and simultaneously having connection with overseas churches.

On Sunday 8 January 1961, the Pastors Richard Madsen and James Ritchie celebrated the Inauguration Service at Beit-es-Sherif Church in Crater. President of the new church, Dr A.S. Affara read the Deed of foundation. Richard Madsen recommended by prayer the new church in the hands of God, and read messages of congra-tulation from Denmark and Scotland.

THE CONSTITUTION – Read more about this in the book of Harald Nielsen (in Danish), referred to after the article.

Arab Christians


Ahmad, a young man in the congregation had no family, he lived in a hole in the church wall and earned his living by selling roasted maize outside the church. Ahmad had never attended school and had a strong wish for baptism. After preparation lessons, Verner Tranholm-Mikkelsen baptized him on Advent Sunday 1962. To the question, Do you renounce the Devil and all his deeds? Ahmad replied, Of course!

Ahmad in front of the church. Here he had his daily living by roasting corn. Ahmad was baptized in 1962. He was found drowned in the Sea June 10, 1964. (Photo November 1963).

However, baptism did not make life of Ahmad easier. Badly bruised he came to Jørgen Nørgaard Pedersen an evening in January 1964 and said: They try to kill me because I am baptized!  It was not quite clear who ‘they’ were but Jørgen NP warned him against the gross teasing and said to him: God needs living witnesses, not dead ones! Ahmad answered: In the church you say that our home is in Heaven (Phil 3, 20). How is it that I cannot go there? A long spiritual dialogue ended in prayer. The teasing continued and made Ahmad addicted to alcohol. A day in June 1964, one of the Arab leaders blamed him for this. Few hours later, they found Ahmad drowned, but never cleared up whether someone pushed him, if he had fallen into the Sea under the influence of alcohol, or had sought death himself. However, the finders thought a happy smile was seen about his lips.

The funeral of Ahmad was the first one in Church of South Arabia. Verner Tranholm-Mikkelsen was in Denmark, and they had to prepare a liturgy for future funerals themselves. In a letter to DMS friends Martha Holst describes the ceremony: About 30 people attended. A hymn opened the ceremony; Dr Affara read the Bible texts and the Scottish pastor carried out the burial… There are two sides to a religious ceremony; one is to console the congregation, another to conduct a message to non-Christians. On this occasion, the Christians gathered around the grave close to the churchyard wall. Outside the wall, 16 Arab men followed all we did… Before lowering the coffin into the grave, we sang: Take my hands… As soon as the funeral ceremony ended, several attendants took spades to fill the grave. They wanted to be sure that no one removed the body.  Ahmad had been afraid that some of his Muslim friends should remove his body from the churchyard and place it in a Muslim burial place, making it impossible to Jesus to find him on the Day of Judgment! The letter tells about the big costs of leaving Islam to profess Christianity in the Arab society.


Muhammad Hussein was known as Beihani because he came from the Beihan area, North East of Aden. He had been living in Aden for many years when he met Christian missionaries. He lived as a fishmonger at the market place and by repairing watches. Beihani had the reputation of defending his ‘peculiar’ religious opinions among Arabs in the market place. Inge Tranholm-Mikkelsen tells about his fearless attitude: Beihani asked some Arab friends, Who is your spokesman? – Muhammad. ‘No’ said Beihani, The Koran says that judgement day is the day where no one intercedes for anyone. You do not have a spokesman on the day of judgement. This put his friends to silence, Beihani was right; this is the description of judgement day, although people generally assume that Muhammad will intercede. However, Beihani said: There is a spokesman, Jesus Christ. The Gospel says that anybody who sins has a spokesman with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacri-fice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world.

The main trade of Rev. Beihani is selling fish at the market in Crater, Aden. Here he is serving Missionary Susanne Henriksen. Photo 1973.

Beihani’s road to Christianity was remarkable too. A friend brought a big book and asked him what kind of book this was. The contents were in columns and each column had its own language. Beihani read the Arab column and was amazed. The young man had stolen the book from his employer, a rich Jewish man, and Beihani told his friend to return the valuable book as soon as possible. However, Beihani was curious to know more and bought the book from a Danish missionary selling tracts and Bibles in the fish market. The Bible, especially the long tables of descent (genealogies) in Genesis fascinated Beihani. Such a well-ordered religion appealed to him and he began attending meetings with the Danish missionaries. On 27 September 1959, he received baptism together with another Arab man, Muhammad Murshid, a former official of the British administration in Aden.

The influence of Beihani in the congregation increased. And in a letter to DMS friends in 1963, Martha Holst wrote: However, Beihani is the greatest ray of hope in the church… I often find that he might come straight from the group of apostles. Yesterday he preached at the evening service instead of Dr Fawdry. He talked about Jesus as the good shepherd and answered questions winning the confidence of the congregation.

In the mid 1960’s, Beihani had the possibility for a travel to Egypt. Answering the question about religion in the entry papers he wrote, Christian – The police officer checking the paper asked: Why do you write Christian? – Because I am a Christian. – But your name is Muhammad Hussein, a Muslim name. – Yes, but I became a Christian, and I am known to God under this name. – Do you know the Creed? – Yes, Beihani answered, and confessed his faith in the very center of the airport – Go!

During the 1960’s Beihani played a more and more central part in the small Church of South Arabia. Verner Tranholm-Mikkelsen introduced him thoroughly to Christianity and suggested ordination of Beihani for pastoral service during his own leave in Denmark in 1963. This did not take place. At the tense political situation in 1965 when most of the missionaries went home Beihani refused an offer to attend a Bible school in Lebanon, remarking that his place was in Aden. He was not ordained until July 1967. In 1971, Beihani attended the 150 years’ celebration of DMS in Denmark. He passed away October 1, 1979.

Literature mission in a new era

The question at the end of the 1950’s was how to continue the work if missionaries had to leave Aden before the founding of an independent South Arabian Church. In 1958, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and NECC applied the Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie, for permission to make a radio station in Ethiopia transmitting to Africa and Asia. In 1959, they got the permission, and as a member of NECC, the mission in Aden joined this new promising work facilitating evangelizing broadcasts into Inner Arabia.

In 1959, Erik J. Stidsen made a comprehensive report on literature mission and argued for the employment of a missionary trained as a bookseller. He also pointed out the necessity of a local touch to the bookshop. Due to the growing nationalism, eventually foreigners could not be the owner of a shop like that. The following years this growing problem urged registration of the Family Bookshop Group (FBG) as an Arab limited company (1975). Due to health issues, Erik J. Stidsen left Aden in 1961 and had limited time to realize his ideas of a bookshop with professional leadership.

Already in 1958, Erik W. Nielsen had pointed out the literature work as a valuable tool for the mission. His double thesis concerning the bookshop was:
1) The mission part – the importance of literature in evangelism.
2) The business part – the bookshop as a source of income to the congregation when missionaries had to leave.

He took initiatives to clarify the future of the bookshop. This question also formed part of the work of Dr Calderwood in founding the Church of South Arabia. He suggested buying a building site for a new bookshop. This was not the priority of Erik W. Nielsen, but in 1961, DMS employed Jørgen Nørgaard Pedersen, a trained bookseller to work in the bookshop in Aden from 1963. In the meantime, the British Peter Stogden was assigned to run the bookshop. Finally, Philip Penning visited Aden and made a report concerning development of the bookshop.

He found the Danish bookshop in Aden well run. The prospects for literature work were outstanding, and he proposed to find a place for a possible extension of the bookshop. He recommended applying for financial support from the Inter Church Aid of World Council of Churches (WCC), from the American Literature Society or the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). With necessary personnel for evangelism, the theory of Penning was that Aden might be the center for production of literature, facilitating entrance to the Muslim world and the closed areas reachable from Aden. Literature has the actual potential of being our strongest mission factor. Ignoring this would be a piece of folly.

Philip Penning sent his report to DMS and SCM as well as to the United Society for Christian Literature, Inter Church Aid, NECC and Dr Calderwood. Presided by Inge Tranholm-Mikkelsen the bookshop committee decided to apply for financial support from Inter Church Aid to build a new bookshop and had a grant of 100,000 DKK with the prospect of 100,000 DKK more in the summer 1963.

The ‘Sweet water’ delivery van passing by the DMS Bookshop at Crater, Aden. Photo 1965.

At his arrival in Aden August 1963, this became the first task of Jørgen Nørgaard Pedersen. However, he found the situation too unstable to use that large sum of money. Partly because only few Arabs were able to take over the work if the mission had to leave Aden, partly because even with a possible stay for some years the staff situation would be difficult. Hence the bookshop committee turned down the grant from Inter Church Aid. The bookshop stayed in Crater where it had always been. This caused a stir in London and the literature secretary Don MacNeill visited Aden. He backed the decision and stressed the importance of planning the future work. He suggested spending a surplus from the bookshop to publish relevant Arabian literature for Aden and the Gulf. The report inspired Jørgen Nørgaard Pedersen in creating a plan of action for the shop in Aden, and later in drafting the Family Bookshop Group (FBG) in close cooperation with Don MacNeill.

The Revolution and the Last Period


It was obvious that days of the Aden Colony were numbered. During the 1950’s, Arabs became more involved in the political management of Aden, and at the same time pressure against the British increased causing frequent strikes and riots. Missionaries too did not doubt the outcome and prepared themselves, DMS and friends in Denmark on the possible farewell to Aden. This situation was another reason to establish the small Church of South Arabia. Local Arabs would be able to take over when the missionaries had to leave.

Nevertheless, it came as a chock when the Danish mission church in Crater burned down during a general strike and big anti-British riots on 2 October 1965. The church building contained club-rooms and apartments for missionaries. Esther Poulsen had just left for Denmark, and Erna Petersen managed to get out and take refuge with an Arab family next to the church. Inge and Verner Tranholm-Mikkelsen lived about one kilometer away and saw the smoke pouring out of the church.

At the same day, demonstrators put the organ in the Roman Catholic church on fire, and the Jewish synagogue and the Hindu temple burned down as well. It was the climax of a long period of unrest and anti-British demonstrations. A few days earlier, they had killed the British president of parliament in Aden.

In October 1965 the Church ‘Beit As Sherif’ at Crater, Aden. was attacked and burned down. Demonstrators were shouting, ‘Attack the Christians’. However, the Jewish synagogue and the Hindu temple were attacked as well.

The Tranholm-Mikkelsen family arrived in Copenhagen on 8 October. They reported that no Arab wanted any contact with missionaries owing to fear of terrorist acts from The Arab League, and that leaving Aden was necessary to enable the Christian Arabs to continue the work.

The missionaries Martha Holst, Grethe and Jørgen Nørgaard Pedersen were on leave in Denmark when the church burnt down. Back in Aden were Erna Petersen, Edel and Henning Berget as well as Petra Lauridsen sent out by Mission to the Orient in 1964, after some years in Syria. Emmy Jørgensen and Emsy Nielsen were placed in Zingabar in the Aden Protectorate. All were evacuated a few days after the fire.

On 11 October, DMS sent Marius Borch-Jensen and Jørgen Nørgaard Pedersen to Aden with authority to phase out the work, if possible. At their arrival in Aden, the remaining missionaries had packed up determined to leave the following day. The missionaries in Zingabar too had decided return to Denmark. The church building had been completely burnt-out, and everything stolen – except account books and about 1,000 Shillings in cash. The two delegates transferred the sum insured to DMS and sold the house 10 days later.

They negotiated sale of the girls’ school with the government, and an agent was to take care of the sale and transfer the proceeds to DMS. They gave notice and a redundancy payment to the local teachers and placed the deeds of the house ‘Hebron’ in the hands of the solicitor of the mission for a possible later sale.

The delegates also met with the Christian Arabs in Crater and president of the Church, Dr A.S. Affara, in preparation for the ordination of a member of the church to officiate Baptism and Holy Communion; however, the president wanted to wait and see.

The DMS Bookshop was not attacked, but Edel and Henning Berget had returned all parcels to the publishers and were evacuatedon 13 October. About 15-20 % of the stocks were sold at half price to institutions and bookshops. They decided to re-open the bookshop and postpone a possible winding up by three months. The number of customers had fallen as military families moved to protected areas. They sold out most possible of the stocks to local libraries at a 20 % discount. The Arab assistants Ibrahim Mubarak (Christian), Salim and Abdulla (Muslims) took care of the daily running, supervised by the Scottish Missionary Tom Tait until February 1966, when Jørgen Nørgaard Pedersen returned to participate in the decision regarding future of the bookshop.

DMS had not issued clear guidelines to handle situations like the church fire. In comparison, the Scottish missionaries were not allowed to leave Aden regardless of the crisis. As British citizens they were protected by The British authorities in Aden, and this applied to Danish missionaries as well. Despite the shocking incident, other foreigners did not fully understand the Danish reaction. That is why a joint declaration read aloud at the church services in Aden the following Sunday explained that the missionaries had temporarily been withdrawn as threats and violence had made preaching, distribution of Christian literature and working at the institutions almost impossible. Everybody hoped to return, and in the meantime a few missionaries took care of the work.


As to possibilities of sending out some of the missionaries again, DMS and Mission to the Orient  quickly after the evacuation made inquiries with Dr A. Fawdry at the Scottish Mission Hospital as well as with president of the Church Council, Dr A.S. Affara. Dr Fawdry wrote: I think that any missionary coming out here must prepare himself to be shot down… for the sake of Queen Elizabeth rather than for Jesus Christ… I think some Danes ought to return even if they cannot do much…

The more downplayed answer from Dr Affara indicates that the confidence between church and missionaries might be difficult to restore: I think DMS should return to Aden as the hurried leave-taking was a very bad testimony to the Muslim society and … to the weak Church of South Arabia. It is not too late to rectify matters and I am happy to learn that DMS has possible plans for returning to Aden…

Martha Holst and Emsy Nielsen wanted a return to Aden as soon as possible, and Martha Holst made a decla-ration to DMS that the return was her own responsibility. On 20 February 1966, both went back to Aden. Still on leave in Denmark, Jørgen Nørgaard Pedersen joined them for a short visit to inspect the DMS bookshop. Emsy Nielsen immediately continued to Beihan and resumed her clinic work of the Scottish mission. Due to continuing riots, Martha Holst had to move from Crater, the old Arab district, and settle in Khormaksar, location of the Scottish mission, and later in Steamer Point.

The Church of South Arabia was shocked. Now they knew the missionaries would not stay for long in Aden. Therefore, besides the political management they prepared themselves to take over spiritual management of the church and needed an ordained pastor. More and more pointed to Beihani as the future pastor of the congregation.

In April 1966, Martha Holst told that the political situation deteriorated week by week. Strikes and anti-British demonstrations were the order of the day. Re-establishing an organized mission work in Aden was uncertain, and due to riots missionaries had difficulties in attending Sunday evening services in Crater. The demon-strations, however, seemed to be anti-British not anti-Christian. However, for missionaries it required great caution to contact Arab Christians due to a serious risk of suffering if someone saw them together with Europeans. The Arab Christians did not agree on how to act. Dr Affara stressed the importance of a united mission and church testimony to a belief common to all races. On the other hand, Marouf Khalil found that the missionary was under the obligation to step aside in this situation. Marouf and Mubarak agreed that missionaries for the time being should not join the meetings and services of the Christian Arabs – and referred to an incident of a crowd attacking ‘Hebron’ breaking drown the cross from the gate. When told that only Arab Christians were gathered in the church the crowd withdraw.

At a meeting in the Church Council on 5 May 1966, the Christian Arabs changed the relationship to the Danish and Scottish mission. The President Dr A.S. Affara stated that a new council consisting of Arab Christian members only had to replace the existing Church Council with Arab Christians as well as missionaries. The only responsibility of the new Church Council was to be the evangelical tasks – as church services and Bible studies, while the Arabian church renounced running hospital, school, bookshop and clinic. The Arab Christians hereby wanted total independence and responsibility for own matters to avoid any suspicion of ‘hidden colonialism’. The new Church Council stated their continued understanding of the churches in Denmark and Scotland as their ‘parents’ and wanted the missions to look at the Church of South Arabia as their responsible ‘child’. Hence, the missionaries would no longer in relation to work be members of or attached to the church, but in future have their work only related to the institutions they were sent out to serve.

Both DMS and CMS were disappointed with the policy of separation initiated by Church of South Arabia and saw it as the consequence of:

1) The Church’s disappointment of the rapid Danish evacuation.

2) The people from RSMT had never accepted the European attachment to the Church. And now, with election of the missionary critical Manouf Khalil as pastor, they had a stronger representation in the Church Council. However, later they broke with him again.

3) The political situation making contact between Arabs and Europeans/British difficult. Eventually, this critical situation increased.

The DMS bookshop committee had to make up their mind whether to wind up or continue the shop. On 7 March 1966, they decided to continue the bookshop to the limited extent agreed upon in October 1965. However, Jørgen Nørgaard Pedersen was to make supplementary purchases from publishers in England. Renewed negotiations with the government to buy the DMS Girls’ School took place, and with an Arab teacher Shafiqa Zookari as principal, the school secured governmental approval.

The Church of South Arabia was very small and weak. President of the Church Council, Dr Affara stressed the incapability of the Church to carry on the bookshop when missionaries had to leave Aden – at the British transfer in 1968 at the latest. To cope with the acute need of well-trained Arab leaders Abdul Malik accepted the offer from NECC to attend a Bible school in Beirut while Beihani found it impossible to the leave the church in the present situation. Following remark to NECC shows that the Church of South Arabia felt very alone and forlorn, Please, send us a pastor.


Grethe and Jørgen Nørgaard Pedersen returned to Aden in January 1967. The tense situation continued. It was doubtful, whether the Arabs wanted to carry on the bookshop under a new regime and if the needed customers would be present.

In June 1967, the conflict between Israel and the Arab countries flared up, and the 6-day war resulted in a crushing victory to the Israeli forces and deep frustrations in the Arab world. Also, in Aden. In a letter from 13 June 1967, Jørgen Nørgaard Pedersen tells about big demonstrations against the app. 500 Jews in Aden. Jewish shops burnt down including half the building in Crater, without damage to the bookshop. However, on 17 June 1967, (the 146th anniversary of DMS) demonstrators put more buildings on fire and now the DMS Bookshop burnt down too.

The DMS Bookshop at Crater, Aden – burnt down during political unrest, 17 June 1967.

The attacks were of such violence that two tanks the next morning had to escort Jørgen Nørgaard Pedersen into the Crater area. It was a sad sight, fire had consumed absolutely everything, and some places in the shop were still on fire. The insurance company Lloyds in London later compensated the loss of stocks to the value of 120,000 DKK.

DMS was shaken and informed on 22 June that they backed any action dictated by the situation and was confident that the missionaries worked out together when they had to leave Aden. In that case, they wanted – if possible –  the missionaries to return home via East Arabia and get an idea of future working possibilities here. Few days later the British High Commissioner recommended all civilian European workers to leave Aden as soon as possible, and one month after the bookshop fire, the missionaries Martha Holst, Esther Poulsen together with Grethe and Jørgen Nørgaard Pedersen left Aden in a Royal Air Force plane to Bahrain where they stayed for a week. Emsy Nielsen chose to continue her work at the Scottish mission clinic in Beihan for another three weeks.


Baptism Service at Aden in February 1973. Rev. Beihani baptizing his sister-in-law, Mulko.

During the dramatic days after the attack on the bookshop, the Anglican bishop from Sudan visited Aden and they asked him to ordain Beihani. The bishop authorized the British chaplain of seamen in Aden, the Baptist pastor H. Turton to perform ordination of Muhammad Hussein Al Beihani as pastor of Church of South Arabia in Crater, Aden. The ordination took place at the Church Service,on 9 July 1967.  Missionaries Martha Holst, Esther Poulsen, Grethe and Jørgen Nørgaard attended the ceremony.


On 30 November 1967, the British transferred Aden to Arab self-government, from 1 December 1970 named The Democratic People’s Republic of Yemen. In 1968, Karl Erik Wienberg visited Aden and at his meetings with the politicians of the new government, they welcomed help from the mission in their future work to establish the new communist state and stated, ‘The only condition is that people do not interfere with the politics of the country’. The Christian Arabs confirmed the urgent needs for help, and Beihani stressed that any assistance from the mission should be in the name of the Church of South Arabia.

Through the Church of Sweden Mission (CSM) and LWF, DMS/Mission to the Orient got money for a new, big school building fulfilling requirements of the government. The Danish Architect Ove Bro Henriksen designed the school, and together with his wife Susanne he served as missionary in Aden from April 1972 until May 1973. The inauguration took place on 25 October 1972 and the school had room for 180 pupils in five grades. It is still in use, now with two groups of pupils – boys in the morning and girls in the afternoon.

In 1969, Missionary Petra Lauridsen returned to work at the girls’ school for three years. And in 1970/71, the Norwegian physicians Mette and Torolf Moen were assigned to the Affara Hospital. After 1968, the bookshop continued with Arab staff. And until 1973, Jørgen Nørgaard Pedersen as consultant visited the bookshop several times annually. In the early 1970’s Karl Erik Wienberg visited Aden several times and had fruitful negotiations with ministers and government officials. They took great interest in contributions from DMS to build up the country through well boring, health work, etc. Finally, an invitation to carry out jobs so much needed in the promised land. However, financing was too big a job to DMS. They tried to raise money from the Danish development aid and the World Church Council (WCC) but had to realize that the political instability prevented this kind of effort.

The last Scottish missionaries went home in 1972, and when Ove Bro Henriksen left Aden in April 1973 Martha Holst was the only Danish missionary here. From the autumn 1973, she was going to continue her school work in Oman. The previous year Emsy Nielsen had moved to the American Mission Hospital in Oman and worked here until nationalization of the hospital in 1974. After that, she continued until 1979 at a Scottish hospital in Sana’a, North Yemen.

9 June 1973 was the end of 69 years’ work of the Danish mission in Aden, 75 years at a total in South Arabia. However, the Danish missionaries had left their marks on Aden. The Church of South Arabia was planted here in the heart of the crescent – according to the vision of Oluf Høyer on his first journey to Aden. And the small congregation lived on with Beihani as their pastor.


On 30 March 1971, the ambassador of South Yemen in London, F.A. Assalami visited DMS. His government had sent him to: ‘…say thank you to the Danish mission for the effort given and still being given to his country…’

In mission you cannot ask if the work pays off. You cannot put a cost-benefit analysis over the efforts and conclude whether you got value for money. However, if you want to measure the efforts of 75 years of mission in South Arabia, you can point out that sick people were cured, illiterates have learned to read, weak persons got authority, and the ‘Good News’ was told to the poor. A church and congregation came into existence. Life changed for many human beings by meeting Danish missionaries who ‘had a glimpse in their eyes.’

Extracts of book by Harald Nielsen (in Danish): ‘TÅLMODIGHED FORPLIGTER – 9 kapitler af Danmissions islamhistorie’

Translation Marianne Boisen – 05-04-2018

Link: ‘Dansk Kirkemission i Arabien’ – Kap. 5 i Harald Nielsens bog: Tålmodighed forpligter
Link: ‘Konstitutionen – Kap 6.3.5-6 i Harald Nielsens bog: Tålmodighed forpligter

View more photos here


Harald Nielsen (1946). Master of Theology 1975. Secretary General in DMS/Danmission, 1996-2002.
Islam secretary and later leader of the Danmission Dialogue Team, 2002-2010. Author the of book, in Danish: Tålmodighed forpligter – 9 kapitler af Danmissions Islamhistorie, Unitas 2005.

Rev. dato: 19. June 2018
Rettelser eller tilføjelser sendes til