Danish Mission to the Orient

The founder of Danish Mission to the Orient is Einar Prip who was dedicated in Vor Frue Kirke (Our Lady's Church) in Svendborg 1898. Mission work was mainly based in Syria.

Einar Prip and the founding period 1898-1905

After having graduated in Divinity in 1894, Einar Prip (1868-1939) approached DMS to become a missionary. Due to a one-year break caused by illness while Prip was at university, DMS did not dare to send him to India as a missionary and rejected his application. Instead, Einar Prip replaced his father, Rasmus Prip, as a vicar of Our Lady’s Church in Svendborg, while the father was away on a journey to the Holy Land given to him to mark his 25th anniversary at the church.

In Jerusalem, Reverend Prip met the director of the German orphanage and during their conversation mentio-ned the wish of his son to become a missionary. The director invited E. Prip to Jerusalem to assist at the orphanage in return for board and lodging. Simultaneously, he might study the Arab language and familiarize himself with the local culture.

That is how Einar Prip came to Jerusalem. The city and the Arabs fascinated him so much that after his return, he traveled around Denmark to tell about his impressions and get support to go back. One year later, he accepted invitation for a return to Jerusalem to replace the director of the orphanage while he was on a two years’ leave in Germany. At that time, he had gathered support from 33 circles in Denmark – especially circles following Grundtvig.

On 10 March 1898, Our Lady’s Church in Svendborg celebrated a sending service for Einar Prip to the orphanage in Jerusalem – for two years to come. Representatives from all supporting circles attended the service, and a committee for taking care of the contact between Prip and the circles in Denmark was set up. In this way, 10 March 1898 is considered the founding date of the Danish Mission to the Orient.

After his arrival, Prip made an excursion to the Mar Saba Monastery and the field of the shepherds close to Bethlehem. Here he had an experience of vital influence to his future life as a missionary. During a rest, he met with some Bedouins and he tells: ‘at once they were very dear to me, and as I rode on I had a blessed meeting with God again offering Him myself and all that was mine if he would bestow the grace upon me to serve Him among the Bedouins.’

Doctor Rudolf Fox Maule

At a meeting in Our Savior’s Church in Copenhagen a few days before he left for Jerusalem in March 1898, Prip called for a doctor willing to join him at his next journey. The following day Rudolf Fox Maule (1875-1940), a medical student offered his service for the job but agreed waiting to discuss the details of the arrangement until Prip returned from Jerusalem.

After more than two years’ stay in Jerusalem and Haifa, Prip returned to Denmark in 1900. Late in the year, he contacted R. Fox Maule to find out whether he was still prepared to join him to the Middle East.  The two men soon came to an agreement on their future work and contacted the committee in Denmark. The committee requested Fox Maule to go as soon as possible, first for further training in Edinburgh and then to Constantinople to obtain authorization for work within the Ottoman Empire. In Edinburgh, he met a Scottish doctor, a missio-nary from Damascus with whom Fox Maule arranged for his further training to take place at the Victoria Hospital in Damascus, supervised by the Scottish doctor. At a service on 10 October 1901 in Our Lady’s Church, Svendborg, and a week later in Christ Church, Copenhagen, Fox Maule and his wife were sent out.

At his arrival in Damascus mid-January 1902, Fox Maule became part of an international missionary environ-ment and met an Irish Presbyterian missionary whom he told about the plans for a mission among Bedouins. This led to an invitation to visit the Irish Mission in Nebk, 90 km north of Damascus in the Kalamun region bordering on the Syrian Desert.

Serious economic problems implying the closing down of the mission were the hidden motive to the invitation as the Irish saw a chance to hand over their mission to the Danes. After having visited the area, Prip and Fox Maule met with the Irish missionaries who officially asked the Danish Mission to the Orient to take over the mission work in the entire Kalamun district. After a number of negotiations with the Irish missionaries and correspondence with the Danish Committee, the Danish Mission to the Orient ended up taking over the mission in Kalamun district comprising the main towns Nebk, Deir Atiyah, Jabrud, Karyaten and Hafar. So far, the main effort had been school mission, but the arrival of Fox Maule now facilitated medical mission and through Reverend Prip’s work also preaching of the Gospel. Kalamun had 60,000 inhabitants and around 10,000 were Christians, mainly divided between Greek Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox Christians. In addition was a small Presbyterian congregation primarily converts from the two big Christian confessions. This made it important for Prip to stress that ‘fishing’ Christians from the established churches to a protestant congregation was not the purpose of his mission but to preach the Gospel for the Christians to become conscious members of their churches.

Clinic work

Right from the start, Fox Maule built up a health clinic quickly attracting many patients. News about a capable doctor’s arrival to the neighborhood spread. However, Fox Maule had bigger plans. He began working on building a hospital in Nebk, and after a lot of bureaucratic difficulties, he succeeded in buying and register a site for the hospital.

The clinic at Deir Atiyah, Syria – with Missionary Doctor Rudolf Fox Maule and his assistants. Standing left: the Danish Missionary Nurse, Kirstine Laursen.

This did not end the challenges as the Turkish authorities in 1914 announced that they themselves intended to open a hospital in the town and could not allow the Danish Mission to the Orient to build a hospital in the same area. At that time, World War I broke out and everything stopped. Not until 1927 could the Danish Hospital in Nebk open, today a regional hospital run by the Syrian State. In 1905, the medical mission expanded by posting a missionary nurse, Kirstine Laursen for health work in Syria.

School Mission

Previously, the Irish Mission had run some training for girls in the towns Nebk and Deir Atiyah, but the work had stopped for some years during transfer to the Danish mission. The Danish Mission to the Orient looked for a qualified missionary able to establish and run their schools, and Fox Maule approached Johanne Svanenskjold (1879-1965) whom he had met already in 1902 when she was a teacher at the English mission school in Lebanon.

Supported by Kvindelige Missions Arbejdere – KMA (Women Mission Workers) the Danish Mission to the Orient employed Johanne Svanenskjold in 1905, and she went to Syria together with her mother (who worked as a kind of volunteer until 1910). She started establishing schools for girls eventually comprising the towns, Nebk, Jabrud and Deir Atiyah – everywhere with Syrian female teachers. In this pioneer work, Johanne Svanen-skjold quickly realized a problem difficult to solve – the lack of local female teachers.

Danish Mission to the Orient. Teachers at the Nebk Girl’s School, founded by Missionary Johanne Svanenskjold.

A tradition of schools for girls was almost non-existing. Girls were not supposed to go to school. They had to train housekeeping and to get married soonest possible. It was a challenge making the parents realize that schooling meant a better future for their daughters. As it was a shame for a girl not to be married before the age of 20, another challenge was to convince the girls to continue their education and train as teachers. Johanne Svanenskjold decided to set up a boarding school in her home in Nebk, and together with another missionary she trained the girls to become teachers. In 1913, 170 pupils attended the three girls’ schools of the mission – among these 109 Muslim girls.

In 1905, the Danish Mission to the Orient had taken over five boys’ schools in the towns Jabrud, Nebk, Deir Atiyah, Hafar and Sadad. In 1913, another boys’ school opened in Karyaten. The boys’ schools too had local Syrian teachers. At the beginning, the teaching took place in rented rooms, but eventually the Mission had its own schools in Nebk and Karyaten. The students came from Christian as well as Muslim families and Chris-tianity was compulsory education. Working with the schools became the entrance to an understanding between Christians and Muslims creating mutual relations and friendships. At the beginning, Prip was head of the schools but in 1912, Alfred Nielsen (1884-1963) took over leadership of the boys’ schools. In 1913, the five boys’ schools of the mission had 190 students, 71 of these Muslims.

Parish work

Rev. Einar Prip and wife, Countess Asta Bertha Julie Prip, in their first home in Deir Atiyah, Syria. (Rev. Einar Prip, pioneer missionary and founder of Danish Mission to the Orient, sent to the Middle East, 1898-1934). Photo 1908.

Being head of the schools from the beginning, the resources Prip had to cover parish work among the Muslim population were limited. As the only parson in the five parishes taken over from the Irish mission, Prip had plenty to do only to keep everything going. In Karyaten only, Muslims are reported having visited meetings of Prip at a regular basis.

Danish Mission to the Orient in Nebk, Syria. Y.M.C.A. after the distribution of awards. In the middle: Missionary Einar Prip.

At the services, Prip used the Lutheran rituals resulting in insecurity and distrust within some of the congre-gations. However, slowly but surely confidence built up between the Syrian Christians and the new pastor. People noticed that Prip spoke the everyday Arab language much easier to understand than the classical Arab used in the mosque. In 1912, either Prip or one of the Syrian evangelists held a service every Sunday in Deir Atiyah, Nebk and Jabrud. Hafar had a service once a month and Karyaten being rather distant from the other towns had services held by the Syrian evangelists only.

Meeting the Bedouins

The Bedouins made Einar Prip and Fox Maule go to Kalamun. Moreover, the Bedouins made Prip settle in the distant Karyaten where contact to the ‘sons of the desert’ was possible, and for this purpose Prip taught himself the Bedouin language. Otherwise, we hear only little of his meeting with the Bedouins during his two years in Karyaten before moving to Nebk.

Hence, the outreach to the Bedouins was sporadic mostly taking place when the doctor and nurse were on tour visiting one of the head towns of the mission to have clinic hours. Johanne Svanenskjold and Alfred Nielsen did not share Prip’s enthusiasm for the Bedouins. Nielsen mainly saw the Bedouins as a threat to traffic and needed escort from Turkish soldiers when he was on his tours. On a clinic tour to Palmyra in 1913, a group of Bedouins assaulted Fox Maule and Kirstine Laursen. A shooting between the Syrian assistants of the missionaries and the Bedouins took place that might have led to a tragic end for the two missionaries. This episode made the Danish Mission to the Orient give up the idea of a mission among the Bedouins.

World War I

At the end of 1911, war broke out between Italy and Turkey. This started a process resulting in the fall of the old Ottoman Empire. In 1912, the Balkan War followed and this time the vassal states revolted against the Turkish supremacy.

At the outbreak of WW I in 1914, the Turkish reaction caused concern. As Turkey in November the same year joined the Central powers in the war the situation turned out to be so difficult for the Danish missionaries that an evacuation became necessary, and they all stayed in Denmark during the war. At the end of the war even-tually, missionaries could return to Syria, now a French mandate from 1919 and ahead.


Alfred Nielsen had not been entirely satisfied with his work in the school mission of Kalamun. At a mission conference for the Middle East in 1921, start of an urban mission in Damascus was suggested. Danish mission to the Orient accepted to take over the work with Alfred Nielsen as the leader. After this he served here from 1921 to 1928. Alfred Nielsen decided to open a reading room in the Muslim part of the ‘Straight Street’ – located in central Damascus and the city-bazaar. Books, newspapers and other literature invited local people inside to read and talk about religious issues. Dialogue became a tool long time before the theological invention of the word. In addition, he offered lectures with biblical slides once a week. The reading room was very popular and gave occasion for young people to hang out after the lectures and discuss the Gospel. Moreover, Alfred Nielsen spend time walking around the bazaar streets with a bag of books and pamphlets.

Missionary Alfred Nielsen and wife Christine Nielsen at the table in their home. Rev. Alfred Julius Nielsen, MA & BD – sent by Danish Mission to the Orient, 1911-1954, e.g. as head of the mission boys schools and pastoral ministry in Syria and Jerusalem.

However, the pleasure of Alfred Nielsen’s reading room became a short one. Muslim papers very soon wrote about the activities and found location of the reading room in the center of the Muslim shopping area very provocative. The authorities forced Alfred Nielsen to close, and he moved the reading room to the Christian quarter – as close as possible to the Jewish and Muslim quarters. For a period, this left the reading room in peace. In 1927, however, the criticism started again and as the authorities told Nielsen that they were unable to guarantee his safety, he closed the place for good. During his remaining time as a missionary, Alfred Nielsen served as language teacher of Newman School of Missions in Jerusalem and had mission work at a German hospital as well.

Hospital and Nursing School

At the end of WW I, Fox Maule re-started his hospital project. License to build was obtained in November 1921, but inauguration of the hospital did not take place until 17 May 1927, after several impediments to the building activities. Fox Maule had been head of the building project, while a new physician, Henrik Møller managed the clinic work. At the end of the project, Dr Møller became Chief Superintendent of the hospital while Fox Maule returned to the clinic work. Completion of the hospital made a milestone in the history of the Danish Mission to the Orient. A working process of 22 years came to an end.

The special branch of health work, training of nurses became another pioneer job of the mission. The hospital work made professional training possible leading to an exam after three years. Following graduation the nurse  received a certificate enabling employment at other hospitals as well. When the Chief Nursing Superintendent Cecilie Lauritsen started training of the young nurses, new problems turned up. The sanitation in the small Syrian houses was far from the demands of a modern hospital. In addition to this, professional challenges were added, the biggest being the non-existence of an Arab textbook. Due to this, Cecilie Lauritsen had to write her own Arab textbook for nurses.

Parish work and church building

Einar Prip continued his parish work after WW I. Building a church in Nebk became of very high priority to friends of the Danish Mission to the Orient just as construction of the hospital had been. Great collections among friends of the Danish Mission, Syrian immigrants in America, and The Laymen Movement for overseas mission financed building of the church. On 15 May 1933, Prip inaugurated a big and roomy church constructed without altar-piece after Presbyterian model, and with a platform at one end of the building for conductors of the service. Friends from Aalborg donated a harmonium still being in the church.

The last big event for Einar Prip was ordination of the first Syrian parson on 28 October 1934. Soon afterwards, Prip returned to Denmark where he died on 2 Feb. 1939. In 1935, Else Fox Maule died in Nebk after a period of illness. She was buried at the hospital premises in a small graveyard. In July 1940, R. Fox Maule died, also in Nebk and was buried next to his wife.

The years after World War II

During World War II, several Danish missionaries used the situation to study advanced Arab language at the Newman School in Jerusalem with Alfred Nielsen as teacher. After the war, political circumstances had chan-ged. Already in 1941, Syria declared independence as The Republic of Syria and the new state had to find its own political way. This turned out to be an extremely difficult process including some military coups. In 1954, the first general election where also women had the right to vote took place. After another military coup in 1963, the Baath party took power and promoted Arab socialism to start from 1966.

Mission during Muslim rule

Already during the inter-war period, the Muslim self-esteem had grown resulting in the establishment of natio-nal Muslim schools where mission schools had previously been. After WW II, this tendency increased and at the end of 1946, the Syrian ministry of education impressed on the mission schools that shared teaching of Christianity to Christian and Muslim students was not allowed. This started a struggle of culture between Syrian Muslim nationalism and the Christian mission. After the schools, the hospitals were next in line when a new law prescribed that foreign hospitals had to be under Syrian management.

To secure the work of Danish Mission to the Orient the chairperson handed over the work to the Evangelical Synod in Syria and Lebanon on 29 October 1960. During the preceding negotiations, the Danish Mission to the Orient made it clear that the Synod was expected to do without financial help from abroad while the Danish Mission continued to pay salary of missionaries and so-called ‘new campaigns’. A withdrawal had begun. In the summer of 1962, the Synod hired a Muslim Syrian doctor to the hospital and new problems arose causing the missionary council request the committee in Denmark to demand dismissal of the doctor – otherwise the Danish health personnel would leave their jobs. However, the confidence was broken. And on 11 March 1964, representatives of the Synod and Board of the Danish Mission to the Orient had a meeting and decided to stop the cooperation. After 60 years, the mission founded by Einar Prip and R. Fox Maule in Syria ended again.

Some of the missionaries went back to Denmark while others continued mission work in other areas, e.g. sent by DMS. At the same time, negotiations about a formalized cooperation with DMS and later Danish Pathan Mission were initiated. This resulted in a merger of the two missions with DMS from 1 January 1975.

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

Translation Marianne Boisen – 30-06-2017

Read the original text (in Danish) here

View more photos from Danish Mission to the Orient 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
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