Skip to main content

“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” —1 Sam. 3:9

Mission Matters

A monthly update from Hunter Farrell, director of World Mission, on the impact of Presbyterian mission in the world and the issues that affect mission co-workers, the people we walk with and assist in service to God, and our partners around the globe.


December 2014

A Harvest Beyond Our Wildest Dreams

In November, I had the opportunity to represent our church at two 150th anniversary celebrations: the founding of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo and the completion of the Van Dyck Arabic translation of the Bible. In both ceremonies, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was repeatedly singled out for its pioneering vision and sustaining support over the many years. But I want to share with you the marvelous story of the fruits one of the best mission decisions our church ever made.

While history and most experts still refer to this seminal translation as the “Van Dyck translation”, it is more accurate to describe it as the “Bustani-Van Dyck translation”. This is in no way to take away from the outstanding work that the Rev. Dr. Cornelius Van Dyck accomplished during his more than 50 years of service to the people of Syria and Arabic-speaking world. By any account, Van Dyck was a giant among missionaries: during a half-century of dedicated service, Van Dyck, a medical doctor, treated thousands of patients, trained pastors, wrote textbooks for chemistry, internal medicine and mathematics (in Arabic!) and taught medicine at the newly established Syrian Protestant College, which later became the American University of Beirut. He supervised the entire Bible translation project from translation to publication. By all accounts, Cornelius Van Dyck was an outstanding servant of God who freely offered his unique gifts and skills to the growth of God’s Kingdom throughout the Middle East of the nineteenth century. At the celebration of the 50th anniversary of his arrival in Syria, thousands of Syrians of different religious and political backgrounds showed up to thank him for what he brought to their nation.

But the enduring impact of the Bustani-Van Dyck translation is also due to Butrus al-Bustani’s profound knowledge of the Arabic language and his remarkable linguistic skills: during his long career, al-Bustani learned French, Italian, English, and Latin, and the biblical languages Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Syriac. He became a champion of Arab education and Arabic language literature and he exercised a profound impact on Syria and the wider Arab world. Bustani’s poetic command of Arabic saw to it that the translation is still considered a literary masterpiece 150 years after its completion.

This remarkable mission partnership brought together two very gifted— and very different-- members of the Body of Christ to do together what neither could have accomplished alone: produce a translation of the Bible based on the original languages that speaks God’s word in such a clear way that:

  • over 50 million copies of been printed and distributed,
  • the Bustani-Van Dyck translation is still the authoritative translation for 10 million Copts (Egyptian Orthodox) and a million Protestants throughout the Arabic speaking world, including the half-million Presbyterians in Egypt.
  • Countless Arabic speakers have heard God speak their language through the pages of the Bustani-Van Dyck translation and had their faith awakened or deepened.

Neither Boutros al-Bustani nor Cornelius Van Dyck—in their wildest dreams—could have imagined the impact that their partnership would have on the world:

  • Presbyterian work in Egypt has grown over the years into the largest Protestant church in the Middle East, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Egypt, with half a million members,
  • The Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo has grown tremendously in size and is currently training more than 300 full-time students from 5 Middle Eastern countries,
  • The youth camp, founded in Alexandria almost a century ago has enjoyed significant growth over the last decade and this year, despite much uncertainty in Egyptian society, will receive more than X Egyptian youth and young adults to learn how to love God and neighbor.

These extraordinary accomplishments probably wouldn’t have happened without the mission partnership that produced the Bustani-Van Dyck translation of the Bible. May their mission partnership serve as a model for ours, with each one bringing forward gifts, talents and skills in the service of God’s Realm.

With you in Christ,


Mission Matters Archives

November 2014 - Both Bricks and Mortar
October 2014 - Binding Threads
July 2014 - Abound in Hope: the 221st General Assembly (2014) 
May 2014 - Training Leaders for Community Transformation 
April 2014 - Ending Violence against Women and Children 
March 2014 - 3 Critical Global Issues—#1: Quality education for 1 million children by 2020
February 2014 - CEDEPCA: Caring for God's Creation 
January 2014 - Young Adult Volunteers: New YAV Sites Opening

December 2013 - We are truly better together
November 2013 - South Sudanese: Displaced by violence 
October 2013 - Haiti: the Presbyterian Church is here to stay



  • thanks Hunter for great message! by Bob Rice on 11/28/2014 at 1:38 p.m.

  • Thank you my dear Brother for the Work you and the World Mission Board are doing. May the Lord continue to open many new doors for Us. Amen. by Isaac Saka (Rev) on 07/23/2014 at 6:55 p.m.

Join the Discussion

Post Comment