Literature Committee

Scope and Content

Papers of the Literature Committee of the Algiers Mission Band, comprising minutes, letters and accounts of the work of the Committee.

Administrative / Biographical History

From the very early days of the Algiers Mission Band, Lilias Trotter saw a strategic importance for literature ministry in the field. The Band engaged in the mass production of literature - published in Arabic and French - in the form of tracts written by Lilias and other members, as well as translations of the Bible stories and parables. Literature was distributed by means of colportage – in the early years by camel and mule, and in due course by car, and also through reading rooms and in schools set up by the missionaries.

An early collaboration sprang up with the Nile Mission Press in Cairo which continued for many years. The first Arabic tracts it published, in 1905, were penned by Lilias. Other agencies joined in the task, and the Nile Mission Press later established a distribution depot in Algiers. Lilias served for a period from 1915 on the International Executive Committee of the Nile Mission Press.

Fired by the enthusiasm of their leader, a number of Band members wrote tracts, in such quantity that one collaborator/commentator [Kittie Currie] spoke of an outbreak of 'tractitis'. The first were written from 1905, but work gathered pace after a visit to Cairo in 1915. The main authors at that stage were Lilias, Blanche Haworth, Kittie Currie, Mabel Grautoff, Mary Watling and Millicent Roche.

The Literature Committee was established in that year and continued until 1962 – a reading of the Minutes reveals the extent of collaboration with other agencies and authors, as well as a concern for educational material – primers of basic grammar, early reading books and the like. Later the Committee decided to focus exclusively on evangelistic literature. The first chairman was Lilias Trotter, and she was succeeded in 1926 by Mabel Grautoff. Secretaries were Millicent Roche, who later edited 'A Thirsty Land' and Phyllis Russell. Alma Krebs seems to have been the early expert in classical Arabic, and Muslim converts helped with writing in Arabic script. Various Band members wrote in French.

There was early recognition that the Bible needed to be made available in the colloquial Arabic of Algeria rather than classical Arabic. Portions of Scripture were translated, starting with Luke's gospel, then, John. Later, this was published in an illuminated version, as was 'Daily Light', a book of devotional readings from the Bible for each day.

After WW2, the volume of new tracts slowed down, but many were re-printed as funds allowed. In the publication of Bible tracts, the committee was helped by the Scripture Gift Mission and the Trinitarian Bible Society in the UK.

A Translation Committee existed, in which Percy Smith of the Methodist Episcopal Church was the leading light, and on which Mr Arthur Theobald of the Band also served. There was close collaboration with Mr Short of the North Africa Mission for a period in the 1930s.

Lilias wrote many tracts for children, of which the 'Bird Book' (1924) is perhaps the most famous example: spiritual lessons from the life of birds, illustrated with Lilias' own bird paintings. Another focus was on literature for women. Lilias wrote a series of tracts called 'Heavenly Light on the Daily Path', using simple illustrations from the daily lives of women. This was also published for use in England.

Lilias had a particular interest in the Sufis of the south, and after contact with experts in Sufism in 1913, she made an in-depth study of her own. This resulted in a book, written in her later years, called 'The Way of the Sevenfold Secret', which took the reader on a journey through the 'I am' sayings in John's gospel. This book was reprinted eight times between the wars, including in Persian and French, and is still regularly reprinted. Alma Krebs undertook the Arabic translation.

There was an equally significant output of literature for Christians, both supporters at home and for new believers from a Muslim background. A series of tracts for Christians at home enjoyed wide popularity, as did her two devotional books 'Parables of the Cross' and 'Parables of the Christ-life'. Both were illustrated with her own minutely-observed watercolours of seed-pods and flower-heads. A larger book 'Between the Desert and the Sea' described the landscape of Algeria down to the borderlands with Tunisia, again illustrated with plates of her small paintings of scenes, buildings and people, painted during her many itinerations inland.

The Literature Committee regularly considered the need for deputation material, and information for supporters at home. From 1927, this took the form of a magazine 'A Thirsty Land'.

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