Elizabeth Bowen Thompson – Missionary Example of Helper

Elizabeth Bowen Thompson Missionary Example of Helper is used in conjunction with the lesson on God’s Plan from Creation:  Helper.

Elizabeth Bowen Thompson is an example of a woman who used her gifts and skills to help others.  She began serving others as a single woman, and carried out her sacrificial and ambitious ministry as a married woman and later as a widow.

Young Elizabeth Maria Lloyd was a spirited girl with abundant energy and unusual organizational skills.  Born in the early 1800’s, Elizabeth, spiritually sensitive from her early childhood, was taunted by other children for her piety and was sometimes called the “little saint.”   She came to Christ as a girl and learned early that all matters were to be prayed about. Frances Ridley Havergal wrote, “Lord, prepare me for whatever thou art preparing for me”[1] This prayer quite aptly described Elizabeth Bowen Thompson’s early life.

From her childhood Elizabeth had a keen interest in ancient things, particularly in Biblical archaeology. As a young woman she intently studied the latest Eastern archaeological discoveries and soon became an authority on Egyptian and Eastern antiquities.  Miss Lloyd was offered a position working for the Syro-Egyptian Mission in Damascus where she met Dr. James Bowen Thompson, head of the British Syrian Hospital in that city. The friendship between James and Elizabeth soon blossomed into love.  The couple was married and settled near Antioch.

Elizabeth was moved by the plight of the Syrian women in Antioch and longed to help them.  She learned the language, hired other Christians to assist her, and opened a small school in her home, which she ran for eighteen months until the outbreak of the Crimean War.

When the war erupted in 1853, Dr. Bowen Thompson, an expert in Eastern diseases, quickly volunteered to go serve his country as a military doctor. Eager to be of assistance, he left for the front before his commission was issued.  Upon arriving, Dr. Bowen Thompson was stricken down with the same fever he had come to treat.  Because he was not yet a military doctor, he was refused admission to the military hospital.  At the urging of a fellow physician the hospital finally admitted him, but it was too late and Dr. Bowen Thompson died.

Grief-stricken, the young widow returned to England and lived with her sister and brother-in-law.  News reached England of the massacres in Syria in 1860 where the slaughter of thousands of males was carried out by the Turks, Druses and Kurds. These factions were brutal and merciless in their destruction, resorting to trickery to gather together and butcher all men and boys from the ages of 7 -70. Over 20,000 widows and many more children were left homeless. Widows and orphans fled to seaport towns of Syria. Elizabeth felt specially qualified in her widowhood to aid these widows, and with her years lived in Syria, she knew the language and customs of the land.  Elizabeth gave of her own means to help widows and orphans, and soon travelled to Beirut to do what she could personally.

“When tidings of these fearful events reached Europe, England sent money, food, and clothing.  Many of my friends, and the members of my family, took an active part in helping in this good work:  and, as it had pleased God that during the Crimean War I should be one of the many to become widows, it was but natural that my heart should respond to the widows’ cries.  Then, too, the happy portion of my wedded life, which I had spent in Syria, had enabled me to acquire some knowledge of the language as well as of the ignorance and desolate condition of the women.  Therefore, as a widow caring for the widow, I felt called upon to try to give help in distress, and make known to them the only balm for a broken heart – the love of the Lord Jesus.”[2]

Elizabeth Bowen Thompson discovered a great lack of Christian teaching, of ability to read, and of training in housekeeping among the widows. Suddenly widowed, these Syrian women had little education and few skills to make their own living. Elizabeth quickly formed industrial schools, instructing the women in areas such as sewing and embroidery while teaching them to read by using the Bible.  Students young and old were given the gospel. Every day the women would have Bible lessons and learn hymns, followed by school and skills classes.  As these downtrodden women heard the gospel they responded with amazement.

“No idea of ‘the Truth as it is in Christ Jesus,’ their (the widow’s) souls were filled with revenge…When, however, their Christian teachers unfolded to them the Good News of our Saviour, they would sit at their feet in rapt attention and exclaim, ‘We never heard such words.  We are women.  Does it mean for us?’ A few of them blessed God for the Word he had sent to them by us.”[3]

Strangers who heard of the new schools came from all of Syria and begged Mrs. Bowen Thompson to open schools for them. Within a few months Elizabeth established schools for the widows, schools for the orphans, and evening schools for the young men. She received help and supplies from the Syrian Relief Fund and the Anglo-American Committee.  Above all she made sure that the gospel was preached to every person associated with her schools.

“The Bible was in their hands, and the songs of Zion rose up to heaven instead of their former imprecations and idle talk.  Groups of women being taught by their children now met the eye; and in their miserable abodes the Bible was read, and the teaching of the Holy Spirit sought in prayer.”[4]

As the number of schools increased, so did the need for good workers.  When their home in England burned down, Elizabeth’s sister and brother in law, Mr. and Mrs. Mentor Mott, came to help in the work. Miss Lloyd, a younger sister, also answered the call for workers in this burgeoning ministry.

“When I began, amidst great discouragement, I had not the slightest idea how large and how rapidly the work would grow; and when I look at the schools as they stand, I own I marvel at what the Lord has wrought in little more than two months and a half.”[5]

Word of the schools continued to spread and soon the upper-class Syrians asked Mrs. Bowen Thompson to teach their children for a fee. More homes were opened for orphans and widows with the tuition from these paying students.  Parents, friends, brothers of the widows and of paying and non-paying students alike were invited to Sunday evening classes where a Christian man read verses, explained the passage, answered questions, and closed in prayer.

How to provide for all of the needs of these newly begun schools was ever on Elizabeth Bowen Thompson’s heart. By 1862 resources were stretched thin.  Elizabeth went to the Lord with her burden.

“I had no money in hand for my poor widows.  They were without food…I went up into my room and there, alone with God, I besought Him for help.  While yet in prayer my request was granted; for the Prussian Consul was downstairs with the news he had opened a soup-kitchen, and would give a meal every day to fifty of my poor women.  The Lord doth surely provide!”[6]

In answer to Elizabeth’s prayers, British sailors docked at Beirut heard of the schools and sent their laundry to be done, thus providing regular income for the widows.

By 1863 there were 18 various schools, and by 1864 over four hundred students were enrolled in the schools. Bible education as well as secular training was mandatory. This godly training helped dispel superstitious practices that many of the people had such as buying one or two square feet of heaven to ensure a place for themselves or loved ones. “To such a people, the entrance of God’s Word is as ‘the dayspring from on high.’”[7]

Some of the newly saved widows began nightly prayer meetings in their homes and were turned out by their landlords for it.  Elizabeth found them new places to live and gave them rooms at the school for their prayer meetings.

As news of the well run schools spread, Elizabeth was asked to establish her schools in an ever widening area. Schools were established at Damascus and Elizabeth was responsible to train teachers for Bishop Gobat’s school in Jerusalem, Miss Whately’s school in Cairo, plus schools in six other locations.

After several years a variety of schools were in operation:  boys’ schools, girls’ schools, infant schools, orphanages, Sunday schools, Moslem boarding schools, blind schools, a school for cripples plus a Normal Training College for teachers were all started and supplied by the influence of Elizabeth Bowen Thompson.  Much of the training of the teachers for these schools was funded by Mrs. Bowen Thompson or her family.

By 1899 Elizabeth had laboured diligently for eight years in Syria, establishing schools and training many in the Word.  Elizabeth’s health was never robust and the strain of the hard work weakened her.  Elizabeth knew the Lord was with her in her illness and she wrote, “Notwithstanding my great weakness I have never one instant lost my peace of mind or sense of the presence of Jesus, my Lord.”[8]

Hoping to improve her health, Elizabeth Bowen Thompson returned to England.  Her health deteriorated and as she lay dying she regretted she could never again see her “dear children far away”[9]

Her last days were a shining testimony of one who walked with God.  Shortly before she crossed the vale she prayed, “And now, dear Lord Jesus, let none of those who know me, and none of those who love me, ever think of me as passing through the grave and gate of death.  I am passing through the gate of glory.”[10]  Elizabeth Bowen Thompson died glorious in the Lord on November. 14,1869. This widow gave al that she had and was to bring the Gospel to the downtrodden of Syria.

With wisdom, grace, and love divinely blest,

She raised the fallen, shielded the oppressed.

The blind she led to touch the Word and see;

And healed the strife of creeds by charity.

Damascus mourns her – Hermon’s daughters weep –

Their ‘mother in the Lord’ has fall’n asleep.

Her native land has claimed her mortal part;

Jesus her soul; but Syria hath her heart.[11]

Author unknown


[1] Mrs. J. T. Gracey, Eminent Missionary Women (New York:  Eaton & Mains, 1898) p. 101.

[2] Charles F. Hayward, Women Missionaries (London:  Collins Clear-type Press, n.d.) p. 149

[3] Ibid., 150.

[4]  “Elizabeth Bowen Thompson,” Heroines of the Cross:  True Stories of Noble Women (Kilmarnock, Scotland:  John Ritchie Publishers n.d.) p. 20

[5] Ibid., pp. 21-22

[6] Hayward, p. 157

[7] Canon Dawson, Heroines of Missionary Adventure (Philadelphia:  J. P. Lippincott, 1909) p. 167

[8] Hayward, p. 167.

[9] “Elizabeth Bowen Thompson,” Heroines of the Cross:  True Stories of Noble Women, p.25.

[10] Hayward, p. 168.

[11] Mrs. E. R. Pitman, Missionary Heroines in Eastern Lands (London:  Pickering & Inglis, n.d.) p. 87.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s