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Dr James Martin and Irish RP Missions

The first missionaries sent out by the Irish RP Church were sent out to minister to members of the church who had emigrated to the British Provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, which now form part of Canada. In 1827 Rev. Alexander Clarke was sent over and managed to set up 15 mission stations. In 1831, he was joined by Rev. William Somerville, and between them they set up a Presbytery which grew in size until it eventually became part of the American Reformed Presbyterian Church.

In 1857 Rev. Alexander McIlwaine Moore was sent out to the British colony of Australia. After a short time in Melbourne, he went to Geelong and within six months elders had been elected and a congregation established. Four years later a church building was built, with John G. Paton preaching at the opening services. However the church in Australia never grew as big as it could have, because despite repeated calls for another worker, no-one went out to help Mr Moore who had to work on his own until his death forty years later.

In the South of Ireland, the church did mission work in Dublin, Connaught and Mayo. In England, a congregation was established in Liverpool.

The first foreign missionary of the Irish Church was Dr James Martin, who was sent as a medical missionary to Muslims in Syria in 1871. There were already American RP missionaries in Syria, and Dr Martin was also supported by the Scottish RP Church. In 1875 he conducted his first service in Arabic. In 1876, Dr Martin’s five-month old baby and then his young wife died within two months of each other. Following this he moved to Antioch, where he married his second wife, an American missionary. A school, congregation and medical centre were established. In 1895 Rev. Samuel H. Kennedy was sent out to join the work. In 1905 Dr Martin was given a year’s break from Antioch but chose to go back after only six months because of the great need there was. A few years after he finished his Arabic translations of the Reformed Presbyterian Testimony and the Larger Catechism.

With the outbreak of World War One, all British subjects were ordered to leave the country, and the Martins left for Cyprus. After the war, the missionaries returned, and were joined by Rev and Mrs William Lytle and then Rev. and Mrs Archibald Guthrie. Dr Martin retired in 1924. The area of Northern Syria in which the remaining missionaries were working in became part of Turkey in 1946, which greatly hindered missionary work. The Guthries left in 1947 to minister in Wishaw, Scotland and the Lytles were expelled in 1951. After this, they worked in Lebanon before the church began to concentrate its missionary efforts on a new work started in Ethiopia in 1963. The emphasis here was on evangelism, education, medical and agricultural work, and the work flourished before a revolution in the country in 1975 forced them to return home.

In 1988, a team of missionaries was sent to Nantes, the sixth largest city in France.


Read more:
Isobel Lytle, James Martin: Pioneer medical missionary in Antioch (Belfast, 2003).
Adam Loughridge, The Covenanters in Ireland (Belfast, 1984), pp 68-84; 128-9.
RPCI Overseas Mission

Dr James Martin
Dr James Martin
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