Until they reached Jidda, Arabia, the Gobats' journey was "one long honeymoon." Samuel Gobat was fifteen years older than his young wife, Marie Zeller. They first met when she was a lively six-year-old and he was an almost-grown student studying under her father. Swiss-born Samuel pioneered a mission work in Ethiopia. On a trip home, he found Marie had grown into a hard-working, cheerful woman and he fell in love. They were married on May 23, 1834. Just over two weeks later, on this day, June 7, 1834, the pair left Marie's home in Beuggen, Germany bound for Ethiopia.
They chose a route to Ethiopia (which was then called Abyssinia) by way of Arabia. But after Jidda, things fell apart. Samuel became desperately ill. Marie nursed him, only to fall sick of cholera herself. Samuel was too weak to help her. For the next two years, their lives were a deepening pit of agony. Sometimes Marie could not help but cry out, asking the Lord why, after they had left all for him, they should suffer so terribly. Yet she tried to submit to his will. Finally, Mr. Gobat's constant sickness forced them to return to Europe. Crossing Egypt, they suffered dreadfully from thirst and hunger and stony-faced people refused them any help. With pitiful cries, their first-born child died just hours away from medical care in Cairo. Marie later described it as the most terrible day of her life.
Disaster continued to dog the missionary couple. More children died. Samuel had to take Bible translation work on Malta. This paid only a pittance and his family suffered extreme poverty, but his health improved. He was appointed assistant principal of a school.
In 1846, matters finally improved. To counter French protection of Catholics in Palestine and Russian protection of the Orthodox, the English and Prussians agreed to send a bishop to Jerusalem to undertake mission work and protect Protestants. Appointment would switch back and forth between the British and Germans. King Friedrich William IV of Prussia urgently requested Samuel to accept the position when the British bishop died.
Samuel and Marie accepted this as God's leading. The family moved to Jerusalem. Disembarking at Jaffa, they almost lost another child, when a sailor dropped him just as a swell caused the ship to rise and the landing boat to drop twelve feet. Marie's quick thinking saved the lad, when she snapped her skirt out and caught him.
In Palestine, Samuel founded 37 schools, 12 churches and several hospitals; and he converted Palestinians to Christ. Marie worked by his side, cheerfully opening her home to all who passed through and pouring all her energy into helping manage the schools and provide for their needs. The two faced the possibility of martyrdom when a massacre by the Druse left hundreds of Christians dead in Lebanon and Damascus. They also took harsh criticism for accepting converts from among the Orthodox into their Protestant churches. Samuel explained that these people had been driven out of their traditional churches when they tried to study the Bible. Several British bishops declared their complete confidence in him.
Samuel continued in fair health until a few months before his death. His love and gentleness to Marie was known by all. She lost interest in life when he died, and followed him to the grave within twelve weeks, possibly as the result of brain injury she had suffered in a fall several years earlier.
- Anderson, Gerald H. Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions. New York: Macmillan Reference, 1998.
- Bautz, Friedrich William. "Gobat, Samuel." Kirchenlexikon.
- Neill, Stephen. History of Christian Missions. Penguin, 1964.
- Pitman, E. R. Lady Missionaries in Many Lands. London: Pickering and Inglis, 1929.
Last updated July, 2007