3 • A Mission with unique partnerships

Some collaborators of ACO in Aleppo Swiss, French, Estonians, Armenians, Arabs, Turks, …
A Mission with unique partnerships

In many ways, the ACO of the interwar period can be compared to just any other missionary society: a commitment based on an explicit faith, the sending of missionaries for several years, concrete action that takes place in several fields (humanitarian, health, social, educational), the establishment of a local missionary station and the eagerness to evangelize.

However the political context is still that of a France considered as a great power with a colonial empire. The ACO will nonetheless develop in an original way thanks to transnational partnerships. Paul Berron will always advocate the vision of a kingdom of God that prevails over the nationalist issues omnipresent at the time.

After the crucial impetus given by the Hilfsbund at the birth of the ACO, the search for financial support in the Netherlands and in French-speaking Switzerland will be equally important for the development of the Mission. The ACO committee of the Netherlands will soon provide the most important part of the funds and the French management of the Mission will then include Dutch and Swiss representatives.

Hedwige Bull, an  Estonian missionnary, and the evangelist Armo Topijan in the town of Azaz near Aleppo

In France, most of the donors come from Protestant parishes in Alsace-Moselle. Links are also forged with pastors and parishes in the rest of the country.

In Syria itself, the ACO worked closely with European and American Protestant missionary organizations as well as the local Armenian, Arab and Assyrian Protestant communities set up by Western missions in the 19th century.

Hospital bed sponsored by donors from Alsace and Moselle
The ACO is part of all these partnerships without seeking to create a Church of its own .

Those who are given assistance are free to attend or not the spiritual meetings that are offered, and those who have not experienced inner conversion may stay in their Church of origin or become Protestant.

ACO missionnaries: from left to right, Hélène Maurer (Munster, Alsace), Kati Ostermann (Wangen, Alsace), Hedwige Bull (Estonian), Hilda Saunders (English)
Meeting of the Armenian Church of Marseilles, 1946

In this same spirit, the action of the ACO will be decisive in helping to create the Union of Armenian Evangelical Churches of France. Their members had arrived in France from 1923 onwards like so many other Armenian refugees. Again, it was about respecting their own spirituality and not turning them into classical Lutherans or those of the French Reform. Some of these Protestant Armenians exiled in France were in fact sent to Aleppo as co-workers of European missionaries. Teamwork was truly open to diversity!