Bio Article : Aimé-Jacques Girou
by Chigemezi Wogu and Daniel Heinz
Aimé-Jacques Girou was born in 1885 into a Catholic family in St. Laurent d’Olt (Aveyron), France. He received his education in Montpellier as a doctor of medicine in dentistry. He joined Seventh-day Adventists and started working as a preacher in Belgium from 1906 to 1910/1911. In 1912, Girou married the Greek nurse Eunice Kalfa of Adana. From 1911 to 1920, he served as a missionary in Turkey.
Before his marriage, Girou started conducting meetings among Muslims in Constantinople. Since he could not speak Turkish and the natives languages, Ms. Eunice Kalfa was employed to translate and interpret for him. They fell in love and soon married. That same year, he started to work as a pastor together with Emil Frauchiger, and as a missionary dentist among the French and German people of Constantinople.[i] Frauchiger had earlier established a training school there and held lectures for the Armenians and Greeks. The training school served as a missionary training avenue for workers in Turkey between the years 1910 and 1912. Three languages – Turkish, Armenian, and Greek – were taught to those preparing for mission among the inhabitants of the then Levant Union Mission.[ii]
Girou knew how to contextualize his messages for a specific audience. For example, in mid-1912, he began holding evangelistic meetings in Scutari (the Asiatic part of Constantinople, Turkey) for the Armenian-speaking people. Between 150 and 300 persons attended these meetings, mostly young men who followed the way of thinking of the Armenian intellectuals. Knowing that there were “evolutionists” in his audience,[iii] Girou started on the first day with an exposé on the errors of the theories of evolution. This did not please some young intellectuals present. Consequently, they asked for a meeting in which they could present their own views. Girou accepted this challenge on the ground that they rent a hall. The meeting took place on May 4, 1912 the grand hall of the Armenian Berberian College.[iv] The way the meeting turned out was seen as a divine manifestation of God as the opponent neither opposed nor spoke against the views of Girou.
While in Smyrna (lzmir) from 1912 onwards, he and his wife opened a dentist clinic. He moved there to learn Turkish, and around 1914, he got permission to start tent meetings.[v] He seems to have been the first Adventist to have gotten such permission.[vi] During the First World War, his father-in-law, who worked for the Bible Society, died in in a prison in Adana. This was when the Ottoman militia-driven persecution was carried out during the war. After the war, Girou accepted his wife’s Greek citizenship to be easier to use for the mission work. After World War II he became a French citizen again.
From the latter part of 1920 to 1929, Girou worked in Belgium. He served as president of the Belgium conference from 1924 onwards,[vii] working among French-speaking Belgian Catholics. He started Bible studies among the people whom he called “very difficult to reach.” The result of his Bible studies generated baptisms among the Flemish population.[viii] As president of the Belgian conference,[ix] he contributed to its growth and stability as a self-supporting organization.
Mauritius (Including Seychelles and Rodrigues Island)
From 1929 onwards, Girou served as a missionary to Mauritius, where he served as superintendent of the Adventist mission.[x] The mission in Mauritius was part of the Latin Union Conference at that time, which spanned to the Seychelles and the Island of Rodriguez.[xi] In his work together with Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Ignace (Mauritians), the Adventist mission recorded rapid growth.[xii] The Ignaces where the missionary couple who carried out he pioneer mission work in Seychelles.[xiii] Two years after the work in Mauritius mission, Girou organized several Sabbath school groups. The attendance was between 750 and 800 people.[xiv] During this period, the mission paper Le Flambeau de l’Ocean India was published.
Back to Europe and Later Life
After serving in the Indian Ocean Islands for six years, he was called to Madrid, Spain, to serve as a mission president from 1935 to 1939. Major challenges of the period were the Spanish Civil War, which broke out in 1936, and the staunchly Catholic tradition of the country. In fact, there was no freedom of worship at the period. Church services were stopped as a result.[xv] While doing his work there, Girou was careful in his approach to Catholic believers. Girou believed that Catholics needed to be reached in their own religious, cultural and social context: “I believe we must be Jews with the Jews, and Greeks with the Greeks, in order to save them. And we must also adapt our methods to the Catholic background and way of thinking in order to help bring Catholics nearer to the Saviour they love, but know so little.”[xvi] For example, Girou reported that he employed the Catholic expression of “Our Lord Jesus Christ” or “Our Savior Jesus Christ” whenever he spoke of Christ. On the person of Mary, he concluded: “Catholics will not speak of Mary, the mother of the Lord, without saying: ‘The holy virgin Mary’ or at least ‘The virgin Mary.’ The word ‘virgin’ sounds very sweet to their ears; and if it is not used by the speaker, he is soon known as an apostate.”[xvii] He even argued that “Singing and praying, as well as the use of the words “brethren and sisters,” are all right in their proper time and place, but not in a lecture delivered to Catholics.”[xviii] Interestingly, he thought that some Adventist books “are suited enough to close doors to the hearts of some people.”[xix] He argued: “A book that is good for England, Germany, the United States, and other countries of Protestant culture and mentality, may not be a good one for other countries with a different culture and mentality.”[xx]
Until 1939, he was the leader of the Adventist church in Spain even as poverty and civil war threatened the Spanish Adventist communities. With his diplomatic skills, he rescued the Adventist church property from the access of the fascist authorities[xxi] and helped to set up a seminary in Lisbon.
As leader of the now defunct Iberian Union he was also responsible for Portugal. In September 1939, at the instigation of Girou, the Adventist municipalities in this country were formed into an independent Union. Girou took over the leadership of the new Union.
From January 1940 to January 1941 he was president of the Portuguese Union. However, for the most part of that year, he had to remain in France because of traveling limitations caused by the Second World War.[xxii] He published two works in Portuguese: Harmonias da Natureza (Harmonies of Nature, 1938) and Filhos do Macaco ou Filhos de Deus? (Sons of the monkey or sons of God?, 1940).
After his retirement, in 1947,[xxiii] he was appointed director of the Adventist food factory, “Pur Aliment,” in Paris, which was reopened that year.[xxiv] His wife, Eunice, died in 1968 at the age of 82. Girou died in May 15, 1977, in Dieulefit, France, and was buried in Marolles-en-Hurepoix near Paris.
Through the work of Girou, Adventism was established in some parts of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey. His mission work of acculturation in Turkey was beneficial to breaking prejudice about Adventist Christianity among Armenians. His work as a missionary in Belgium, Spain and Mauritius (Seychelles and Rodrigues Island) provided the Adventist mission with stability in those countries. As a former Catholic, he learned how to contextualize the Adventist message to Catholic believers in Spain. His method proved viable in reaching people with a staunch Catholic background.
As a leader with vision, he saw the need for expansion in administrative structures in Portugal and Spain. As a trained dentist, he used a combination of health work and evangelism in reaching people for Christ. Moreover, Girou used his scholarly gifts in furthering the gospel by publishing tracts, mission pamphlets and two books in Portuguese as well as one in French. He also wrote three songs in the Adventist French hymnal, Hymnes et Louanges.[xxv]
[i] Emil Frauchiger, “The Levant Field,” The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, December 7, 1911, 10.
[ii] Emil Frauchiger, “Constantinople,” The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, February 29, 1912, 13-14.
[iii] According to Eunice A. Girou, “The schools are taught by materialists, and as a result, many are becoming infidels.” See Experience among Mohammedans in Turkey,” The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, August 8, 1912, 10.
[iv] Ibid. At the meeting, an Armenian writer was introduced as the one to debate with Girou. This writer, Diran Tcherakian, was a well-known Armenian evolutionist, poet and a delegate of the (Ottoman) Turkish government on political affairs. When Girou asked for an interpreter, his opponent offered to interpret. After about an hour and half of speaking to over two hundred people, Girou ended his side of the debate. His opponent excused himself to speak since he was tired from the translation. Even when urged by the students, he only spoke for about ten minutes where he wondered why Girou was fighting evolution. At the end, the president of the college closed the meeting with “very nice words of approval of the faith he had seen lying behind the words of” Girou.
[v] While working in Scutari, Girou faced some difficulties in carrying out tent meetings. According to his report, some of the efforts to carry out tent meetings failed because the political conditions in Turkey at that time did not favor public meetings. This was the period when Turkey was carrying out its war against the Balkans. This war caused internal hostilities among the Greeks and Turks. After a train collision, which killed about three hundred soldiers, a number of Greeks were massacred. At the climax of this, Girou was encouraged by the leaders of the church to study the Turkish language. To achieve this, he needed to be at a place where only the Turkish language was spoken. Thus, he moved to Smyrna around November 1912. But he could not hold religious meetings because of the curfew as a result of robbery and extrajudicial killings. See Agapios J. Girou, “News from the Levant,” The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, December 19, 1912, 20. Agapios was the tranlation of Aimé into Greek, which Girou adopted during his time in the Middle East.
[vi] Based on a postcard sent to the editors of The Review and Sabbath Herald, July 9, 1914, 24.
[vii] M. Ellsworth Olsen, Origin and Progress of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (Takoma Park, Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1925), 615.
[viii] See report by Eunice A. Girou, “Who Would Have Missed it?” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, March 2, 1922, 20-21.
[ix] M. Ellsworth Olsen, Origin and Progress of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (Takoma Park, Washington, DC: Review and herald, 1925), 615.
[x] Steen Rasmuseen, “Mauritius—The Pearl of the Indian Ocean,” Missions Quarterly, Second Quarter, 1932, 12.
[xi] The Girou family arrived on Mauritius on June 29, 1929; see Clairemonde Salzmann, Perles des Mascareignes (Librairie Vie et santé, 1981), 85.
[xii] Upon arrival, he visited the Island of Rodriguez to conduct seven baptisms and supervise the mission work started by a certain E. Michael and his family. He kept traveling between Mauritius, Seychelles and Rodriguez. Daniel Ignace who assisted with the mission had gone through a missionary training in India. Three to four months after his missionary work in Mauritius (and the Seychelles), there were some converts because of his work. See O. Montgomery, “A Visit to the Seychelles Islands,” Australasian Record, August 10, 1931, 2-3
[xiii] See A. M. Dickey, “Entering Unoccupied Territory – the Seychelles,” Quarterly Review, December 1930, 14-15.
[xiv] Unfortunately, the three chapels which were built in Port-Louis, Rose-Hill, and Rose-Bella were too small to accommodate the Sabbath-school attendees. Moreover, Sabbath school rally days were organized. These rallies served as opportunity for mission since Sabbath school members were encouraged to invite their friends to attend. Agapious J. Girou, “Mauritius Mission,” The Missionary Leader, July 1930, 7-8.
[xv] Agapious J. Girou, “A Letter from Spain,” Eastern Tidings, November 15, 1936, 6-7.
[xvi] A. J. Girou, “Effective Approach to the Catholics,” The Ministry, September 1937, 4.
[xvii] A. J. Girou, “Effective Approach to the Catholics,” The Ministry, October, 1937, 14
[xxi] A. J. Girou, “Word from Spain,” Review Herald, May 20, 1937, 18-19.
[xxii] Under his leadership, the Portuguese Union membership grew to about 668 members.
[xxiii] “Franco-Belgian Union Conference,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1947), 197.
[xxiv] “Here and There,” Quarterly Review, June 1948, 8.
[xxv] See for example, “Il est là-bas, plus haut…,” Hymnes et Louanges: Recueil de Cantiques á l’usage ded Eglise adventististes de langue francaise (Dammarie-Les-Lys: Éditions Les Signes de Temps, 1946), 79.