MEERZA, THE MUSICIAN
There is no class of persons, among the Nestorians, more depraved and dissolute than professional musicians. They are called upon to take part at weddings, and on festival occasions, among their own people, where drunkenness, revelry, and every form of iniquity, are practiced. Their services are also in demand among the Mussulmans, on similar occasions, and assemblies of the loose and dissipated. Here, dancing boys, whose manners are called upon to sing obscene songs. Nestorian musicians are thus trained in the very school of Satan himself.
One of this class was Meerza, the subject of this notice. He resided in the city of Oroomiah, and was exposed to the worst influences of the place, as well as of his class. His house being near the mission premises, he was in the habit of occasionally attending our religious services, like many other wicked men of the Nestorians, whether from mere curiosity, or a conscience ill at ease, we know not.
During the winter of 1845-46, when the first extensive revival in Oroomiah occurred, Meerza became a regular attendant on the preaching of the word, and a deeply interested listener to the truth. Meetings were held during the winter evenings, in different houses in the Nestorian quarter of the city, where he was invariable found. He then became a changed man, as we have every reason to believe, though we have no record of the process through which his mind passed. He abandoned his profession, without having any other means for support for himself and family. This act alone, in the circumstances, was a most convincing proof of a remarkable change in him. He was opposed and ridiculed by his former companions and neighbors. He was a very poor man, and had a wife and several small children dependent upon him. His constitution was also weak.
Meerza trusted in the Lord, and was not left to hunger. He obtained such employment as he could find as a common day laborer and such as in his feeble health he could perform. He occasionally carried proof sheets from our mission press in the city to Seir, and the different families of the mission favored him with a light job of work from time to time. Though he was obligated to struggle with abject poverty, he never showed any inclination to return to his former profession. On the contrary, he met the trials arising from his poverty with cheerfulness. Once, when laughed at for giving up his profession and means of support, he said, “Let God take from me even this coat now on my back, I will not care, if He will only grant me a place in his kingdom.”
Meerza always sought the companionship of those who loved the Lord, and desired to do his will. He appeared to be indeed a new man in Christ Jesus. His habits, his companions, his conversation, his whole life were new; and it was now observed by all who were acquainted with him. When not at work, Meerza used to go into the school, in a Nestorian quarter of the city, and there he learned to read. A small copy of the four Gospels was his constant companion. This was often seen in his hand, when going from place to place. A neighbor of his testifies, “Wherever I went in the neighborhood, I used to find Meerza with his little red book, now in one house and now in another, reading and explaining the Scriptures to the family. Often, on going to the church, I found him sitting on a grave-stone in the churchyard, reading his beloved book.”
In the fall of 1847, about a year and a half from the time of his hopeful conversion, Meerza was employed to perform miscellaneous serviced in the connection with the Female Seminary. He made the necessary purchases for the school in the market; and it was observed, that daily, on his return, he retired to his closet to prey, probably feeling the need of divine aid after coming thus in contact with the world.
Meerza spent his leisure time in the Seminary, reading the Scriptures. His whole heart seemed interested in spiritual things, and he grew rapidly in grace and knowledge and ripeness for heaven. He was diligent in embracing opportunities to speak to his friends about the salvation of their souls.
For some years Meerza had been subject to a disease of the lungs, which rendered him a very feeble man. In December of this year, 1847, the disease assumed the form of active inflammation. One morning I was told that he was ill, and was requested to visit him. I hastened to his house, and, to my surprise, found him in great suffering, and even then struggling with death.
He could only express his submission to the will of God. He was gasping for breath. I ran home to obtain some palliative medicine, which I carried to him immediately. He soon breathed his last. He was about forty years of age.
A few hours before his death his friends were weeping around him. He told them not to weep for him, adding, “I have a place of joy to which I am going.”
His little copy of the gospel he had left in one of the room of the Female Seminary, on the mission premises. He called his son-a small boy-told him where it was, and committed it to him with the request that he would keep it and read it when he was gone.
Meerza’s remains were committed to the sepulcher of his fathers, in the yard of Saint Mary’s Church, in the city, where the remains of Mrs. Grant and quite a group of the children of our mission lie, waiting for the morning of the resurrection.
Meerza left a wife and several small children. After his conversation, he prayed for them, and endeavored to bring them to Christ, but with no apparent effect at the time. But prayer and the labor are not in vain. Sooner or later the results appear. His wife was a wicked, profane woman, confident that she was safe for heaven as long as she observed the fasts and the other forms of the Nestorian church. She, however, occasionally attended the religious services on the mission premises, and heard the gospel preached. In 1851 she became much interested, and was seldom absent from her place on the Sabbath School. She not only came herself, but she was surrounded by her little group of fatherless children, as well clad and as tidy as she, in her poverty, could make them. She was also in the habit of gathering them around her at her humble abode, for family prayers. She was led to trust in her husband’s God. She struggled with deep poverty. Not infrequently she had no bread in her house to give her hungry children. The Lord, however, remembered them in their want. He put it into the heart of kind friends to send them supplies, which often arrived at the hour of their greatest need. She gave delightful evidence of being a child of God, and day by day advanced in the divine life. In the summer of 1852, that fearful disease, which has so often visited Oroomiah within the last few years, the Asiatic cholera, broke out in the city. It first appeared in a remote part of the town, but gradually approached the Nestorian quarter. Meezra’s wife, as is the custom of the Nestorian women in the summer, went out one day to weed in one of the many gardens that surrounded the city, for which labor she was paid a trifle by the owner of the garden. At the evening she returned home, and, having no bread in the house for supper, she prepared the dough, and commenced baking it, as is the custom of the country, sheet by sheet, in an oven called a tanoora, made in the ground. She had nearly finished-two or three sheets of bread only remained in the tanoora- when she was suddenly seized by the cholera. None of her pious friends knew of her illness until the next morning, and then she was so low that she was speechless, and perhaps unconscious. Consequently nothing is know of her experience, as she approached the borders of Jordan. She struggled with the disease till about noon of that day, when she closed her eyes in death.
A few days after her death occurred the visit of the estimable Colonel (now General) Williams at Oroomaih, the British Commissioner for settling the Turco-Persian boundary, And in his generous benefaction, on the part of his philanthropic government, of nearly seventy dollars, placed in the hands of our mission to be distributed among orphans, made such by the cholera, the desolate children of this pious widow, so suddenly left motherless as well as fatherless, shared in common with many others of all classes. Their relief, from such a bounty, was as naturally as gratefully regarded by the suffering ones as from the hand of Him who remember the widow and orphan in their affliction, and giveth food “to the young ravens when they cry.”