Douglas Thornton was an Anglican missionary in Cairo. Thornton was born into a distinguished family in English evangelicalism. He grew in vital Christian conviction and enthusiasm, which was channeled via Marlborough College and Trinity College, Cambridge, into missionary vocation. Like Temple Gairdner, his Church Missionary Society (CMS) colleague in Cairo, he gained experience through the Student Christian Movement and its Volunteer Missionary Union, pioneered by John R. Mott and R. E. Speer.
Thornton went to Egypt in 1898. His fiancée, Elaine Anderson, followed in 1899. They were married in Cairo and a son, Cecil, was born in 1901. Thornton’s thoughts were directed to Islam. Gaining competence in Arabic, he combined a disciplined vision with intense energy and dedicated himself to the task of evangelism. The magazine Orient and Occident, which was his brainchild, circulated widely among Muslims and afforded contacts he pursued in his preaching travels in Upper Egypt. Here he had surprising occasions of positive interaction with Coptic clergy and their congregations, which he saw as crucial to his Muslim hopes. Dreaming of an ecumenical role for the CMS in the Coptic scene, he used his only two furloughs to plead for recruits. They were all too few. Supervising an edition of the Book of Common Prayer in Arabic, he wrestled with the toils of translation. In a Cairo rooftop meditation, gazing across the domes of the vase city, he “saw” the fertile Nile Delta reaching fanlike and appealingly toward Europe, with the vast desert telling of the aridity his Christ would satisfy. After only nine years of work he died of typhoid fever, his dreams and projects bequeathed to those who might follow. Within a year Gairdner wrote his biography, drawn largely from Thornton’s papers and memoranda, and assumed Thornton’s mantle.
W. H. Temple Gairdner, D. M. Thornton: A Study in Missionary Ideals and Methods (1908).
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.