New missionaries--Issue of regulations by English Committee--Resignation of Dr. Ingham, Bishop of Sierra Leone--The year 1897--Conference at Lambeth Palace--Fresh disasters--The hurricane of 1898--Death of Bishop Bree--Still signs of vigour in the Mission--Abandonment of old mainland stations.
THE reader is now familiar with the uncertainties and vicissitudes of this little Mission, its encouragements and discouragements, its "ups and downs," its story of life and death. It remains briefly to record the events of the last few years, and so bring the story down to the present time. In 1896 the Mission staff was once more recruited by the addition of two new missionaries sent out by the Church in Jamaica, Mr. W. F. Burris and Mr. F. March, both being students of Codrington College. A strong link is thus created between the Church in Jamaica and the Mission in Africa, which is a matter for thankfulness and gratification. In the month of August the English Committee issued its final regulations for the future management of the Mission founded mainly on the Bishop of Jamaica's memorandum. They were adopted after full consideration and in consultation with the authorities in England, the West Indies, and West Africa.
Since the year 1883 the committee had found a never-failing friend and counsellor in Bishop Ingham; but now, after more than thirteen years of faithful labour, his episcopate, which had lasted longer than any of his five predecessors, came somewhat unexpectedly to a close: for he resigned the See of Sierra Leone towards the close of the year. He had been wonder fully successful in originating and carrying through a large number of useful schemes for the welfare both of Church and colony; and throughout his enormous diocese, in Lagos and the Yoruba district, in the colonies of the Gold Coast and of the Gambia, and in the Canary Islands, the news of his impending resignation was received with universal regret, and, not the least, in the Rio Pongo Mission, where his wise council and sound judgment will long be missed. In his successor, however the Rev. Canon J. Taylor Smith, who was consecrated on May 27th (Ascension day), 1897, the mission has already secured a warm supporter--the new bishop being an old friend, and one who is well acquainted with the Rio Pongo Mission.
In the following July, in the great Jubilee year, advantage was once more taken of the presence of the West Indian bishops, who were in England and for the Lambeth Conference, and who met the friends of the Mission in the library at Lambeth Palace.
The primate of the West Indian Church, who had just assumed the title of Archbishop, sketched the efforts which had been made in each diocese of his province in behalf of the Mission, and acknowledged the obligations under which the West Indian Church lay, to the English Committee for its continued endeavours to second those efforts. "When times were fairly prosperous," said the Archbisbop, the church in the West Indies had sent its mission to the heathen, but the present financial conditions bf the islands was now too notorious to need description. Their own churches were unprovided for, their own clergy, in many cases, unpaid, and whilst they would still do all in their power, it was quite clear that the out look was gloomy in the extreme." The other bishops spoke to the same effect. The year 1898 brought fresh disasters. The Report issued by the West Indian Commission, if it did not pronounce the doom of the sugar industry, practically obliterated all hope of return to the prosperity of former days for many a year to come. Then came the news of the terrible hurricane which swept over the islands with an almost unprecedented fury; St. Vincent and Barbados being the chief sufferers. Writing to the Admiralty of the disaster as it affected St. Vincent, the commander of Her Majesty's ship Intrepid says--
"It is impossible to overstate the damage done to every town and village in the island, and to crops and works. The whole island has the appearance of having been fired through; utter desolation prevails everywhere. Hardly a green spot is to be seen where before all was verdant and beautiful to look upon; the towns and villages, as viewed from the sea, have the appearance of having been l churches, houses, and public buildings mostly levelled to the ground, and those that are still standing will have to come down and be rebuilt. The inhabitants are in a state of destitution, with no roofs over their heads, excepting the shelters that have been hastily raised for their protection from the weather, which are not by any means adequate to the number of the population; and had it not been for the very prompt assistance of the Government, and of the ships ordered to their relief; the inhabitants would for the most part have starved."
The island of Barbados, too, from whence the Mission derives so large a proportion of its funds, was devastated to an alarming extent, and the closing of Codrington College was said to be within a measurable distance--a calamity which the generosity of English friends alone averted. In the early part of 1899 Dr. Herbert Bree, who had been Bishop of Barbados since 1882, and president of the West Indian Board, passed to his rest. The funds avail able for the Mission from West Indian sources were greatly diminished, and it appeared that a crisis had indeed come, and that the days of the Mission were numbered. But who that has read these pages will say that the work is not of God, or that an Unseen Hand is not disposing all things according to His godly wisdom? As the present century draws to its close, there are signs of fresh vigour and renewed life in the Rio Pongo Mission. The Bishop of Sierra Leone has kindly found work in his diocese for Mr. Burns, who was ordained deacon on February 19th; and when the Rev. J. B. McEwen found that the Committee had to turn a deaf ear to his appeal for funds towards the new station at Conakry, he made a vigorous and praiseworthy attempt to raise the necessary sum for a new church. The traders and settlers in this rapidly increasing centre readily responded, and his efforts were so far successful that the new church is already built, and was opened for Divine Service on January 4, 1900. A very serious decision has also been come to with regard to old mainland stations--Domingia, Farningia and Fallangia. It had long been foreseen that, owing to the exigences of the French occupation, the presence and work of the English missionaries would be, in the eyes of the French Government, unwelcome in those particular places.
In the providence of God it seemed to be clearly pointed out that the Mission of the West Indian Church has done its work in those places where it began nearly fifty years ago; and if the scene of its labours is now, with reluctance, changed, yet it is, at the same time, made clear that fresh doors are being opened and new ground pointed out, where the light of the Gospel may be diffused, and souls brought to Christ. The Divine resources are inexhaustible, and God will not to be unmindful of His own.