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Metlakahtla and the North Pacific Mission of the Church Missionary Society

By Eugene Stock

London: Church Missionary House, 1880.

Chapter IV. First-Fruits

From the extract last given we can gather that, notwithstanding the opposition of some, and the frightful depravity of all, Mr. Duncan seemed to be gaining the ear of the people just in proportion as he advanced in fluency of speech in their mother tongue. And during the following year, 1859, not a few tokens for good were granted him. In some parts of the camp open drunkenness and profligacy were diminishing, and the comparative quiet and decorum consequent on this made a great impression on the rest. In March a meeting of chiefs was held at Legaic's house, at which Mr. Duncan's arguments against many of their most degrading customs were discussed, and generally approved; and a message was sent to him that they wished him to "speak strong" against the "bad ways" of their people. On April 6th, Legaic himself appeared at the school, not now to intimidate the missionary, but to sit at his feet as a learner. Others followed his example; and when, in August, one notoriously bad character, named Cushwaht, broke into the school with a hatchet, intending to shoot Mr. Duncan, and, not finding him there, smashed all the windows, the greatest indignation was expressed on every side, and Mr. Duncan had to implore the people not to shed the offender's blood.

Nor were only outward changes visible. It was soon manifest that the Spirit of God was at work in the hearts of some. On October 10th a most encouraging incident occurred:--

"I was informed, on coming out of the school this afternoon, that a young man, who has been a long time suffering in consumption (brought on by a severe cold), and whom I have visited several times, was dying; so, after a little reflection, some misgiving, and prayer, I started off to see him. I found him, as his wife had said, dying. Over twenty people were about him; some were crying, and two, I am sorry to say, were partly intoxicated. I looked on for some time in silent sorrow. When I wished to speak, silence immediately ensued. I rebuked the noise and tumult, and directed the dying man to fix his heart on the Saviour Jesus, to forget the things about him, and spend his little remaining time in praying in his heart to God to save him. His reply was, 'O yes, sir; O yes, sir;' and for some moments he would close his eyes, and seemed absorbed in prayer. He begged me, with much earnestness, to continue to teach his little girl. He wanted her to be good. This little girl is about seven years old: her name is Cathi. She has been very regular at school since I commenced, and has made nice progress. Much to my comfort, a young woman sat by his side, who has been one of my most regular pupils. She is in the first class, and can read portions of the Bible. Her intelligence is remarkable, and I have observed her to be always listening to religious instruction. Thus, here was one sitting close to the dying man who could tell him, much more accurately than I, the few directions I desired to utter. What a remarkable providence it seemed to me! With tears in her eyes, she begged him to give his heart to God and to pray to Him. I longed to pray with him, and watched anxiously a long time for the opportunity. The opportunity came, and the strength came with it. I knelt down by his side. All was hushed, and I prayed from a full heart to the Lord our God to have mercy upon the poor soul about to come into His presence, for the sake of His dear Son Jesus. I felt sure that the Lord heard my prayer, and I can indulge a hope for this poor man's salvation."

There was much in the case of this young man which encouraged Mr. Duncan in the hope that he was a true believer in Christ. He understood the main and leading truths of the Gospel, and he frequently prayed much to God. Daring his sickness, he never permitted the medicine folks to operate upon him; and this of itself showed a wonderful change in him. He died the following night, having reassured the people around him of his safety, and had a very solemn parting from his little girl.

Thus, just two years after the solitary Missionary had landed on the coast as a stranger, the first fully ripened fruit of his labours was gathered into the heavenly garner.

In January, 1860, the first Bishop of Columbia, Dr. Hills, arrived at Victoria. Observing the deplorable condition into which the Indians fell who flocked thither, and thus came into contact with the vices of an outlying colonial settlement, the Bishop invited Mr. Duncan to come down and organise some Christian work amongst them. He accordingly spent two or three months in the summer there, holding Tsimshean services, and opening a school. A good work was thus set on foot, which has since been successfully carried on by others.

At this time Captain Prevost returned to England, and as a specimen of the results so far of the Mission which his own loving zeal had originated, brought home with him a little journal kept, during Mr. Duncan's absence at Victoria, by one of the Tsimshean boys at Fort Simpson. Here are some fragments of it:--

"Tuesday, April 4th, 1860.--If will die my father, then will very poor my heart 4 my brother all die; only one Shooquanahts save, and two my uncle save. I will try to make all things. I want to be good, and I want to much work hard. When we have done work, then will please, Sir, Mr. Duncan, will you give me a little any thing when you come back."

"April 17: School, Fort Simpson.--Shooquanahts not two hearts--always one my heart. Some boys always two hearts. Only one Shooquanahts--not two heart, no. If I steal any thing then God will see. Bad people no care about Son of God: when will come troubled hearts, foolish people. Then he will very much cry. What good cry? Nothing. No care about our Saviour; always forget. By and by will understand about the Son of God."

"May 17.--I do not understand some prayers, only few prayers I understand; not all I understand, no. I wish to understand all prayers. When I understand all prayers, then I always prayer our Saviour Jesus Christ. I want to learn to prayer to Jesus Christ our Saviour: by and by I understand all about our Saviour Christ: when I understand all what about our Saviour, then I will happy when I die. If I do not learn about our Saviour Jesus, then I will very troubled my heart when I die. It is good for us when we learn about our Saviour Jesus. When I understand about our Saviour Jesus, then I will very happy when I die."

Another encouraging case is that of an old man, of whom Mr. Duncan wrote:--

"One night, when I was encamping out, after a weary day, the supper and the little instruction being over, my crew of Indians, excepting one old man, quickly spread their mats near the fire, and lay down to sleep in pairs, each sharing his fellow's blanket. The one old man sat near the fire smoking his pipe. I crept into my little tent, but, after some time, came out again to see that all was right. The old man was just making his bed (a thin bark mat on the ground, a little box of grease, and a few dry salmon for his pillow--a shirt on, and a blanket round him--another bark mat over all, his head too, formed his bed in the open air, during a cold, dark night in April). When everything was adjusted, he put his pipe down, and offered up, in his own tongue, this simple little prayer, 'Be merciful to me, Jesus.' Then he drew up his feet, and was soon lost to view."

Mr. Duncan had now the joy of welcoming a fellow-labourer. The Rev. L. S. Tugwell, who had been allotted by the Society to a Mission which looked so hopeful, arrived with Mrs. Tugwell in August, and at once threw himself with the utmost earnestness into the work of preparation for future usefulness. But to his keen disappointment the health of both entirely broke down in the damp climate, where sometimes the rain falls for ten months out of the twelve, and he was obliged to return to England after fourteen months' residence on the coast.

Before leaving, however, Mr. Tugwell had the high privilege of admitting into the visible Church its first Tsimshean members. On July 26th, 1861, fourteen men, five women, and four children were baptized. Others were deterred by heathen relatives. Some candidates were not passed. But of these, Mr. Duncan wrote, "We truly hope they are indeed children of God."

But other fruit, though not so ripe, was now plainly visible, and had begun to attract public attention. In January, 1860, Mr. Duncan received a letter from the Rev. E. Cridge, the English chaplain at Victoria, conveying a message from the Governor, Sir James Douglas:--

"I am requested by his Excellency the Governor to express to you the great gratification he has received from conversing with several of the Indians who have been under your instruction at Fort Simpson, and who are now at Victoria; and his pleasure at witnessing the great improvement in manners, bearing, and religion which you have succeeded in effecting in their condition. His Excellency trusts you will continue to show the same energy, perseverance, and zeal which he is sure you must already have applied to the work, and that your labour will be rewarded by a still larger measure of success. His Excellency also wishes me to say that he would feel obliged by your reporting to him from time to time on the progress of your Mission. Any suggestions you may make with regard to measures which may occur to you as likely to prove beneficial to the Indians under your care, such as settling them in any particular locality, or setting apart a reserve of land for their use, will receive his Excellency's best attention; who will also, if necessary, represent any such measures, with his favourable recommendation to her Majesty's Government."

Commander Mayne, R.N., mentions in his interesting book, Four Years in British Columbia (p. 212), that Captain G. Y. H. Richards, of H. M. S. Hecate, who was in command on the coast at this time, was so much struck by Mr. Duncan's success, that he said to him, "Why do not more men come out? Or, if the missionary societies cannot afford them, why does not Government send out fifty, and place them up the coast at once? Surely it would not be difficult to find fifty good men in England willing to engage in such a work; and their expenses would be almost nothing compared with the cost which the country must sustain to subdue the Indians by force of arms. And such," adds Commander Mayne, "are the sentiments of myself--in common, I believe, with all my brother officers--after nearly five years' constant and close intercourse with the Natives of Vancouver's Island and the coast."

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