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Snapshots from the North Pacific
Letters written by the Right Rev. Bishop Ridley (Late of Caledonia).

Edited by Alice J. Janvrin.

London: Church Missionary Society, 1904.

Chapter VI. A Triumph Song

"God's tools out through a knotty will,
And turn by turn He drove His drill,
Until His light flashed clearly through
And so the soul saw all things new."

THE story of Sheuksh, the Indian Chief, contained in the following letter, is now well known as one of the most wonderful triumphs of grace in the history of Christian Missions. After eight years of fervent, believing prayer, the answer came, so complete, so glorious, that the letter announcing it was well headed in the C.M. Gleaner, "A Triumph Song from the North Pacific." He who had been "a blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious," became by the grace of God a humble follower of Christ, and his after life bore witness to the reality of the change. On February 7th, 1901, the Christian Chief, after ten years of consistent witnessing for Christ, passed away to his rest:--

"Metlakatla, Nov. 19th, 1891.

"Four stout Indians came into my study an hour ago, newsladen. Their greeting was quiet, and their faces afforded no token of the nature of their embassy. They sat full in front, and distant the width of my writing table.

There was an earnest expression, but the closest scrutiny-failed to penetrate their secret, or lift the veil of mystery. I may not ask, 'Why have you come?' or, 'Is all well?' I am as Indian-like as they, so far as my impassive countenance is concerned, but I am burning with anxious curiosity all the time, because I remembered how many have been the vicissitudes of the Mission to these Kitkatlas.

"Six winters ago a half-drowned crew came here from the same place, and sat in like manner on the same chairs. Their tale was woeful and laconic. I cannot forget it. Our Native teacher was spokesman then. This was his lamentation:--'They have burnt the church, they have torn up the Bibles, they have blasphemed the Saviour. Only the ashes remain, and a great victory for the devil.' Then they relapsed into a gloomy silence. My turn then came. 'No, never,' said I, 'the war is only just begun. Jesus Christ will win. You are not burnt. The devil has laughed before. God will laugh at him, and you will laugh. Be strong.'

"For more than a year no teacher was suffered to land among the Kitkatlas. No public service could be held. The most strenuous efforts were made to stamp out the work of grace, but the hotter the persecution, the purer the life. I cannot say how many dated their change of mind from that Saturday night which was turned into a brief day by the flames they kindled in the witnessing House of God. If every church in the land were burnt, with similar spiritual results, the loss would be gain.

"While the latest news rings and thrills within me--before I enter upon any other pursuit, if I can command the leisure--I will write it down, and send it at once, if the already overdue mail steamer does not arrive to-day.

"Luke, a Christian of a year's standing, is the chosen spokesman. How his face was transformed as he related his beautiful message! Mrs. Ridley had come in to hear it. We both listened to the answer of a prayer of eight years' duration. We had long wrestled for it. Now we have it.

I have for years past expressed to the Committee, in my letters, the settled conviction that a great blessing was in store for the Kitkatlas. It was no fancy picture, but one drawn by the reasonable faith that time has justified. Now, as we attend to Luke's recital, our hearts are aglow with gratitude. Affliction is justly regarded as the most potent factor in humbling the soul, and revealing to us the Saviour; but the sympathetic gladness that turns to His throne, because it glorifies the Victorious King, also melts the soul and shapes it to lowliness.

"'Ltha goudi eshk gish Sheuksh,' were Luke's first words, which, being interpreted, is, 'He has perfected his promise, has Sheuksh.' Had we a peal of bells I would have thorn rung because the most able, most stubborn, and boldest warrior of Satan has submitted to Christ, and publicly, before his own tribe, has promised to serve Him as long as He keeps him alive on earth. Outworks, one by one, have been taken during the last two years, now the banner of the Crucified floats above the citadel!

"Sheuksh is a man of powerful build, with a very massive head, in which are set eyes that never look below yours, a mouth with jaws like a vice, but which easily smiles and breaks into a hearty laugh, dimpling his plump cheeks. He is a fine fellow--a chief of chiefs. He was not by birth the heir to this leading position, but has won it by capacity for affairs and oft-tried courage, although the chief once in power, and still alive, shrank not from murder to maintain it. But this Sheuksh, chief of the Kitkatlas (more correctly spelled Giatkatlas), the last to rally round him the braves of an old system, that made them as proud and ruthless as Moslems, has bowed his head before the Cross.

"Their island home, Laklan, breasts the western ocean, and is the outermost of an archipelago sheltering the three mouths of the Skeena river. Yet farther seaward, standing alone as a sentinel, is an islet called Lak-Kul, fifteen miles from Laklan. Out there go the fur-seal hunters each summer, and thither, for the first time, our hardy missionary, Mr. Stephenson, followed them. Their leisure hours were employed in felling trees and shaping logs, to set up the framework of a church, 45 ft. by 40 ft. The women sewed sail-cloth together for walls and roof, and, when all else was finished, brought white sand from the beach for the floor. Thus was God's house planned, and built, and fitted by themselves at their own expense. Then came that pestilent la grippe, and none escaped; some died. The missionary bestowed all his provisions, excepting a little flour, on his stricken flock. He would have died had not I sent to fetch him here alive or dead. We nursed him: God restored his strength. But he did not return to that, post, because his people were soon scattered far and wide. At this moment he is tending a sick wife, but is expecting to return to Kitlan at the first opportunity. This, the winter home of the Kitkatlas, is in a wild and exposed situation. A rocky point juts out north-eastward, on which, in grim disorder, stands the central part of the village. On either side a sandy cove sweeps back in graceful curves. Above the bank stand, in a crescent, several very massive houses but of some only the bare frames. Nearly in the midst is the home of Sheuksh, its low-pitched gable seaward, and in front a monolith of great size, concerning which the strangest tales are told.

"The floor of his house covers 3,600 square feet, a space without a post or pillar within the walls to support the low-pitched split-cedar roof. The floor is of solid cedar. In the midst is the sand-strewn hearth, from which the smoke ascends and escapes by the central aperture above it. The daylight is dim within on the brightest day. Therein no books vexed or delighted the generations past. Could they declare it, what a strange history would these smoke-stained walls recount! Had I the time I could put on record and rescue from oblivion many an oft-recited tradition there that would please the lovers of ancient things--things that would have been old to Abram among the Chaldeans. But I have something new and true to tell, better than all the strange tales of old.

"The summer toil and autumn peril are past. The furs are sold. The winter's provision laid in. All, or nearly all, of this most numerous tribe are at home, Last Sunday the church was too small, though the standing room was thronged. On Tuesday the chief invited all the adult males to meet him. His secret was well kept. The many thought the meeting was to be assembled to discuss the plans for winter. As daylight faded they gathered at the chief's great house. A large stack of fuel betokened a long discussion. A pile of logs was on the hearth, and over them oil was ladled now and again. Up shoot the brilliant tongues of fire, which cast a dark shadow behind each illuminated face. The flames leap aloft as the crowd increases--a wondering crowd. There is Sheuksh, arrayed in a scarlet robe, bedecked with mother-of-pearl and curious embroideries, and seated alone on a low kind of settle; his people on the other three sides of the great square, awaiting the opening of the Parliament. Christians are mingled with the unbaptized. Nearer than the rest to the chief are seated six of his leading men--his faithful supporters in vainly resisting the progress of the Gospel. These were declared enemies of the Church. It seems strange to say that I admire their constancy and moral courage.

"Up rose Sheuksh grandly, and though the Christians are too numerous to apprehend any serious attempt to curtail their liberty or power, yet they anticipated an attempt to do so. He stretched out his arms, as if to display his sturdy person and the robe that had figured in many heathen orgies, 'I wear,' said he, 'the outward sign of former ignorance and of ancient customs, that never changed until the white man's faith was preached. I thought I ought to keep them, for I am not wiser than the ancients who kept them and did great deeds. I loved them. So did you. I have struggled to maintain them. I have defied the Queen's officers. They threatened me as late as this last springtide with prison and disgrace. I told them I would not avoid them. I also resisted the Bishop, and suffered not his teachers to land. I concealed not the wish of my heart. You know to what lengths I went. Most of you approved my doing. But the end has come. Let the waves tell the story of our fathers. Our children's lips will form no fit words. Where do dead things go? This goes with them.' Here he threw off his scarlet robe and the other insignia of a heathen chief. 'I am naked, but can clothe my body with the white man's clothes.' This he there and then proceeded to do. What will cover my heart? I can wrap nothing round it. God sees it, and He knows all the past and the present. He knows I am ignorant and sinful. He has this summer made me know it. I am now dressed like a Christian. Those tokens of the dark past I will never touch again. What shall I do next? I am too old to go to school. I cannot read. I am like a child, knowing little, but wanting to learn. Will Jesus Christ have me? Will He help me? I will never turn back. I give myself to God. Now pray for me--pray, pray! I want to know what will please Him. I must know. Begin at once to pray!'

"So the whole company bowed their heads in silence until one of the earliest converts, named Stephen Gaiumtkwa, broke it with uttered words of earnest supplication. This ended, a Christian of the same standing, the most diligent in the Scripture, his name Samuel, started Wesley's hymn, 'Hark! the herald angels sing," and many voices took it up. Then Samuel recited a verse of Holy Scripture, and as Luke described it, 'broke it small for Sheuksh to eat.' James Dakaiya prayed, after which Samuel said the first verse of the hymn, 'Praise, my soul, the King of heaven,' and after it had been sung, expounded another passage of Scripture. Daniel Whadibo prayed, and next was sung 'Safe in the arms of Jesus.' Charles Luahaitk prayed, and then was sung 'Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove.' Prayer and Praise and Holy Scripture followed in like succession for seven hours and a half.

"'But, were you not tired?' I asked.

"'No, nobody went out but to go round and tell the women, and when they heard the chief was converted they also prayed and the children too.'

"'Was there any noise or rushing about?'

"'No, nothing but praying and singing; and when we returned after midnight to our own houses, we told the women, who had kept the lamps burning, and they were not extinguished all night. At daylight we again assembled to pray in the chief's house and left some praying when we were sent away to tell you the truth.'

"Such is the story. I have quite forgotten another point of interest. The men who had held to Sheuksh in the prolonged struggle with the Christians, one by one between the intervals of prayer rose and solemnly renounced the past and professed themselves catechumens if they could be received as such. Not a shred of outward Heathenism exists in what till lately was its one stronghold. Not a soul remains that is not pledged in this wonderful manner to live and die as a Christian.

"What if some of this should prove ephemeral! It will not differ from the purest religious movement, except in degree, even if it should (as doubtless it will) be followed by the carelessness we are familiar with in England of the only nominally Christian. This great demonstration was not without a divine effusion of spiritual power. It was as real as in the nature of such a movement it could be. Doubtless not long hence many will be baptized, but it does not follow that all will wear more than the outward profession of Christianity.

"The least thing gained is a public acceptance of Christ Jesus as Lord, and that is a great thing in itself. Heathenism is demolished. Now follows missionary building up, which is proceeded with everywhere amid difficulties. The kingdom of darkness has been conquered in one of its most ancient strongholds. The cross of Christ has done it, and may be trusted to hold the fort just won.

"I can write no longer because the interruptions during the day have forced me into the morning hours, and yet I have not finished.

"Nov. 20th.

"There has been a heavy gale of wind all night with frequent lashing showers of hail. This has detained the steamer, I think, so that there may be time to finish my narrative and mail it. Not long after the arrival of the canoe of which Luke was the captain, a second arrived, and I had to admit the crew to a two hours' interview, though I was uneasy at the interruption. They confirmed the good news, adding a few details which I have woven into my letter. Pencil in hand, I noted points of interest. One was, that after the first canoe had been dispatched the British ensign was hoisted on the chief flagstaff; the firemen and other organized companies attired themselves in their uniform, then fired a salute from the two cannon, and, accompanied by the band, sang 'God save the Queen.' This was most significant. Religion and loyalty are aspects of the same spirit, one as it relates to heaven, the other to earth.

"During the day many of our Metlakatla people dropped in to speak of the great event, Samuel Pelham among them He was the first native teacher I sent to the Kitkatlas--the true pioneer of the Cross--under his instruction the first converts were prepared for baptism. Our young men educated under my roof have advanced in knowledge beyond him and others who were formerly native teachers, so that the latter, through consciousness of their comparative ignorance, cannot be induced to teach as of old. He and Matthew sometimes preach, and do so with conspicuous ability without any thought of remuneration. Samuel Pelham is a natural orator, and now is a churchwarden here, and devotes much time to his office.

"'Ah!' said he, 'I remember soon after you arrived (this was in 1879) being captain of the great canoe that took Captain Plevy (he meant Admiral Prevost) and Mr. Duncan to Laklan. No good grew out of it. Shouksh mustered all his people and ordered a dance and a feast of wickedness to mock Mr. Duncan, who did not want to go there because he had no power to force the Kitkatlas to obey him. They laughed and howled and danced the shameful dance, and we came home again vexed and angry. Two years later you gave me slates and copy-books, salts and senna, a bell and Bibles, and I went alone in my own canoe. I was received by Gaiiimtkwa. After I had eaten, Sheuksh and Nishweuksh came in and told me I was not wanted to teach them. "If you come as a chief's son [which Samuel is], come to my house and be my guest. But let me hear no bell; drums are better. Let us see no books; biscuits are more nourishing." Then said I, "Shimoigiat [chief], I have not come to the sound of the drum or to feed on biscuits. I have tasted better food; money cannot buy it. The son of our fathers cannot take it into his hand [he meant the child of ignorance], or see it with his eyes, or hear it with his ears, or taste it with his mouth. The sun of the new day [meaning Christ's light] loves it, eats it, speaks it, dreams it, keeps it, gives it. You can have it, and will love it because it is beautiful and sweet, its silence heard above drums, its dimensions exceeding the clouds. God, it is God!" Then they left me, and I remained all the winter teaching the children and the young men. I cooked my own food, and often entertained visitors who came secretly. Now Sheuksh is converted. What cannot God do'? Wonderful! That lord of iniquity converted! That root of mischief plucked up! That light hand of the devil broken! Wonderful! who can resist Him if Sheuksh cannot? God has shaken the mountain. God's auger has bored through him. [Here Samuel imitated the movements of a carpenter using an auger.] God turned and made it cut into him. Slowly through knots as hard as stone. So, so, so [suiting the action to the words]. Oh, the tools of God! They go through men's hearts. They are sharp, but oiled, and let in the light. God knew His work. Now we see it.'

"After musing awhile Samuel, in an undertone, remarked as if to himself:--'The devil has lifted up his head at Fort Simpson, and here has struck a blow (he alluded to a case of drunkenness), but at Kitlan I see his mouth in the sand. It is hard for him to meet with Jesus, the Son o God.'

"Now I have finished. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen."

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