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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 IX. Visitation Work

"Unseen a life divine is felt to intertwine
Their hopes with God's design."

IN 1894 the Bishop and Mrs. Ridley came to England, returning to the Mission in May, 1895. The health of the latter was failing by this time, and the days were not far distant when, for her, earthly toils would be over. A long, letter from the Bishop gives an account of a journey he undertook as soon as lie reached his diocese.

"Metlakatla, July 11th, 1895.

"Yesterday I returned from a round trip to the Skeena River, and feel disposed to give you some account of it. Pour weeks from sailing from Liverpool we steamed into the Skeena on the 6th of June, twenty-eight miles from home. It was a clear morning, and before sunrise I opened the port. The little bits of cloud set in the calm sky at dawn might have been gates of pearl. As Chatham Sound opened up, the sierra of the Western Isles was steeped with radiance by the rising sun, which was concealed from our view by the adjacent eastern heights.

"My dear invalid was lying on the lower berth, and could not see the blushing sunrise; but without knowing we were near the river, recovered me from my rhapsody by saying, 'I smell the Skeena and feel better. I must get up.' 'Wait a little, the Claxton wharf is not more than nine miles distant.' She really did revive, and much more so when Mrs. Gurd came on board at Claxton to see her and tell of all the good news. But she soon became weary.

"Both Mr. and Mrs. Gurd looked fagged by the long winter work at Laklan, chief Sheuksh's home among his Kitkatlas. We spent a whole day in the Skeena, and next morning were 'warmly welcomed at Metlakatla at three o'clock. After seeing my wife, Miss West and Miss Tyte safely landed, I re-embarked and went on to the Naas River to bring back the Archdeacon, and next day we opened a very pretty church at Fort Simpson, on the spot where the Gospel was first preached in this district by our missionaries thirty-seven years ago. Then all was dark and savage.

"Next came the C.M.S. Conference, and my heart glowed with praise for all the gracious showers of blessing on all our workers. I praised them too for their faithful labours during my year's absence, for they richly deserved it. I wish you could have listened to our brethren's wonderful stories of the victories of the Cross over Heathenism. At these conferences there is no restraint. I get the cream. It cannot be sent by post. We ought to have a stenographer to save the words that come from the speakers' lips. This would fix the richness of local colouring and prevent the revision that only polishes away the soul from off the sentences new-born from glowing hearts. You know the Indians say the soul is not contained within, but is shadowlike; and the spirit is as the fragrance of a flower within and without.

"The break up of the Conference left me in clerical and medical charge of Metlakatla, with three sick Haidas in the hospital. Happily Miss Tyte had had some training in nursing, and volunteered to take temporary charge of the patients with me as an amateur physician. After I had discharged two of the patients I decided to pay a visit to all the canneries on the Skeena and see how our brethren fared.

"So the Rescue was launched and left at her moorings two days, to tighten her leaky seams. At 4.30 a.m. on the third day I drew my blind up. A light breeze sprang up, and away we slowly sailed for a couple of hours. The sea was like a mirror and the sun scorching. Fortunately I had on board my wife's old garden hat with broad brims. In this I cut two holes and passed through them a piece of twine, tying it under my chin to keep the structure on my head. Of course I couldn't tie it without tying in part of my beard, which hurt me almost as much as the clutching of it by baby fingers when I baptize the lively ones. I wore this thing without remembering what I had on, and a lady who saw me thus hatted regretted she had not a Kodak! I am rather glad she hadn't, or you might have had my poor picture to illustrate this page.

"The monotony of our passage was relieved by the frequent bobbing up of gentle-eyed seals; the salmon leaping, and splashing, and glistening lustrously; the porpoises rolling lazily along as if on strike; eagles wheeling in great circles or descending like a flash into the water, and strenuously rising out of the sea with their talons gripping a salmon whose weight taxed the bird's strength to the utmost till it reached the bar. There I counted nineteen of them feasting together on their prey later in the day.

"Away ahead stood two rocky islets which, when we neared them, became alive with white wings and grey. The sea-fowl, mostly gulls, screamed in myriads. 'Let us land,' said I. What an uproar! 'Lots of eggs,' said my Zimshian, as we clambered up. It was a pleasant change to all but the birds. Better still, we espied from the top a blue line on the sea, a proof of a coming breeze. So we hurried back "to the boat, and before we could push off the cat's-paw reached us. How it cooled our brows! My broad brims shaded me from the sun's direct rays, but their reflections from the sea-mirror came up from the deep to tan us. Indians used to believe that spirits lived under water, and during storms, especially in a tide race, caused the trouble. Here was a sun-god, as fishlike as Dagon, bathing in the calm deep, but the breeze brings him to the surface. The light sparkling on the waves in the line of the sun they call shium giamuk, or the feet of the sun.

"The only sound now breaking the ocean silence since we parted from the birds was from the wavelets lapping against the bow of the boat and the creaking boom. We lapsed into silence. I was steering. Near me sat the Haida counting eggs, and beyond sat the Zimshian, one of my former pupils who had lived under my roof nearly eight years. 'May I read?' he asked. 'Certainly,' I replied. He was absorbed. 'Let me hear what you read; what is it?' Turning the back of the octavo towards me he said, 'Pearson on the Creed. I am reading the second article.' So there we were borne slowly along on the broad Pacific by the gentle breath of heaven, while an Indian, whose parents had been Heathen, read with intelligence to his Bishop the proofs that 'Jesus is Lord' and 'our' Lord! He would occasionally stop to ask the meaning of hard words, such as 'presage,' 'invalid,' 'economical,' 'immarcessible.' Suddenly looking up, he asked, 'What is the difference between attrition and contrition?' 'Why do you ask? It is not on that page.' 'Oh. I came to them in my reading some time ago, and my dictionary said both meant "rubbing." I couldn't understand it.' 'Well,' said I, 'attrition means feeling a little sorry about some bad thing; contrition is real sorrow for felt sin.' 'Ah, one is the crying of the eyes, the other of the heart.' I assented. 'What are the tripods of Vulcan?' 'What?' I exclaimed. 'The tripods of Vulcan.' 'Tripods of Vulcan,' I muttered; 'tripods of Vulcan; a lame dog on three legs. Anything on three legs is a tripod. Vulcan was one of the gods of whom poets wrote nonsense. Let me see the book.' I found he had been dipping into Pearson's Notes, and was puzzled, as was I until I saw them. Then memory recovered. As I handed back the book I looked round and then said, 'The wind dies; let us row.' So we stowed our sail and our studies together and found relief in our oars. Many of my grey-bearded readers would have done the same if they happened to be in a boat with Pearson on the Creed and an inquiring youth catechizing them on his Notes.

"It was a very gloomy evening, and getting dark when we arrived. We all had intended to spread our blankets on the church floor, as my men did, but Mrs. Ardagh kindly insisted on giving me some supper and offered me a bed. Her Chinese cook, a recent convert, hearing of my arrival, hurried back to the house and seconded his mistress's endeavour to show me hospitality. Not until my men were asleep, and too late to go off to my anchored-out boat for my blankets, did I find I was turning the Chinaman out of his bed. I felt a sort of shiver as I lay down, but the conversation I had with him reconciled me to my situation.

"The lamp was on the floor, and the man, standing with his back to the wall, had his face lighted up. What a study it was! He is a comely Celestial, with a plump oval face and almond-shaped eyes full of liquid light and sympathy. I sat on the edge of the bed, the only seat in the room, listening with grateful delight to his broken but burning words. Would that I could reproduce them in full! He described his visits as a Christian with another Chinese Christian to the China-house, as we call the ugly buildings the Chinese crowd into for the fishing season. 'I pray longtime,' he said. 'I read book of God. I read Luke to them, 15th chapter to-night. They hear it all; they smoke, they lie down, they hear all the time, they speak not. Then we sing hymn in China words, then plenty sing; they sing hard. You know, Bishop, Chinaman not much know God. Some know little, plenty not know nothing. China country dark, very dark.' So he ended in a slow, serious manner of speaking as if he remembered how the darkness felt. Then he opened wide his arms till they touched the wall he stood against, and began to try to express God's all-embracing love. Pie looked as saintly as artist ever painted. There was a far-offness in his eyes; his lips parted as if unable to express the feeling flooding his soul. Had I been a Frenchman I would have sprung to my feet and embraced him as he tried and tried to tell me how much God loved dark China. 'Oh, you know, you know, Bishop.' Then, bringing his extended arms together, he clasped himself to show how God had lifted him out of darkness into light. Relapsing again from his rapid utterances to slow, solemn tones, he said, 'I know God, I love God, I love God very much.'

"What a sight it was! I could hardly restrain myself from saying, 'And I love you.' 'I spoilt it by saying, 'I am very glad you know and love God.' I think my voice by its tone expressed more than the poor words. I hope so. God's grace makes all races lovable. I could not but reverence this Chinese servant because of his beautiful confession. I kept awake many hours meditating on the transforming power of this grace and love. I no longer envied my men the church floor.

"The Chinaman waited on me most assiduously, and I found on embarking that he had prepared for my dear invalid a delicacy, because, as he said, Mrs. Ridley 'not eat too much,' meaning that she had a very poor appetite. His last words were to commend my new Chinese servant to my sympathy, saying, 'He know God only very much little, but by-an'-by know Him more and be very good Chinaman.' His great object was to stimulate me to take a spiritual interest in my servant.

"Away we went, rowing out of the river with the remaining ebb tide and into the offing, until by close sailing we could lay on our proper course back to Metlakatla, thankful for all God had shown us."

The following letter, dated Metlakatla, January 17th, 1896, is a long one, and is particularly graphic in its description of the Indians. It contains an account of the Bishop's visitation, and of the steady advance which he found along the entire line.

"No missionary can be dull among the Zimshian Indians, unless failing in his duty he keeps them at arm's length. Where they give their confidence they give no rest. They have an alertness of mind and purpose which forbids stagnation. This is my seventeenth year among them, and yet I rarely pass a day without hearing something of interest or being presented with some strange problem to puzzle over.....When news of the Kucheng massacres came, how pitifully these Indians at our daily prayers besought the Lord to have mercy on the Chinese! Say again, dear Jesus, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Oh, gracious Spirit, Thou art not quenched by blood. Let it make Thy garden soil strong to grow Chinese believers in.'

"At home great orators are rare whose lips drop wisdom; the rest of us tremble with self-consciousness when forced to hem and haw. Out here all adult Indians, like the fearless wild flowers everywhere, blossom out at a moment's notice in ready and florid speech with becoming modesty. I do not deny the inconvenience of this fine gift when the listener's time is precious, or his breakfast interrupted through its exercise. For instance, this very morning twenty-six Kitkatlas (counting, like them, the small boy as nobody) were just about to embark in their canoe, when, as an afterthought, the chief, Sheuksh, sent up a few of his leading men to ask some questions and obtain a written introduction to a distant band of Indians they were about to visit, as I shall relate.

"The breakfast begun must wait. We are not here to eat, but to work. Having satisfied my untimely visitors, I returned to chilled coffee and porridge to finish it while discussing with my Indian churchwarden, who had just then come in, how to go on with the church roof repairs now that two of the sheets of zinc had sunk in deep water between the ship and the wharf. On the entrance of the bride of the week he withdrew. Three Kitakshans from the Skeena River awaited her departure to ask for my sanction to a new branch of the diocesan Church Army. Every detail must be gone over. To urge brevity increases prolixity.

"This is the way they proceeded after a respectful preface: 'Chief, the work of God is no light thing. All parts are weighty. Small things are parts of large things. Little things differ not from large in things of God. God makes no difference. If otherwise thou wilt explain. In our ignorance so we think, but thou art older and wiser than we. What thou sayest we will do. Now listen, chief.' Of course I listen.

"Among other greater things such questions as these were put, 'When praying in the street must we kneel when it is muddy?' 'Look out for the clean spots,' was my reply. 'We will never look on strong drink, but must we give up tobacco?' 'I do not smoke; you are free men. Drunkards do not enter heaven. Nothing is said about smokers. I cannot afford it.' 'Now, chief, we ask no trivial questions. When we are ready to burst with emotion may we find relief in crying out in church "Amen," or "Alleluia"?' This I saw to be Salvationist infection, and asked, 'Do you know the meaning of those words?' 'No.' 'Then don't say words without meaning. God looks for sense from men and noise from dogs. Say aloud the responses, for relief.' 'May women preach in a loud voice on the streets?' 'Yes, if they speak wisely.' 'Then, why not in church?' 'Because St. Paul says "No." 'Suppose men on the street laugh at us?' 'Pay no heed.' 'Suppose they make a row in our house-meeting?' 'Turn them out.' 'May we appoint men to do this?' 'Yes, the strong and good-tempered ones.'

"While this colloquy was going on there came in one of our lady workers for consultation, and before concluding the doctor came on business. He departed as an Indian entered to explain that he gave his wife a black eye in play by accident. She agreed, and I found it was true. Only once, and then in the delirium of fever, have I known an Indian strike a woman, and then, though blameless, his fellows degraded him from his chief-constableship.

"A widow has just one word to say. 'Chief, Thunder wants to marry me. What do you "think?' 'Well,' said I, 'do you love him?' 'I hardly know.' 'Does he love you?' 'I hardly know.' 'Then don't.' 'Chief, I won't.'

"When I resolved to write to you, the two main ideas were to exhibit the spiritual energy of our new converts and also the spiritual activity of our younger Indians of the second generation, baptized in infancy and trained as Christians. The latter we have no right to expect to be more zealous than the corresponding class at home. But we shall see.

"As I write I am constantly interrupted by Indians. Since I wrote the last paragraph an Indian entered. Excommunicate for a long time, she is now penitent. I could read her deepest thoughts almost at a glance. She poured out her soul in burning words. 'I last night knelt before God confessing my sin after five months' misery in the dust. God knows all, and you know part of my shame.' 'Yes,' said I, 'do not tell me more. I know enough. I know also the cleansing power of Jesus' blood on all win.' She began again by saying that the whole day would be too short to tell of all her sin. There she broke down. I said the comfortable words in the Communion Service, and by God's own Word ministered absolution to this broken heart. Recovering her composure, she said, 'There are crumbs for dogs; one has dropped from your lips, and I find it sweet to my heart--sweet, sweet.' She quite broke down again, but found relief in tears. I knelt beside her and prayed, then rose, took her hand, and said softly, 'The Lord hath put away thy sin; go and sin no more.' By this time she has reached her home I think, restored, forgiven. You will not mind this digression I hope. Now I can confidently say that in this whole community, where we have eighty-six communicants, there is not a single drunkard, thief, or unclean person. Ever since I returned from England I have prayed for this one now standing in God's light, her withered heart absorbing it. Glory be to God!

"My last visitation was complete excluding Massett, which I could not find means to reach. I have travelled more during the last half-year than in any previous year.

"Arriving at Aiyansh, on the Naas River, after inspecting the Indians' steam saw-mill on the opposite shore two miles below, I climbed up the steep bank, expecting to find Aiyansh as I last saw it, but it was nowhere to be found. I stood in speechless amazement. All things had become new. Instead of the old narrow trail in front of a single row of huts, I saw fine broad roads, with really beautiful cottages dotted about, set in the lovely autumnal foliage, each with a large garden separating house from house so widely that a fire in one could not damage its next neighbours.

"The little old Mission-house, built, I think, and furnished by Mr. McCullagh himself, was quite lost amidst the well-planned adjuncts. Within and without it is now a perfect model. I wish I had such a dwelling, and see why we must not covet our neighbour's house.

"The house stands close to the river's bank. Looking from it northward, the lofty mountains hedge in the intervening rich plain called Aiyansh, meaning evergreen; before me stretched the long new road ending at the church under construction. It has a deep, broad ditch on either side, from which the soil cast up makes a roadway that must be always dry. The trees, hewn into square sills, lie on the ground ready for making the side walk. It is, I think, or will be, the best piece of road-making in the diocese. The women did it all of their own free will to make it easier for men to go to church. Remember, women are not drudges here to the men.

"On the cast side of the church, if my bearings are correct, stands the prettiest school-house I have seen. The interior arrangements and external decorations of all these new buildings, private and public, expressed the ideas of a single mind. It is a model village, planned by an artist's eye and pleasing in every feature. It expresses the thought of a Christian, the civilisation that springs from the resurrection, apart from which in our day solid progress is impossible. Let those who deny it disprove it. They lack the motive power for experimenting, and discharge their theories, like blank cartridge, into our camp harmlessly.

"The Indians themselves bear the entire cost of this material advance. The saw-mill is theirs, and they alone work it. All is done by them excepting what Mr. McCullagh does in designing and superintending. Not one penny of C.M.S. money has been spent excepting on the first Mission-house. The Government gave a grant to the school, and the S.P.C.K., I hope, will grant £50 towards the church.

All the rest is done by the people on the spot. Nor is this a singular instance; it is the rule.

"In travelling on the river I stop at every village. In the Christian villages one meets troops of healthy, well-clad children who fearlessly meet our gaze. The dwellings are either new or in good repair, and full of modern furniture; the gardens fenced in; the roads not mere tracks. One sees signs of comfort, cleanliness, and ambition; one hears the school-bell and whir of the sewing machine, and after the day's work is done music right and left, unless downed by the volume of sound from the public hall, where the band practises each week-day evening almost all the winter through.

"The Heathen are dirty, rugged, dispirited, and jealous of the Christians. To avoid treading in filth one must walk on the crooked trails with circumspection. The children stand at a distance huddled together. I have seen two, even in the biting blast of winter, wrapped in a single piece of blanket, their only covering! The houses are rotting, propped up, and patched. Squalid within and dismal without, they truly show the moral and physical condition of their ignorant and superstitious inhabitants. These cling with a passionate resolve to the yaok, or potlach. 'That is our mountain,' say they, 'our only joy, dearer than life. To prison and death we will go rather than yield.' Yet this is their ruin. It is impossible to heighten the contrast between the Christless and the Christian people of the same tribes. Great is our present reward in seeing the elevating, as well as saving, effects of a pure Gospel. The things endured in the process are forgotten in the joy that abideth.

"The spiritual state of the Christians compares most favourably with that of the whites. We missionaries know each member of the community intimately, and grieve at any lapse from a standard that would be impossible at home. These Aiyansh people and those of Kincolith, Christians of much older standing, are zealous in extending the Gospel. A band of volunteer preachers from each place go among the Kitikshans over the winter trail for a hundred miles each way at their own charges. No one sends them or pays them, nor have they any other object in going than to preach the Gospel. This tests their devotion and self-denial in great reality. Nor are these itinerations without fruit, as I will now show.

"In July, 1895, I was visiting the upper Skeena, and some Indians from Gishgagas, sixty miles north-east from Hazelton, who had heard those preaching itinerants, begged me to send them a teacher; and, to impress me more with their need, got some one to send me a written petition from nineteen chiefs and principal men.

"After treating it as Hezekiah did the Assyrian's letter, I thought it right to rely on the money specially contributed by some friends of the Society for extension work. At Ilazolton was Mr. E. Stephenson, who had been locum tcnem for the Rev. J. Field for the past year. He had done well in the language, and now had boon working in the Society's Missions in the diocese about three years. As soon as I asked if he could venture on so arduous and distant a work, he said he was ready to go anywhere he was sent, and do his best at anything he was required to try. I bid him go and God-speed. There he is now alone, sternly enfolded by the strong arms of the most violent winter we have had for many years. The Gishgagas tribe is the flower of the Kitikshan nation, and I hope will soon be won for Christ. 'Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward.'

"Last Friday the mail steamer arrived from the south at four o'clock, and brought news picked up by the way of Sheuksk's death. A cartridge swept into the fire, exploded, it was said, and hit him fatally iii the forehead. I was so grieved that my thoughts turned to a visit of condolence to his tribe. At six o'clock two Kitkatlas came just as we were about to sit down to dinner and announced the arrival of the chief. It sounded ghostly. I went and found him standing outside the door. Taking him by the hand, I led him bodily in and gave him a seat at my table. I said to his crowd of followers, 'The chief will eat with me; provision will be made for you elsewhere. You will meet the chief at prayers.' I found that four men had been injured by gunpowder on New Year's Day.

"Sheuksh behaved as if he had been born to the use of knife and fork. As soon as I had told him of the false report of his death, he said, 'The steamer is at the wharf. If you will write I will send a letter to my brother chiefs to turn away their grief for my death.' So in the interval between dinner and prayers, he dictated these words:--(Translation.) 'Be not sorrowful; I am not dead, most certainly not. I salute you in the name of Jesus. Further I say this, I am on my voyage of reconciliation to Lakgagugwalumamsh. Greet all the brethren and all the chiefs, I pray you. Carefully lead your people into the way of God.--W. E. G. SHEUKSH.'

"Last month I spent some days among the Kitkatlas. going by the steamer that was bound there, for a wonder, and returned by a hired sailing boat. On board the steamer I met an accomplished man on his way to Victoria, and greatly appreciated his society. He was a professor travelling for the furtherance of science. Before we arrived at Kitkatla he told me he had visited all the Presbyterian Missions in Alaska and the Missions of the Methodists and of the Church along the coast in this diocese. After very careful inspection he came to the conclusion that our system is the best for the natives, as it elevated them all round, besides taking special pains in education. I was not aware he was a Methodist at the time, and value his testimony the more highly because unlikely to lean in our favour. Great Was his surprise as we first saw the Kitkatla village. Only about half of it could be seen from the ship's deck, and ye there in sight stood twenty-four new houses being built, and on a spur in a fine situation stood the frame of a substantial church roofed in, and men busy working at it. I grant I was highly pleased, but my companion was profuse in his admiration. 'Such a sight I never saw,' said he; 'that is astonishing!' In a short time the Kitkatlas came off in great numbers. 'What fine fellows these are! I never saw such a bustling set of Indians in my life. I congratulate you, Bishop.' These and many more such appreciative remarks were made by my friend the professor, which were fairly deserved by what he saw.

"Many were my engagements while there, among them the confirmation of twenty-eight adults.

"These Kitkatlas are the best hunters in the province. On their return from otter-hunting they hung up three of the best otter skins in the old church as a thank-offering to God. They sold for £50 apiece. Besides this they subscribed nearly 1,700, or £140, for the new church, and are giving their labour without wages in its erection. In addition, they collected cash to buy food for the builders, and the women cooked it for them.

"What a life these people lead their missionaries, Mr. and Mrs. Gurd! They are not expected to be ever tired, or resting, or doing anything that is not for them and the work among them. The great stress would quickly kill men in tropical climates. Happily this is exceptionally fine.

"You now understand how they can start off on a long canoe voyage, spending at least a fortnight away from home, and that in the very depth of a severe winter unusually stormy in order to obey what they felt a call from God. They are the same men who about ten years ago burnt down the church, drove away the missionary, and blasphemed the sacred name. 'Old things are passed away; all things have become new.' "

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