WRITING under date, April 9, 1877, Mr. Peck stated that the Eskimos who had up to then heard the Gospel message numbered about one hundred.
It may be said that this is very small. Perhaps so, if we compare Eskimo work with that among the teeming millions of India or China or some other mission field. But it is a large proportion of the sparse population of seal hunters. And to be continually teaching one hundred persons here and there, besides learning their language and doing literary work, is no mean record for the winter. And soon more were expected to come to the trading post. Before the break up of the ice at least as many again would arrive, and these from the distant shores on the north side of Hudson's Strait. And thus we see that the number of those who hear the. Gospel can never be measured by the number of those who come into direct contact with the missionary. By reason of the migratory and trading habits of the people, his influence spreads far and wide beyond the limits of the sea-girt portion of the continent in which he lives. Far over the frozen waters the traveller drives his sledge, so that from Little Whale River or any part of Labrador the tidings of salvation may sound forth to Baffin Land, and thence to Melville Peninsula, and so on down the west side of Hudson's Bay or elsewhere. The Word of God is not bound, and there is no limit to its free course. In northern regions we might put a new word into the mouth of the old prophet, and say. "The knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the ice covers the sea."
Each man who has heard and valued the message for himself passes it on. Thus, as the widening ripples on the surface of the smooth waters show that there must have been a stone cast into the lake, so conversely the missionary finds evidence that, though hidden from vast numbers of those living in the regions beyond, the smooth surface of their careless lives has been disturbed by the vibrations of his teaching.
Mr. Peck has found this in his own life. He has had the satisfaction and joy of discovering Eskimos, whom he has never met before, able to read as a result of his own teaching. He has instructed some one at Little Whale River. The man who has learned has then wandered away in pursuit of game or for trade, and has imparted to his friends that which he has received.
The teacher should himself always be learning the lesson not to despise small numbers. Had the greatest of all teachers not appreciated this, the world would never have been evangelized. For it was not when Jesus Christ had the multitudes hanging on His words; not when He was feeding the thousands in the wilderness; not when He was entering in triumph into Jerusalem, that He was making a marked and permanent effect upon mankind. But it was rather when weary and footsore by the roadside; when storm-tossed on the sea; when presiding over the last sad supper in the upper chamber, pouring His teaching into twelve ignorant fishermen who misunderstood Him, and saturating them with it, that He was fashioning the weapons to break down the opposition of sin and win the world for God. Let this be the comfort of the lonely worker, and a sufficient answer to the caviller concerning inadequate results to expenditure of energy and money.
The experience of the first few months among them was distinctly favourable as regards the receptive temperament of the people. Mr. Peck is able to say, "I find nearly all the Eskimos eager to hear the things of God." This was, of course, largely due to favourable impressions that had been made upon the minds of the natives by the visits of former missionaries and Bishop Horden, as well as to the example and influence of some of the European traders. In this respect Mr. Peck's work began under very favourable auspices when compared with that of Hans Egede and the Moravians of the eighteenth century among the Eskimos of Greenland.
But the sojourn of a new white man at the trading settlement called forth much comment from among the Eskimos, and especially among those who were constantly coming in for barter. They knew the Company's agents as men who had goods for exchange. But here was another most extraordinary agent who had no merchandise for traffic, but merely a wondrous message from which self-interest seemed to be entirely absent. "Ho! come, buy without money and without price!"
Many were the surmises made by these heathen as to the origin of so strange a being. Where had he come from? Why had he come? etc.
"Once, when speaking to a party of these people," Mr. Peck says, "I overheard a few of the newest-comers asking some of those who had first arrived where I came from.
"One of the questioned, in the most sincere and simple manner, replied; 'He fell down from heaven to save the Eskimos.'
"Many of them, when I entered their dwellings, would say to me: 'Thou art good to come to such loathsome creatures as we are!' referring to their peculiarly dirty dwellings and surroundings.
"Others again would say: 'This is our father; he has come to save us!'
"Their inquiries about my country and my condition were also sometimes very amusing. Some of the ladies were most desirous of knowing whether I was a married man or not.
"I remember the blank amaze depicted upon the face of an Eskimo when I told him that in my country the sea was not frozen over, and that we had but little snow.
"Their manifested surprise when they entered my little house, and beheld the many articles their eyes had never looked upon before, was very great. A looking-glass was a source of intense interest as well as amusement.
"I remember one unusually grimy party of this far from cleanly race entering my little habitation. It is no exaggeration to say that some of them were coated with dirt and grease--wore hides of it.
"Taking them to the looking-glass I invited them to take a good look at themselves. Then, having set out a large tub with a plentiful supply of water, soap, etc., I further invited them to indulge in a bath.
"With much fun and pleasant badinage one with the other, they managed, after much scrubbing, to get some, at least, of the filth from their greasy faces.
"Another peep in the glass, and their surprise was unbounded as they began to realize the transforming power of soap and water. (Note.--What a picture here for PEARS! An Eskimo, say, before and after a bath with PEARS' SOAP! What a striking advertisement it would make!)
"The people also manifested much desire to know how various articles, uncommon to them and to their own rude fashionings, were made. Earthenware jugs, tea-pots, etc., greatly excited their curiosity, and when I explained that such articles were made of a particular kind of clay baked in great heat, they would gaze at me with something of awe in their manner, as though they regarded the white man as the embodiment of all wonders.
"Such an article as a watch, they could scarcely conceive as being made, but supposed it to be a living, sentient thing. When it ticked they said it was alive; when it ceased its ticking, they spoke of it as dead."
But however receptive of teaching the people might be, or however curious about the stranger, it must be remembered that the first object they had in view was, of course, not learning from the missionary, but trade. Consequently, their time was taken up with business pursuits during the day. There is a brief reference to this in Mr. Peck's notes. "I have accordingly to work much at night. God's workers must not give comfort the first place: Christ alone must have that." Simple as these words are they speak volumes to many at home who value the quiet rest, of their evening fireside, and are reluctant to sacrifice it upon the altar of their service, even though they are surrounded by thousands of luxuries, which they may consider necessaries, unknown to the dweller in frozen lands. Yet it is only Christianity with a Cross, and that Cross evident in the life of each professor that can make the world believe in Christ. It is no use now, any more than it was in Apostolic days, to preach the Gospel of love while we shut ourselves up in comfortable selfishness. Were it otherwise, we might evangelize the world by distributing tracts.
And so a self-sacrificing love is rewarded, and in a letter written in July we read again: "God has helped and blessed me much in my work. I have already ministered to about 300 of the Eskimos. Most of these received the Word with gladness; they always gave me a hearty welcome when I visited them in their snow-houses."
The last words in this extract should not be overlooked. "In their snow-houses" is the locale of the evening work. We have spoken of the English fireside above. If that is sacrificed it may be for a well-warmed ventilated church or mission-room, or even for a clean cottage where a meeting is to be held. Mr. Peck forsakes his own room night after night through the long winter to go forth into the piercing cold, to crawl on hands and knees through the low tunnel or porch of snow that leads to the circular and domed dwelling chamber. Inside the atmosphere is hot, the stench is intolerable, for there is no ventilation, and the European visitor almost feels that he must turn back or be suffocated or be sick. The place is dirty and gory, and raw seals' blubber is lying about, the remnants of the family's dinner, or that which is to be to-morrow's meal. The scene is not appetising. But the missionary, constrained by the love of Christ, forgets these surroundings as he describes a gathering in one of these iglos:
"Books in hand we bend low, and by the light of the Eskimo lamp sing praises to God, read portions of His Word, and commend ourselves with loved ones, far away, to the care of our God. Times of spiritual joy and blessing, of real refreshing from the Lord have we experienced on the icy waste."
After the brief summer of 1877, we find Mr. Peck once more at Moose for the winter. There were two or three important matters on account of which his presence was required there.
The foremost of these was the desire of the Bishop to ordain him. He had already learned to appreciate him, and to understand that he was just the man that the Holy Spirit had set apart for the Eskimos, for whose spiritual welfare he had long felt a deep concern. In the beginning of September it is pleasing to find Bishop Horden, as he takes a retrospect, writing to the C.M.S.: "A load of anxiety was removed from my mind by the occupation of Little Whale River as a mission station. I knew the needs of the poor Eskimos; I knew their longing for the Word of Life; and I knew too how very inadequately I could fulfil towards them the duties of a spiritual father. So correspondingly great was my joy when I saw the long-expected messenger arrive, and knew that he was destined for the regions of the north. I thank the Committee for a man; I thank them doubly for the man; a better selection could not have been made. One would require to look and wait long before he could find another so well fitted for the work. Patient, humble, prudent, loving, he wins the hearts of all with whom he comes in contact, while his diligence is patent to all by the progress he has made in the difficult languages with which he has to deal. He is now with me, and will study divinity until February, when I hope to ordain him; after which he will proceed again to Little Whale River, to meet the Eskimos when they come in to barter their furs."
And so a quiet time of preparation for the solemn dedication of himself to God was the first object of the winter's sojourn at Moose Factory.
Then, again, almost immediately after Mr. Peck's arrival at Little Whale River, Bishop Horden had written an urgent letter to the Church Missionary Society in England asking that an iron church might be sent out to him.
"It is," said the Bishop, "quite indispensable. No wood grows near there at all fit for buildings, and he cannot preach to or teach his people in the open air with the thermometer at 40 degrees below zero. It should be large enough to accommodate 150 people."
Through the kindness of private friends, among whom were the Rev. Henry Wright and Miss Wright (now Mrs. Moule), a pretty little iron building of the size required had been purchased, costing altogether £300, and had been sent out in pieces in the Hudson's Bay Company's annual ship to Moose Factory.
We can readily understand, after the preaching and teaching in snow-houses, how anxious Mr. Peck was to convey this iron building to Little Whale River. Writing on September 5, he says he hopes to take it back to his Eskimo station when the winter is over. But in this hope he was for a time disappointed.
The winter passed in learning, reading with the Bishop, translating and transcribing. "While here," he writes, "I finished transcribing into the Syllabic character portions of the New Testament.
Besides those chapters of St. John previously mentioned, these portions included passages from St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, and various texts which were specially arranged in triplicate forms. The object of this arrangement was to give the people a definite and clear idea of the Gospel before they had advanced very far in their powers of reading. They learned by heart three texts which contained consecutive thoughts or facts in the scheme of salvation. Thus, "All have sinned"; "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son," etc.; "We love Him because He first loved us," are three in proper sequence giving an intelligible reason for conversion and amendment of life.
Many portions similarly arranged were, with the Bishop's hearty approval, sent home to be printed. The S.P.C.K., to the missionary's great joy, undertook the work, and sent them out the following year printed and ready for use.
On February 3, 1878, came the ordination at Moose Factory.
Twice in the year the Station, usually so quiet, becomes somewhat animated--in August, when the annual ship arrives from England, and again in February, when the long silence is broken by the arrival of our overland post.
At the latter season teams of dogs may be seen coming in from the neighbouring stations, bringing the Hudson's Bay Company's officers, who come here to await their letters. It was in order that these might have an opportunity of being present that Bishop Horden fixed Sunday, February 3, as the day for the ordination. The service began at eleven. The church, which seats a goodly number, was quite full; indeed, only about two persons were absent without good cause. As soon as the voluntary had ended, the 100th Psalm was given out, and sung with great spirit, Miss Horden leading at the harmonium. Then the Bishop went at once to the pulpit, and preached an excellent sermon on 2 Tim. iv. 2, "Preach the Word." After calling attention to the character in which St. Paul would have Timothy to go forth, viz., as a "herald," he dwelt at some length on the signification of "the Word," and the manner in which it should be ministered. Then, addressing himself more directly to the candidate, he remarked on the peculiar features of the work before him:
"Your home is to be in one of the world's bye-places, where, except the priceless souls to be gathered in, there is nothing to attract you. Of ice and snow, of storm and tempest, of wild bleak hills, and an utterly unproductive soil, you will have enough and more than enough; and amid those you will have, perhaps, to endure much hardness. Yet I think you are to be envied. For the missionary should not look so much to his surroundings as to his prospects in his ministerial work. And yours are glorious! I think there is no mission in the whole country in which God has more people to be gathered in than in the Mission at Whale River. Long has the cry been raised, 'Come over and help us'; but it met with a faint response; an occasional visit was all that could be given. . . . But I longed for a shepherd, and at last the noble C.M.S. sent me you to be the Eskimos' missionary. . . . No people I have ever seen or heard of seem more ready to receive the Gospel than they, more ready to honour the bearer of Glad Tidings, or to lend him all possible assistance, so as to render his life among them as free from care as circumstances will permit. With the language you are partially acquainted; make yourself a thorough master thereof. Be to them a father. Feed them with the milk of the Word; and I trust that, by-and-by, you may be enabled to present one of your spiritual children as one fitted for, and anxious to become, a teacher of others also. A numerous body of Indians, and a few Europeans and half-castes, are likewise entrusted to your care. The soul of each one is equally precious in the sight of Christ, and must be so in yours. Neglect no opportunity of speaking a word for Christ. Think it no less important to speak to one than to five hundred. The deep spiritual sermons in John iii. and iv. were preached in each case to but one person. Preach the word to hundreds when you have opportunity. Preach to the single individual as occasion arises. In the house, in the iglo, in the tent, in the church, preach the Word."
After the hymn, "The Church's one Foundation," the Bishop took his seat in front of the Communion table, and the candidate was presented in the usual way. After the laying on of hands, Mr. Peck read the Gospel.
The winter was not over, and the newly-ordained missionary would not return to his station until the summer. The departure of winter was eagerly awaited for more than one reason. The old Greek proverb says, "One swallow does not make spring." In Hudson's Bay, however, the goose of prose might be substituted for the bird of poetry. Bishop Horden, writing soon after the ordination, says:
"But spring was coming, even though it came tardily, and by-and-by great excitement was caused by the announcement that a goose had been seen; and now "goose" was the great subject of conversation. When would the first goose be killed? Who would be the lucky individual to kill it? Goose stands were made at intervals of about half a mile all down the river. Decoy geese were in abundance, but the wild geese were very shy. They rewarded the hunter's patience and skill but moderately; but, in the poor times we were experiencing, every single goose was a prize, and often a hunter sat in his stand two or three days without securing one. This year the birds could find no feeding in consequence of the great depth of snow, and on certain spots hundreds were found frozen, starved to death. I do not remember having heard of a similar occurrence."
It was not until July, 1878, that the Rev. E. J. Peck returned to Little Whale River. En route he visited some of the trading posts of the Hudson's Bay Company. One of the places was Seal River. Speaking of this place, he says:
"Here I met some twenty Indians; these being Christians, they desired me to baptize their children. For this purpose they cleared one corner of their tent for my use, and made other preparations. Such acts showed their kindness and good wishes. What a curious sight, this Indian tent, with moss for a carpet, and dried fish over my head, together with the motley group who surrounded me! But there was this sweet truth which gave beauty to all, viz., Jesus was near to bless us in our humble abode, just as much, I believe, as if we had the spire of some noble building over our heads."
The next place visited was Great Whale River. "Here," Mr. Peck writes, "I met about fifty Indians; they were eager to hear about Jesus. I told them the simple story of the Saviour's love, and exhorted them to have Jesus for their Friend and Guide. I have no doubt but God will bless such feeble efforts. I am sure He loves the Indians as much as any one else; so I expect Him to save and bless them."
On his arrival at Little Whale River he had a pleasant experience. If there is one thing that a missionary feels more anxiety about than another, it is the steadfastness of the faith of young converts and the permanent effect of his teaching during his absence. It may be said that the faithful servant of Christ should have more trust in his Master, and in the upholding power of the Holy Spirit. Be this as it may, St. Paul's feelings were very similar to those of a modern worker. Both alike may find no rest while they wait for the coming of a Titus. Both alike may exclaim, "Wherefore we could no longer forbear . . . and sent Timotheus our brother ... to establish you and comfort you concerning your faith." In the present case there was no Titus or Timothy to be the means of communication between the teacher and the taught, and Marconigrams were as yet unthought of. And so, if a few anxious thoughts had entered his mind during the many months of his enforced absence, it was excusable. But on his arrival he says:
"What has become of the poor Eskimos during their teacher's absence? I have a pleasant answer to give, which is this: the same God who was pleased to bless them while I was with them, has done the same during my absence. This has been done through the medium of my helper, Molucto, and others: meetings were held by them which were well attended, and the Eskimos were very anxious to learn,
"On my arrival at Little Whale River the people gave me a very hearty welcome, and some of them appeared quite delighted to see me.
"It gives me great joy and encouragement to minister to these people, seeing they are so willing to learn, and so anxious to know the truth. I trust God will spare me to live with them for many years. Jesus is known to many; and the Spirit's sanctifying influence is felt, I trust, in some hearts. Let us press on in faith, nothing doubting, and God will give a still greater blessing. Let us pray and work, for life is brief and the souls of men are precious."
The willingness and desire to teach and help others on the upward and heavenly path is surely the most Christ-like spirit that can be displayed, and the one most coveted for His people by those who themselves endeavour to act on the great command, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your goods works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." This spirit had manifested itself among the Eskimos.
Here might be mentioned the first incident of real encouragement as far as actual conversion is concerned. It was the case of a heathen woman who came to the trading station at Little Whale River with a party of her people. She listened most attentively to the great and wonderful truths which were brought to her notice, and Mr. Peck was gladdened to see how earnestly she desired instruction.
After a time she had to leave the station, moving out on the frozen sea. While living in a snow-house on that barren, icy waste, she was laid low by sickness. Her heathen neighbours tried to persuade her in every possible way to listen to the conjurors. But the woman was firm, and did not heed their appeals. The heathen themselves brought in tidings to the station some time after that she had died trusting in her new found faith.
"What a comfort this was to me!" exclaims the solitary worker for Christ. "How it strengthened my faith, and enabled me to press on in the work of the Lord!"
And so we pass on through another winter. Trials do not become less, but they are cast more on Him who is ever ready to bear them. Encouragement becomes greater and gives increased energy and power of endurance to the missionary. For in March, 1879, he is once more able to speak of the furtherance of the Kingdom of God. "I have already met several strange Eskimos this year to whom I have ministered according to my ability. A number of the people were with me for some time. I had them with me about five hours each day, so that I was able to give them a good supply of spiritual food. One family, consisting of some twelve members, gave me their charms or idols, desiring to have Jesus only as their Saviour and Defender. Many of the Eskimos seem to have lost all faith in their conjurors, although they are not yet willing to part with their charms. I have told them plainly they cannot have Jesus and their idols also, so that they must leave them if they wish to be saved. I do not wish any one to imagine that these favourable results have been brought about solely by my agency, for if human agency is considered, I must say that my helper, Molucto, has done, and continues to do, a great work. He seems to have a deep love for the souls of his fellow-countrymen.
"I intend to baptize four of the Eskimos who have been under instruction, and who have forsaken their heathenism. In this matter I have earnestly asked God to guide and direct me. I shall be in no hurry to baptize inquirers, but I shall give them time to count the cost of their religion. It is right to build the Eskimo Church on a good foundation; for if the people imagine that Christianity consists in being baptized, and having certain outward forms and ceremonies, while they cling to their sins and follow some of their heathen practices, I am afraid the blessing of God will not be manifest."
Shall we look at the story of one who was baptized? It is that of Neppingerok, and shows most strikingly some of the dangers of Eskimo life on the one hand, and the mighty power of God's grace on the other.
"Neppingerok was an Eskimo of much intelligence, and always showed considerable desire for instruction, though until he was laid low with sickness and affliction, he had never evinced any special spiritual desires.
"One day in the autumn, when the sea began to freeze over, he ventured out upon the ice (which was not very thick yet), bent upon the capture of seals for food for his wife and little ones.
"When some distance from the land a gale of wind arose, and the ice was shattered by the fury of the storm, and Neppingerok was carried away on a floating island of ice.
"Every moment he expected the frozen piece upon which he stood would break. But God kept him from this awful fate.
"The wind suddenly abated, then began again to blow, but this time in an opposite direction, urging the floe on which he stood towards the land. Tossed to and fro for twenty hours upon that floe, he succeeded at last in reaching the shore. But this fearful voyaging had been too much for him, hardy as he was by nature, and rapid consumption set in.
"I could see," says Mr. Peck, "that he had not long to live, and patiently, prayerfully tried to lay before him the Gospel scheme.
"He listened very eagerly, very attentively to the Glad Tidings of a Saviour's love, and applied himself most assiduously to learn to read the little book containing portions of God's Holy Word.
"His anxiety to know the Lord soon deepened into a real, living trust in the crucified One, and a full confession of his faith. I had the joy of baptizing him. He took the name of John.
"Some little time after the poor fellow died. I was not with him when he passed away, but the last thing he did was to read the Word of God, especially St. John's Gospel, chapter xiv., which speaks of the Father's house with the many mansions for the disciples of Christ."