Chapter VI. Consolidation of Work "Now, my God, let, I beseech Thee, Thine eyes be open, and let Thine ears be attent unto the prayer that is made in this place."
WHEN the summer of 1879 was advanced, the Rev. E. J. Peck was able to thank God and take courage both on account of sympathetic cooperation which he received in his work and for the consolidation, so to speak, of his teaching.
The co-operation came from the newly-awakened earnestness in one of the officers of the Hudson's Bay Company. He not only dedicated himself to the service of God, but exercised all the influence which he possessed in the same direction, both among Eskimos and Indians. What an example of this kind means to the missionary none but the missionary can tell. It is always one of the sorest trials to find the heathen pointing the finger of scorn at the un-Christlike lives of our fellow-countrymen, and telling the preacher to convert them first.
The logic of facts is always the most powerful, and one profligate life may keep out many waverers on the threshold of the Kingdom. And conversely, one earnest, consistent layman may be the means of drawing numbers through the Beautiful Gate.
Besides this helper, who was in a position independent of the Mission, Bishop Horden sent an assistant to share the work with Mr. Peck. This was Mr. Edward Richards, a layman, who was, however, subsequently ordained, and is still labouring in the Diocese of Moosonee. He was not in the same station with Mr. Peck, but was set to the oversight of some distant parts of his wide "parish."
Consolidation of work there also was. On Aug. 6 we read:
"The books sent last year have proved a great boon, and I have good reason for believing that God's Spirit has taken the written Word as the means of enlightening the souls of some of my poor people. I am happy to say that several can now read their books quite fluently.
"I have made it a practice during the time I have been at Little Whale River to instruct all the Eskimos who live at this post daily, so that they can all, with few exceptions, read their books; and I believe any of them would give satisfactory answers if questioned upon most of the leading truths of Christianity."
But there was further joy also. For better means of teaching the people were at hand. In the last chapter it was pointed out that though the much-needed iron church had arrived at Moose in 1877, it had not been possible for Mr. Peck to take it back with him on his return to Little Whale River in 1878. Towards the end of August, 1879, it was reported as being at the trading station. The erection of the building was completed under difficulties, but by the latter part of October all obstacles had been overcome. A letter of December 20, written to the Rev. Henry Wright, gives a full account:
"You will be delighted to hear that God has enabled me to erect the iron church. It is a nice, neat little building, measuring (exclusive of chancel) forty feet long by twenty wide. I was about eight weeks erecting it, the Eskimos being employed by the Hudson's Bay Company; I was, therefore, only able to have their help for eight days, so that the lion's share of the task came to my lot. I had also plenty of puzzling work, as the ground plan could not be found; but with experiments, perseverance, and hard work, we managed finally to get everything in its place.
"The building was opened on Sunday, October 26. I preached in Eskimo, Indian, and English to my small flock. I spent a most happy day; and I think our poor Eskimos, Indians, and others were very thankful for the gift which has been sent them. For my own part, I feel deeply thankful to God, and God's people, who have given me such a help in my work. You know how necessary it is to have a proper place wherein to worship God; I shall now be able to speak to the people with some comfort, whereas formerly I was forced to pack them in my little house, or go into the open air, or have them in the Hudson's Bay Company's quarters. I have no doubt the Eskimos who arrive in the spring will be glad to assemble within the building; they will see for themselves the gift which has been sent them, so that I hope their hearts may be inclined to receive Him who is willing and waiting to give them a still greater gift--even life eternal. As the church will be visible to all, it will be a silent witness for God. The Eskimos will also understand our desires for their welfare far better than if mere words were used.
"I am happy to say that God is still helping and blessing me in this work. The Eskimos continue desirous to learn, and some of them show signs of spiritual life, for which blessings I am indeed thankful. I have a firm persuasion that God has a great blessing in store for the Indians and Eskimos. I have been led to plead much for them of late, and if the Holy Spirit has incited me to more earnestness in prayer, it is (according to my mind) that He may use and fit the weak instrument for a means of blessing to others. God, as you know, generally works upon our own souls when He intends to use us.
Oh! may He often work within us, inciting us to more earnestness and devotion in His blessed work!
"May I ask you to make the month of May a particular time of prayer for the Eskimos? It is then that the greatest number are near me; then I am in the midst of the fearful battle against Satan, sin, and indifference, and I need particular grace. You know there are special seasons when we need to have our hands upheld by special prayer and sympathy.
"The news of the iron church being erected will no doubt be a matter of much joy to Miss Agnes, yourself, and other friends who thought of the poor isolated Eskimos, and sent them such a token of love and sympathy. Gratefully yours in that blessed hope,
"E. J. PECK."
The surprise of the Eskimos who travelled to the post was unbounded.
"The poor people walked around the outside of the building and tapped the corrugated iron with their fingers, wondering of what peculiar material such a building could be made. Others, again, wondered how we possibly managed to erect the steeple, which, after all, is a very tiny affair.
"But when these simple folk saw the inside of the church, so nicely lined and varnished, their surprise knew no bounds, and they cried out;
"What a wonderful house!"
"Oh, how high!"
"What wonderful seats!" etc., etc.
Again, writing to Miss Tolley of St. Leonards-on-Sea, Mr. Peck describes the iron building, and adds, "the Eskimos are delighted with it, and seem to think themselves the richest people in the world" on account of this great possession.
How easy would it be for the wealth of Christian England to give joy to the world. If only we really believed that Christ spoke the truth when He said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive," and acted accordingly, there would soon be peace upon earth among those in whom God is well pleased. But, unhappily, the sayings of Christ are regarded as containing beautiful sentiments, albeit unsuitable for a practical and business-like age.
It was not long before the new church was brought into full use and consecrated to the glory of God by the truest service. In the same letter, dated February 17, 1880, just quoted, we read, "I have been privileged to admit some of my people into the visible Church of Christ within its walls, and I hope to baptize more in the spring of this year."
We have heard several times of John Molucto, and the help he was rendering to the missionary. We might here enlarge on what has been said before, and give Mr. Peck's account of his zeal and method under great difficulty in work. At the date above mentioned, we read: "He is about sixty years old, and almost a cripple. But still he does a great deal of work for the Saviour. When the Eskimos are here at Little Whale River he speaks to them about their souls, and exhorts them to turn to Jesus. Sometimes, when he is not able to walk about on the ice, he manages to get other Eskimos to haul him about on a sleigh, so that he may see them and speak to them. I have often found him with a band of his fellow-countrymen round him, teaching them to read and telling of the Saviour's love. Molucto has also proved a great help to me in the study of the Eskimo tongue. Although he can speak scarcely a word of English, he has a way peculiar to himself of making one understand what he means, so that I have found, and do find, him a great help when difficulties stand in my way. Another remarkable trait in his character is his perseverance in acquiring knowledge. In this respect I know not one to equal him. For hours he will study his book, and he has now as much fluency in reading as many of my young people who are hale and hearty. He is also very grateful to those who show him any little kindness, and I think he loves those who tell him of Jesus,"
Surely the people, of whom the man so described is a representative, are worth helping? He may be called a representative, for perseverance in acquiring knowledge is quite an Eskimo characteristic. For instance, a young woman, named Agnes Anoat, is one who learned to read quite fluently, almost entirely by her own exertions, for she was away from the Little Whale River while Mr. Peck was there, and therefore was independent of his help. Here is another case taken from Mr. Peck's diary:--"Some Eskimos arrived in the evening . . . One young fellow, whom I had never seen before, had almost learned to read, and had some knowledge of Christianity. It appeared that he had met another Eskimo who had done his best to instruct him. Other cases might be quoted, but there is no need to do so, in the light of the statement, which has already been made, that practically all the Eskimos at Little Whale River could now read."
Isolation is always one of the great trials of a missionary's life. St. Paul felt it when he wrote: "Only Luke is with me. Take Mark and bring him with thee." And from Apostolic days down to the present experience is the same. The spiritually-minded man needs the fellowship of the Spirit in others. But generally in these days of railways, telegraphs and telephones, though the missionary may be cut off from the sympathy and fellowship of personal contact, he has aids to realize communion in his regular mail service. The worker in Arctic scenes, however, has not this comfort. His isolation is complete, and if he has not learned to lean wholly upon his God for support, his lot is indeed a sad and hard one.
We can understand this to some extent when we read Mr. Peck's words to Miss Tolley, a warm supporter of the Mission: "Your kind letter of May 6 did not reach me until the 6th of December." Nearly eight months for a letter to reach its destination! In these days of the rapid movement of events dynasties might be overturned, his friends might be dead and buried, and the sojourner in Arctic regions be in the most profound ignorance of all. And when the letter does at last reach its destination, then two months more have to go by wearily before there is any opportunity of sending an answer. No wonder, then, that the ambassador for Christ feels a hunger for the prayers of the faithful at home, knowing that these will help him to say with Christ, "I am not alone because the Father is with me." Speaking from the depth of the Arctic winter, Mr. Peck exclaims: "It is indeed a lonely and barren spot where God has called me to labour and live. But I must not fear nor be discouraged. God will, no doubt, give me grace to toil on, if I make Him my refuge and strength."
Miss Tolley interested herself in getting together and sending out for distribution among the people many warm woollen garments and other useful things. The necessary delay in the delivery of these things well illustrates the isolation of the Little Whale River trading station. It is not until December 20, 1880, that the goods sent off in the early summer of 1879 are acknowledged as received. Then Mr. Peck writes, under this date, concerning these things: "I am now able to speak of them. You could not have sent a nicer supply. The knitted vests were almost enough to make one warm to look at them. Some of the articles were almost too nice to give to the poor Eskimos and Indians, who spend much of their time in not very clean tents and houses. One poor woman seemed quite delighted to receive one of the vests. She looked and looked as if such a nice thing could never be intended for her." Some of the things thus sent were given as prizes either for teaching or learning, with a view to the encouragement of general industry and improvement.
A peep behind the scenes is always of interest. And lest the reader should imagine that the life of a Servant of God in these icy climates is one of deadly monotony and idleness, we can draw aside the veil for a moment and see how Mr. Peck describes his daily life at this time:
"I suppose you sometimes wonder how I manage to live here, and how I spend the long winter months. I am very comfortable considering all the circumstances, and I do not feel the cold so much as one might imagine. Having a snug house made of logs to live in, I am able to keep myself tolerably warm with the help of a stove. When I go outside I wear a good thick fur coat, which keeps out the cold wonderfully well. If I am away with the Eskimos and have to sleep in their snow houses, then I use a large fur blanket in which I can sleep with comfort. "It is true the air is very cold, but it is so clear and bracing, and tends so much to invigorate one, that it is not nearly so trying as might be supposed. It is doubtless owing to this cause that we are so free from complaints to which people in England are subject. Again, we are not nearly so badly off for food as some are apt to think. When the reindeer are numerous we receive a good supply of venison from the Eskimos; and besides the deer, we are able to obtain partridges and hares, so we are not in much danger of starving, although we have no shops as in old England.
"You may wonder how I spend my time, and what I do to keep my mind occupied. For one thing, I can always find plenty to do in the way of study, and for another I always have Eskimos near me whom I teach. And besides these things, I have to do cooking, etc., so that you can fully understand me when I say that I do not find time hang heavy on my hands. "
"The daily routine is somewhat as follows:--I rise at 6 a.m. Two hours until 8 a.m. are occupied with devotions and study. Then comes breakfast. At 9 a.m. I gather the children together for school. After school I study the languages. At i p.m. I have my dinner. Exercise takes up the afternoon till 4 or 5 p.m. Tea is the next event. After the tea the adult Eskimos are called for Service and instruction. Then once more comes my own study and devotion, and bed at 10 p.m."
All this represents a full life, but monotonous when lived day by day, week by week, year by year the same. But the monotony is relieved by the truest pleasure, viz., seeing the dawning faith, the growing trust, the brighter lives of those for whom the life is lived. Soul after soul is saved; one after another is set as a jewel in the crown of Christ--that crown which He will wear as soon as it shines with the varied hues of all the lustre of the world; not of Jerusalem or of Samaria alone, but of the uttermost parts of the world--the ice-bound shores of the Eskimos.
It is probable, also, that the law of compensation operates in the life of every one who is willing to come under its influence. Monotony and isolation tend to their own relief for the cheery disposition and the willing servant of God. The missionary who has constant opportunities of associating with his fellow-countrymen, or whose life may be relieved by ordinary pleasures, as in the case of one resident in an Indian station, has a certain amount of temptation which may lead him to look upon association with natives of the country as irksome. But in such a position as Little Whale River, the Englishman, cut off from his natural environment altogether, will discover all the attractive qualities and characteristics he can in those by whom he is surrounded and form friendships among them. And so Mr. Peck is able to look on the bright side, and find plenty to admire in the Eskimos. There is certainly no tone of depression in such a description as he gives. "As regards the people themselves, they are far from being the stunted race they are generally represented to be. It is true they are not tall, but they are stout and strongly built. Besides this, they are a remarkably happy, good-natured people. It would do you good, I am sure, to see a group of them after they arrive at Little Whale River. They look very hearty and contented. The women present a strange appearance, with their children in their hoods and the little ones peeping out in such an artful manner. I sometimes wonder how it is their children are not frozen, but, strange to say, they seem to feel the cold less than their parents. When the little ones are able to walk they are dressed in warm fur clothes. Some of them are so fat, and are altogether so bulky in their winter costumes, that one could almost roll them about like balls with little fear of hurting them."
Then, again, not only is the exterior pleasing and interesting, but the Eskimos are such kind, teachable people that one seldom does anything for them without being cheered in soul.
Perhaps this chapter cannot be more appropriately brought to a close than by giving the story of one whose conversion belongs to this period. It is a story which tells of character, opposition, gratitude and salvation. Charlotte Ooyaraluk was, during the early portion of the missionary's residence at Little Whale River, much opposed to the Gospel. Her opposition was, curiously enough, largely based upon what she considered to be an indignity offered to woman. It seemed to her a most monstrous and absurd thing that in the story of the Fall a woman should play the leading part, and be the first to fall into transgression. And for a long time she seemed to have no desire for spiritual things.
"As far as I can remember," writes Mr. Peck, "her heart seemed to be first really moved when one of her children fell dangerously ill and was brought very near to the gate of death. I visited her, and did what I could to help and comfort her.
"The little one recovered, and now the mother began to listen with great attention to the glad tidings of salvation. She joined our reading class, and showed a remarkable and dogged perseverance in acquiring the art of reading. Her little book was constantly in her hands, and she grew quickly in the knowledge of God.
"Shortly after this she was admitted by baptism into Christ's visible Church, and she lived a remarkably consistent life on the whole."
She did not live long, for a year or two later, during the missionary's absence, she was attacked by a fatal disease. The officer in charge of the Hudson's Bay Company's Station kindly visited her, and reported that she had persevered to the end, and had met death calmly and joyfully, realizing, like St. Paul, that "to depart and be with Christ is far better" than the weary pilgrimage and warfare of this world.