Project Canterbury

The Life and Work of E.J. Peck
Among the Eskimos
by the Rev. Arthur Lewis, M.A.

New York: A. C. Armstrong, 1904.

Chapter X. Changed Plans--Home

"I will call them my people which were not my people, and her beloved which was not beloved."

THE period to which we have very briefly alluded in the latter portion of the last chapter was one of distinct progress and hopefulness. About the close of it Mr. Peck mentions the baptism of two adult Eskimos, one of whom had learned to read with almost no help in the way of teaching. He also speaks of the triumphant death of another convert. In the hour of supreme trial he turned to his sorrowing relations and told them not to weep as he was going to live with Jesus.

There were, however, two matters which caused some temporary check to the work and necessitated a certain re-adjustment of the Mission machinery. The first was that the Eskimos had been suffering great losses through their dogs dying. As a consequence they were unable to travel south to the trading post. The second was the decision of the Hudson's Bay Company to abandon the trading station at Little Whale River and concentrate on Great Whale River. Although this was only sixty miles further south, there was no probability that the Eskimos, for some time at least, would journey there in the same numbers that had congregated at the more northern station. "Under the circumstances," writes Mr. Peck "I have, after prayerful consideration, made up my mind what to do. With God's blessing and help, I shall go to the Eskimos if they cannot come to me. With a Christian Eskimo as companion, and sledge and dogs, I shall doubtless find many on the vast fields of ice, and God, I am sure, will be with me, and He will bless me."

But perhaps the most encouraging feature in the work at this time was the fact that there was a prospect of self-help among the Eskimos themselves. Youths there were coming forward ready to work for Christ, and fit also to be trained as leaders in the evangelization of their heathen fellow-countrymen and instructors in the Christian church. Of them Mr. Peck writes:--"I am glad to say that I am now able to do a little in the matter of preparing Eskimo lads as teachers (D.V.) for their fellow-countrymen. One, a very promising youth indeed, was appointed teacher by our Bishop, and I believe, with God's blessing, he will become a real help in the work. I have another with me now who is able to read and understand a goodly portion of St. Luke's Gospel. I shall (D.V.) go on teaching him, and trust that God will fit him for His own work."

It should be borne in mind that at the same time all this work was being done Mr. Peck was also not forgetting the Indian Church, and as regards literary work he says, "I have been busy enlarging our Eskimo grammar. This work will, I trust, prove useful to others who may come in contact with the Eskimos."

Shall we now accompany our missionary in one of those "journeyings often" which became more frequent for the reasons given above? We shall find ourselves the very first night in rather cold quarters--no soft feather beds, though it is true there is a fire in the bed-room. It is on March 13, 1891, that we have to make our start. We are off by 7 a.m. It is dreadful at the very start. It has been snowing heavily during the night and the drifts are so deep that it is with the greatest difficulty we can get our sledge along. However, we resolve to push on with stout hearts for we are buoyed up by the hope of reaching a tent in which we took refuge a year ago. Mile after mile goes by slowly enough. It is all we can do to keep up our spirits.

"At last! there it is!" we exclaim as a dark object comes into view. "No, I am afraid there is something wrong," says Mr. Peck. "There is no tent there."

When we approach we find to our dismay that the tent has been practically destroyed. There are only a few remains, altogether insufficient, contrive as we will, to make a shelter for the night.

"Well" continues Mr. Peck "this is not cheerful, but we must make the best of it. We will make a barricade."

"And what do you mean by that "we ask shivering and inwardly lamenting that we have left our own snug home for such a journey as this.

"Oh, we will dig a hole in the snow about twenty feet in circumference and then just make a little shelter with some tentcloth on the weather side. And then, for I promised you a fire in your bedroom, we will try to find a little wood to light a fire."

And so we did. When we had completed our barricade it was dark. We went in search of wood. It was difficult enough to find. But in time we managed to collect enough to make a fire, and then we had the pleasure of drinking a cup of tea. Oh, the pleasure of that cup of tea. It may not have been over strong; it may have had a little flavour of wood smoke. But it was hot tea. Nothing ever tasted half so well.

An American writer who tried the experiment of cutting himself off from his luxurious home and private means and earning his living by manual labour declares that the ordinary man or woman in the environment of modern artificial civilization cannot possibly know the keen pleasure that can be got out of eating and drinking. We eat when we are not hungry, we drink when we are not thirsty, merely because our meal time is come round. But if we throw off conventionality, live on sixpenny-worth of bread and cheese a day, and earn it by our physical labour, we shall gain a perfectly new experience.

Probably our experience was similar that night.

After prayers we managed to coil ourselves up near the fire in our warm rabbit-skin blankets and were soon fast asleep.

We fancy by this time the imaginary companions have had enough of this trip, and so we will allow Mr. Peck and his faithful friend to pursue their course unimpeded.

The next morning in spite of a strong wind and heavy drift they determined to face the road and try to reach some Indians who were about ten miles away.

"After about three hours' battling with the blinding drift," Mr. Peck writes, "we were more than glad to meet an Indian who kindly guided us to the people we were in search of."

On March 17, Cape Jones was passed, and again we might find our sympathies awakened as we read:

"The country about here is dreary in the extreme--not a tree or living thing to be seen, nothing but one vast expanse of ice and snow as far as the eye can reach. But it is well to be here amidst these lonely wastes to spread the knowledge of a Saviour's love. Surroundings are nothing comparatively. The use we make of our life is the great reality."

Little Whale River was the intended limit of this itineration. The record of the last day's journey northwards is, "March 25, we reached the Eskimos we were in search of in good time. We found four snow houses, each inhabited by one family. We visited them, after which they all gathered together in the largest house where I instructed them.

"After staying some time we passed on to Little Whale River. We got on nicely until within seven miles of the post, when our way was almost blocked up with vast boulders of ice. We knew, however, it was no good sitting still and looking at each other, the only way to get through before dark was to press on; so urging our dogs over the frozen masses we worked away with a will to keep the sledge moving as the dogs wended their way through the rugged road. After some three hours' hard work we arrived at Little Whale River, where we found some Eskimos living in an old shanty. We put up with them, and made ourselves as comfortable as possible. We had short service for our friends, when I laid before them, as usual, the Gospel of the grace of God.

One object which Mr. Peck had in view in visiting the northern station at this time, was not a cheerful one. It was to pull down and remove the iron church, which had been erected there with much joy and which had proved to be of very great service. Owing to the change of plan of the trading company previously mentioned, there was no use in allowing it to remain at Little Whale River.

On March 26, he is busy with this work and writes:

"It was with feelings of sorrow that we took down the house of God in which so many of the Eskimos have heard from time to time the message of salvation, but we hope before long to get it shifted to Great Whale River, where I have no doubt it will be found most useful. It was my intention to ask the Eskimos to haul it over the ice to Great Whale River, but the rough state of the ice, which was piled up in great heaps in the vicinity of Little Whale River, together with the scarcity of dogs, made this plan entirely impracticable."

So the actual removal had to be postponed for a favourable opportunity.

Good Friday and Easter Day were spent at this place (Easter fell on March 29) ministering to the few people who were there. We cannot do better than take one day as a sample and follow the lead of the missionary himself and creep into some of the snow houses with him. We must get down low on our hands and knees in order to do so.

"March 31, We rose early and went in search of some Eskimos. These we had the pleasure of meeting in good time, and hearing that there were some more of the people living out to seaward, I started to see them, intending to return in the evening.

"After a brisk-drive, we saw our Eskimo friends, whose snow houses were built in close proximity to some vast boulders of ice. Such a desolate-looking scene, these vast piles of ice with the mound-like dwellings which look like large balls of snow scattered amongst the frozen mass.

"After a glance at the surrounding scene I crawled into the first snow house. I found three inmates, one of whom I discovered had fallen away from Christ. I spoke to him faithfully but affectionately, and then prayed with him. May God in His mercy turn him from the path of death ere it be too late!

"Entered next iglo; here I found a man and his wife whom I had not met for years. They told me they had been far out to sea somewhere, and had not been able to come near the white people. Although they had been away so long, I was most pleased to find how well they had kept up their knowledge, and how glad they were to hear more of Jesus. After prayer with them I passed on to the next iglo. Here I found some people whom I can hardly call encouraging; true, they say they believe, but I am afraid their hearts are far from God. Exhorted them to really turn to Jesus; we then knelt down together and I prayed for them.

"In the next iglo I found occupants who are on the whole encouraging; one man has given me much sorrow, but I trust he is now desirous of turning again to the Saviour who loves him still. In the last snow house I found some candidates for baptism. These received me in a very hearty manner, and listened with much attention when I spoke to them. After shaking hands with the people I returned to the Eskimos whom I had left in the morning.

"On entering the iglo where I lodged for the night, the first thing that met my gaze was a large seal stretched along the floor. This had just been harpooned by one of the Christian Eskimos, who very kindly offered me a portion to feed our dogs. I gathered all the people together before retiring to rest, and had a very pleasant little meeting with them."

And in this way the itineration was continued, the lost and wandering sheep were sought out, until after an absence of two months Mr. Peck found himself back once more at Fort George. In a private letter about this time he says: "I found some who wished to follow the Saviour and who showed me every kindness during my stay with them. One would boil my kettle over his oil lamp so as to make tea to warm me: some would help to feed and otherwise attend to our dogs, while others would try and stop up all the crevices of our snow house so as to make it as snug as possible."

Reviewing in general terms his plan of living with the people and going from iglo to iglo in order to teach them, Mr. Peck says: "The children I generally gathered together in the largest snow house I could find. They were then taught to read, instructed in the simpler truths of the Christian Faith, and afterwards catechised to test their knowledge of the truths they had heard. In the evening, after the men returned from hunting, general meetings were held, when, by the light of an oil-lamp, we sang hymns, read alternately, had prayer, and I then gave them a simple Gospel address. Friends may, perhaps, think that such work is extremely trying and depressing. True, the cold is very intense, but then one should be willing to "endure hardships" for the Master's sake; besides which, strange as it may appear, the Eskimos are the heartiest and happiest of people, so it is quite my own fault if I feel dull amongst them."

By August 1891 Mr. Peck is able to report that the work has not suffered so much as he had feared it would by the abandonment of Little Whale River. The people began to come to the more southern station in far greater numbers than he had expected them to do, though there were many who would not or could not move so far. Some owing to the loss of their dogs, mentioned in the last chapter, were obliged to leave their families on the ice. The men would then band together and haul their trading goods to the place. The more fortunate, i.e., those who had a few dogs, would arrive with what my Eskimo friends call "loaded sledges"--a very suggestive and appropriate name indeed, especially when one remembers that an Eskimo not only piles on his sledge his bedding, clothing, and trading goods, but the younger members of the family may often be found lashed on top.

Altogether it was an encouraging retrospect which the missionary was able to take from this point of time. "There have been" he says "four adult baptisms during the present year. All of these were in earnest about their souls, and each one was closely questioned regarding his knowledge, faith, and life before being admitted into the visible Church by baptism. We tried, with God's help, to give them a clear knowledge of the Saviour's work, and to teach them the depravity of their fallen nature, and their lost, sinful state before God. I am more than ever convinced as the years roll on, that this is what they need to know. We should not, of course, neglect to teach them to read, and to do all we can in other ways to pour light into their dark minds, but after all the fact remains that salvation is alone to be found in Christ. If we can only draw our poor people to Jesus, we know they will be safe both now and for ever."

And besides these baptisms there was great encouragement in the fact that he was able to report two young Eskimos newly installed as teachers to their own people and engaged in active work. It is the greatest possible satisfaction to the missionary to find a spiritual effective native ministry rising into being. For it matters not how able a man he may be himself, how learned in their language, he is always conscious of being a foreigner and of speaking more or less with stammering lips and a stuttering tongue. And just as the heart of St. Paul must have rejoiced when the time had come to bid Titus ordain a native ministry in Crete, or as Hannington, Parker and Tucker were encouraged when they found the Uganda Church naturally expanding by the birth of a native ministry, so Peck was able now to thank God and take courage because the new wine was fermenting in and expanding the new wine-skins of the Eskimo Church.

But whatever causes of rejoicing there were, faith does not go untried. Sunshine and rain are for ever alternating in this life. And so we read: "One of our students, who, I hoped, would in time be useful in God's work, died at Moose last year. I sent him to this post for medical advice and treatment, but, sad to say, the disease from which he was suffering developed into consumption, from the effects of which he soon passed away. Although this member of our small community had given me much sorrow by having fallen into sin, yet I am thankful to say he showed signs of real repentance, and it gave me comfort to know that he passed away with a simple trust in the merits of Jesus. In connection with this sad event I may say that the fearful mortality amongst our poor people retards our efforts to raise up suitable teachers from among them. No less than three of our helpers have died during the last ten years, and their places can scarcely be filled before others are cut down. We can only look up to Him who holds the keys of death in His hands. He can help us in our seasons of difficulty."

About this time the shadow of a great trial was beginning to move over the waste towards the mission. It was, however, altogether unseen as yet by Mr. and Mrs. Peck, as will be understood by his words in which he is contemplating fresh efforts in the service of God and his adopted people. "I have asked," he says, "our Bishop to allow me to go to Ungava Bay this next summer, and to this request he has readily assented. You will be sorry to hear that the Roman Catholics in Canada are trying to get a footing there, and it behoves us to do all that lies in our power to spread the pure Gospel of God's grace and love in that region at once.

"I only wish we had a man stationed there. All the Eskimos living on the southern shores of Hudson's Straits assemble in the winter months at Fort Chimo (the Hudson's Bay Company's post at Ungava). There are also some five hundred Indians connected with the post, together with a large party of English-speaking residents. Nothing, I am sure, would give our Bishop greater joy than to see this station occupied, and we might then look forward to the time when the whole Labrador peninsula would be won for Christ. We have not as yet an Eskimo fitted to commence work there alone. To start the work we need a man from home, and, with God's blessing, native help will follow."

And the shadow fell in this way. In August 1891, a third child was born, Mrs, Peck continued in fairly good health until the following Christmas. Then the great strain of exceptionally trying circumstances broke her down. A dreary winter came on. It was unusually severe and the food supply failed. Mr. Peck writes: "No fish, no partridges, no other native fresh food could be got, and my dear one's illness assumed an alarming aspect which came to a crisis in the month of February. I tried every possible means to restore her strength, but without avail.

"Shut in as we were with ice and snow, we had to wait until the month of June before we could think of attempting the journey to Moose, where only we could secure medical advice and help.

"But when June at last arrived, through the unfailing kindness of Mr. Miles Spencer a boat was prepared for the voyage. We made a kind of tent in the central part of the boat, in which we arranged some bedding as best we could in the narrow cramped quarters, and on this we laid Mrs. Peck and the children.

"The journey south was an awful one for an invalid. We travelled as far as possible each day, then made close in for the shore, and pitched our tent on the land.

"At some points we found the driven ice packed so close into the shore, that we had to hack a way in for the boat with axes.

"We made a short stay at Rupert House, one of the posts of the Hudson's Bay Company, and at last arrived at Moose. We had traversed 350 miles in the way described, and then it was found to be absolutely necessary, on account of Mrs. Peck's health, that we should proceed to England at once."

Here then was the hand of God closing the door for a time. The missionary had his plans of work, these had to be abandoned; he had again essayed to go to Ungava Bay, but the Spirit suffered him not.

And as events turned out it was very possible for Mr. and Mrs. Peck to see that it was God who was guiding them home. They could rest in Him.

It has been mentioned that Mr. Peck was most anxious that a European missionary should be sent out to commence and organize work among the Eskimos living at Ungava Bay. He had written home to this effect, and now a young man, the Rev. W. G. Walton was on his voyage out in response to this request. But in the meantime the Hudson's Bay Company had expressed its unwillingness to allow a mission to be started in that region. So it happened that the travellers from Fort George arrived in Moose in time to greet Mr. Walton on landing. We are not then surprised to find Mr. Peck writing:

"How wondrous are God's ways of provision for His work. The same vessel on which we embarked for home had brought out a young man (Mr. W. G. Walton) who, it was intended, should accompany me to Ungava, and commence work in that region.

"As I, however, had to go home, and as the way to Ungava was closed, Mr. Walton became God's real provision for our old stations, arriving just at the moment of my compulsory departure.

"He has since shown a wonderful energy and the true missionary genius, and his efforts at our old stations have been crowned with blessing.

"But to return to ourselves, that voyage home was one of exceptional danger and delay. For eight weeks we were tossing about on the mighty ocean, the sport of gale after gale, when the strong and terrible ocean seemed ever to mock us, crying:

I threw my fleecy blanket up over my shoulders bare,
I raised my head in triumph, and tossed my grizzled hair;
For I knew that some time--some time--
White-robed ships would venture from out the placid bay,
Forth to my heaving bosom, my lawful pride and prey;'

"But He who of old time spoke the words, 'Peace, be still!' bade the Atlantic gales cease. When finally the winds moderated, we found ourselves 275 miles further from England than when the gales assailed us.

"During that awful time another danger threatened us, for our ballast shifted; and once we were all but run down by a passing steamer. But at last we were brought home in safety, and our feet stood once, more on our native soil."

Every returned missionary of the Church Missionary Society reports himself to, and is interviewed by, the Committee in Salisbury Square. The work and prospects in the missionary's particular sphere naturally come under discussion. In the present case we have an interesting summary published by the Society.

"The Committee had the pleasure of an interview with the Rev. E. J. Peck, recently returned from Fort George. Mr. Peck regretted having been compelled by family circumstances to come home earlier than he had expected. He had searched out the Eskimos to the utmost of his power; 140 adults were now under instruction, of whom eighty are baptized. He had trained five Eskimo teachers, of whom three have died, and two are now at work. He had translated many portions of the New Testament into the local Eskimo dialect. The Indians had been nearly all baptized before he went there. He urged on the Committee the spiritual needs of the Eskimos north of Hudson's Bay; and expressed his willingness to go amongst them in whaling vessels, if a younger man would take his present work."

In the light of subsequent events we can see that his steps were directed to England for God's purpose to be fulfilled. He was, as a matter of fact, being led like Abram, who was to go forth to a land that God would show him, or like Paul who was to be sent "far hence to the Gentiles." He was to be taken at his word. For some time previous to his home coming he had written:

"In my last letter I alluded to the need of more active measures being taken by the Church of God at large for the evangelization of the whole Eskimo race. The most I can do is to grapple with the people living on this coast, the extent of which is six hundred miles. It is true the Eskimos do travel great distances, but there are certain geographical features of their country, or, I should rather say, countries, which confine them, as it were, to particular localities, and which make further intercourse impossible. Thus we have the Eskimos of many regions out of reach of our influence, viz., those living on the northern shores of Hudson's Strait, Davis Strait, Baffin Bay, the lands visited by Franklin, McClintock, Parry, Kane, and others, together with Alaska and portions of the northern shores of Russia. But, it may be asked, how are these isolated, scattered people to be reached? The answer is plain. The Church of God must show as much zeal and perseverance in seeking these lost souls as others do for purposes of trade and objects of discovery. It is a fact that nearly all the places named are visited by whaling-vessels, some of which (I have been told) winter in the countries they visit. Various Arctic explorers have come in contact with the people from time to time, and much might have been done by this agency, had God's people in England and other countries been really in earnest. Again, surely it is not too much to expect that in God's good time we may see an Arctic expedition fitted out expressly for the object of seeking out these poor lost Eskimos! Various criticisms have been made regarding the practical utility of a North-West Passage, even if discovered by the brave men who from time to time have pressed into these frozen regions; but there is something tangible and real in following the example of Him who 'humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross,' to seek and to save that which was lost."

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