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 XVII. Sunshine and Rain

"Behold I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it."

AFTER having looked at the inner thoughts and life of the missionary, we now proceed to take up the history of the Mission in the latest sojourn of Mr. Peck of which it is possible to have any record. This period extends from August, 1900, to September, 1902.

We have, it must be admitted, already dipped into diaries of this period in order to present the reader with a complete picture such as was given in the last chapter. But that will not affect the narrative which will be unfolded in this.

On August 20, 1900, the Alert came to anchor off Blacklead Island. Mr. Peck's note concerning this is: "Mr. Bilby gave me a hearty welcome. His news is good. The work has prospered. Praise God for this. Eskimo friends clambered over the side; they seemed so pleased to see me. There is joy and comfort in knowing that our life and work are not lost. To have a place in people's affection is no small gain. I had a nice meal with Mr. Bilby in our own house. What a treat too after six weeks life on board. We carried the Mission (in prayer) to God, and our brother Sampson, now away at Signia, was not forgotten."

Soon after this Mr. Sampson went home to England when the Alert sailed on her return voyage.

And what, we ask, were the signs of progress that Mr. Bilby had been able to report and with which he had encouraged Mr. Peck on meeting him? First of all the congregations were large and attentive, but at the same time there was some disappointment about the small proportion of men who attended the meetings. But this was not without its encouraging side, for it was to a great extent to be attributed to the influence of the conjurors. As we have seen before, there is always satisfaction in the opposition of the enemy.

Now, however, there was a difference. It was not as in former years, when the men were led by the conjurors and unhappily reverted to their heathen ways. They did not yield to practising their superstitious arts and immoralities. But the conjurors seemed to retain enough influence to prevent the men coming to Christian gatherings.

Whatever encouragement there may be in this, it is probably in another direction that Mr. Peck found especial cause for thankfulness. The future of a people depends on the uprising generation. And the work among the children seemed to show solid progress. The average attendance at school we find, soon after Mr. Peck's arrival, was from sixty-five to seventy children daily. This strikes us as being a very high number, especially as we are also told that about the same time the missionaries took the census of the people and found there were just forty dwellings inhabited by Eskimos in and around the island, and in these 194 people lived. So the numbers attending school amounted to one-third of the entire population.

And the knowledge that was acquired was considerable. On December 19 Mr. Peck writes: "I commenced the examination of our elder scholars. The subject was the Ten Commandments with a brief summary of each commandment. The scholars were not asked to say them (straight off) by rote, but each was expected to be able to repeat the commandment corresponding to the number 2, 5,9, etc. This was no small tax on the memory, but I am happy to say that out of a class of eighteen, eleven passed through the ordeal without making a single mistake."

"The next day the examination was continued. The second class was then taken. Many of these repeated from memory twenty-two Scripture texts without making any mistake," with regard to secular teaching in the school there is an interesting note: "We have also instructed the children in some of our English figures. Their own method of counting really extends only to the fingers and toes. Some of them now know our figures up to 150. Altogether we have had much encouragement in our work amongst the children, and we heartily thank God for His blessing and support."

But there were better things than these soon to come. All that has been mentioned might be nothing more than, as it were, the first portion of Ezekiel's vision: "The sinews and the flesh came up upon them and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them." The outward life of the Eskimos was something to be thankful for in the abandonment of superstition, in improved knowledge, in cleanliness and other ways. But where was the spirit of Life?

In December, 1900, a marked change seemed to have begun. "Some of the men came to both morning and evening services. The evening service was very hearty and the people listened with evident attention. We certainly do realize some remarkable times, and the Holy Spirit in answer to prayer is moving some hearts. Oh, that one might believe more in the power of God the Holy Ghost!"

A little later on, January 8, 1901, a "cheering and soul-refreshing incident happened. One of the women came of her own accord to see me. She stated that her heart has been moved by the Word of God. I have noticed her for a long time, and believe that God by His Spirit is leading her on in the way of life."

But this woman was only the forerunner, so to speak, of others. She was the one bolder spirit who was enabled under God to give courage to others. The breach had been effected in the walls of Satan's stronghold, and then others were willing to enter through the way that had been made possible.

January 13 was a day of much blessing. Mr. Peck says, "I was led to speak at our evening meeting regarding the subject of baptism. I pointed out to the people the necessity of confessing their faith in Christ, and invited those who wished to be baptized to come to me to-morrow,"

Two wonderful days followed. "No less than two men and twenty-four women came to me wishing to be enrolled as candidates for baptism. I had private conversation and prayer with each one, and I was indeed thankful to notice in not a few cases a real desire to cast in their lot with Christ's people. I told them that it would be necessary for them to be fully instructed in some points, especially the absolute need of the Holy Ghost to teach them and sanctify their lives. I propose holding classes for them in addition to our ordinary evening meetings. My heart rejoices, and I feel sure the hearts of many of God's praying ones will rejoice to hear such news from our Arctic home."

This large number of candidates for baptism now rendered necessary some change in the arrangement of the meetings for instruction. Mr. Peck rightly felt that these required something rather special in the way of teaching. So on January 18 a separation took place. Mr. Bilby took the ordinary congregation in the church and Mr. Peck simultaneously held the class for the catechumens in the Mission House or "the Manse" as he facetiously calls it elsewhere.

"I took," he says "the opening passage of our baptismal service for adults and explained it. I pointed out the force of our Lord's words, 'Except a man be born again,' etc., and told them how needful it is for each one of them to call upon God earnestly for the gift of the Holy Ghost. A little prayer is being written out for them. It reads as follows: 'O God, give me Thy Holy Spirit, that I may truly repent of my sins, believe in Jesus Christ, and be made a new creature for Jesus' sake, Amen.' "

And there was some satisfaction in teaching people like these, for a few days later, when Mr. Peck was explaining a portion of the third chapter of St. John's Gospel, he invited inquiry, and at the same time asked them if they quite understood our Lord's words. "Yes," was their ready reply, "and if we do not, we will ask you."

When at last the first ripe fruit was gathered in Baptism, it was to be in a very real sense waved before the altar and presented to God.

On April 8 Mr. Peck visited a sick girl named Atterngonyak. She seemed to be wasting away. She had learned a great deal about the Gospel and the love of God, and she listened with much attention to the words of the missionary as he exhorted her to trust wholly in the Saviour. A few days later, on May 4, the sick girl expressed a wish to be baptized. "I see," says Mr. Peck in his notes concerning this, "no reason why the rite should be withheld from her. We claim this poor creature for Christ. I have been and am much helped in prayer concerning her."

The next day was Sunday, and the patient had a violent attack of illness. For her to go out of her house was out of the question, and so she was baptized privately. This, however, did not satisfy her fully. She wished to show publicly her love for, and faith in, her new found Saviour, and she asked Mr. Peck of her own accord, if she gained any strength, that she might be received openly before all the people into the Church of Christ.

The diary goes on to say, "I spoke to some of the candidates for baptism regarding her, and I was so delighted to find that one woman went to see her and prayed with her. And so the Word of God is doing its mighty work. It does not, it shall not, return void. In due time ye shall reap if ye faint not."

On May 7, when the weather was a little brighter and the patient somewhat stronger, she desired to be publicly admitted. She was too weak to go to church, so behind a wall of snow at the entrance of her dwelling the Eskimos were gathered together. With praise and prayer she was received into the flock of Christ's Church, and marked with the seal of service to the Saviour. "Just six years since it was decided to start this Mission--six years of toil and prayer and suffering--and now the Lord has, I trust, gathered in the first-fruits of a mighty harvest of souls from the northern wilds. 'Praise the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me praise His Holy Name.'"

This girl was a corn of wheat falling into the ground and perishing in order, as we doubt not, to bring forth much fruit. On June 2 she was wasting away rapidly. Mr. Peck was visiting her two or three times every day. "She likes to hear hymns sung, and always longs to have one of us near."

At last, on June 13, she fell asleep. "I was with her" is the note in the diary, "when she passed away. She was quite conscious, but a calm and peaceful look spread over her face as the Spirit returned to Him who gave it."

And what a contrast that service which followed was to all that the Eskimos had known before! "We desired in every way to show the people how a Christian ought to be buried. I told all that could come to attend a service in church. Many brought their books. These contain a translation of our Burial Service. The first part was read in our little church. After this we all went to the place of burial selected by the relatives. I do not mean that a grave was dug. This we cannot do. There is no soil here deep enough, and what little there is, is as yet thawed only a few inches below the surface. Our burial places must therefore be on the rocks. Big stones were placed on top of the coffin (which had been made by Mr. Bilby) to prevent its being blown over at any time by the wind. Around this we gathered together. I then concluded the service and spoke a few solemn words to those assembled, and then we parted. What a change, thank God! What a contrast to the awful way in which some of the dead have been buried--no covering but the snow and the carcase torn in pieces by the dogs as soon as they could reach it."

But before this girl was laid to rest in the first native Christian grave of Cumberland Sound, more ripe fruit had been gathered. On May 19 Mr. Peck says: "The people do show much more attention now. God is gradually but surely working upon this people," and the next day after much prayer for guidance he resolved on baptizing three of the candidates on Whit Sunday. When it came (May 26) it was a day of days. The three candidates mentioned were baptized. We had a large and most attentive congregation. It was indeed a solemn and soul-stirring time, and the power of God the Holy Ghost was with us." There was not any doubt as to the earnestness of these three. For a long time they had shown a great desire for instruction, and they had a good report amongst the Eskimos themselves.

And so the year progressed through the summer, on the whole in a satisfactory manner. But a severe trial came in the beginning of September. On the second of the month there was no little excitement because a ship had been seen in the distance. Later in the day it was evident that she was not the Alert because she carried steam power. She was a whaler from Dundee, and brought the news of the death of Queen Victoria. But the trial came to the missionary from the immoral conduct of the crew and from the fact that this snare of the devil proved too subtle and strong for some of the candidates for baptism. "I have more than once," writes Mr. Peck, "at a terrible cost to my own ease of mind, pointed out to these wretched people the sure and certain goal to which they are travelling. The extermination of the whole of the Eskimo population in Cumberland Sound and elsewhere is only a matter of time, if some check is not put to these awful practices. I see no reason why officers of whaling ships should not exercise proper discipline on board their own vessels. I spoke to the captain about this matter."

The next day he writes, concerning the candidates for baptism who had yielded to sin, "I spoke to these individually and warned them of their danger and told them that Christ had died for them and that newness of life was the real sign of true belief, and that I could not think of baptizing them if they placed themselves in such a position."

There were six in this case and of them "five promised amendment and seemed sorry. May they be led to true repentance. The sorrows and anguish of soul which one experiences here at times are something almost unbearable. My heart would sink within me if I did not know the loving kindness, power and sympathy of my Saviour and my God."

The Alert was at last sighted on September 18, and new strength to the Mission was brought in the person of Mr. (now Rev.) E. W. Greenshield. This enabled Mr. Bilby to return to England in the steam whaler mentioned above.

The news, however, which was brought by the sailing vessel was not very encouraging. Mr. Sampson had left the work and gone on a trading expedition; the health of Mr. Peck's little daughter was in a critical condition. On reading this the diary records: "My feelings cannot be fathomed by others." Then there was a letter from the Committee of the Church Missionary Society, asking the missionary to consider the advisability--principally on account of the uncertainty of means of communication--of abandoning this Mission next year.

It might be supposed that in spite of fruit having been gathered in, the agony of separation from his loved ones, and the disappointment concerning the fall of some of the candidates for baptism, Mr. Peck might readily have persuaded himself that this was the voice of God. This thought too might have gained additional force from the consideration of his own health. His throat was a constant source of trouble and pain to him, from time to time even laying him aside altogether. He was not, however, one to allow the wish to be father to the thought. We discover this when we are allowed to read his meditation on this proposal of the Committee. "God does close as well as open doors. But after due consideration and prayer what conviction comes home to our soul? We ought not to abandon this work. Means of communication better than the present can be formed. If we give up our position here, we practically give up the key of Christ's outpost. The uttermost parts of the earth are his, and the Eskimos who live therein. The salvation of these people is dear to Him, and there is not the shadow of a doubt that He wills us to hold on here and spread the knowledge of His saving name in these Arctic wastes. So great is this conviction that God has put into my heart the desire to formulate a scheme, the outlines of which have long been in my mind. This scheme touches the difficult problem of Eskimo evangelization in the Polar regions. This work we have hardly commenced yet. Now the Lord in these latter days wills us, no doubt, to push it on."

And what, the reader asks, was the scheme that Mr. Peck had formulated? It was to have a mission vessel with which to reach the distant Eskimos and to be independent of whaling ships altogether. With God's help an out-and-out Christian crew would be got together for this mission vessel, so that each member should be a living witness for Christ wherever he touched port and came into contact with native races.

The gift and maintenance of such a ship as this is not much for which to ask the Church of England. Arctic exploration seems always to claim Christian sympathy and support as well as that of the general public. The very heart of the nation becomes stirred with the exploits of Franklin, or McClintock, or Nansen. But these things, noble as they are in opening up unexplored lands, adding to our scientific knowledge, or testing human nature in its pluck and endurance, leave out of sight the greatest of all human projects, the evangelization of the heathen.

The possession of a properly constructed vessel is still the object nearest to Mr. Peck's heart, but failing this he looks forward to missionaries living on board the whaling vessels and thus ensuring the Gospel going as far as our trade.

But surely if England, the richest country perhaps in the world, can find men willing to take up the life, she will not withhold the paltry few hundreds of pounds, or even thousands, to enable them to prosecute their plans with the greatest possible efficiency?

But we must return to the immediate work which we are contemplating.

The month of February saw more baptisms. Extracts from Mr. Peck's diary speak for themselves:

"Sunday, Feb. 2.--A great day. Nongoarluk, a poor woman who has long been a great sufferer, desired to be baptized. She has learnt to read, and is, I hope, moved by the Holy Spirit to take this important step. She was, therefore, in the presence of some of her friends, admitted into the visible Church by baptism. Nothing, truly, in her surroundings to call forth joy or gladness her small snow-house, her wasted frame, her years of suffering, all these things, she might well say, are against her; yet the tears--tears, I hope, of contrition and holy joy--flowed from her eyes when we sang some hymns, hymns composed by the good Moravian Brethren, which pointed out the boundless love of God and the fullness of Christ's salvation."

"Wednesday, Feb. 5.--Questioned another candidate for baptism concerning her spiritual state. There is every reason to believe that God is teaching her, and leading her to a saving knowledge of the truth."

"Saturday, Feb. 8.--Have decided after very careful preparation to baptize some more converts to-morrow. Had them with me in the evening, prayed with them, exhorted them to cleave to Christ with full purpose of heart, and then pointed out the particular order of service, etc."

"Sunday, Feb. 9.--Another wonderful day. Seven (two men and five women) were added to Christ's flock here in the wilderness. Many came to the church, great attention was shown, and a spiritual power seemed to rest upon us. Those baptized showed a very earnest spirit, and evidently realized the important step they were taking. It was certainly no light ordeal to stand up before their own people and acknowledge their faith in Jesus. We thank Him for this blessing. Let Him be praised for evermore."

"Monday, Feb. 10.--' They shall come from the North.' Another Arctic wanderer baptized to-day. His wife, Eve Nooeyout, who was one of the first Eskimos baptized last year, has, I believe, used her influence for Christ and has thus led her husband to make a public confession of his faith. I have been led to pray much of late for the still unevan-gelized Eskimos. There can be no possible doubt that the souls found in these Arctic wastes belong to our Master. 'All souls are Mine.' Facts like these ought to speak to Christ's people with no uncertain sound, and I boldly ask them in Christ's name to do their duty, to stand, so to speak, shoulder to shoulder with us, to take up Christ's Arctic enterprise with whole-hearted zeal, and never rest till all these lonely wastes are won for their Lord."

"Saturday, Feb. 22.--A young man named Rounak came to me for a copy of the gospels. I gave him one, and pointed out to him the nature of the treasure he now possessed. As friends may like to hear his history, I give it here in full. Some time ago Rounak was a candidate for the office of conjuror. He tried to learn the conjurations, etc., but was almost driven mad in the attempt, and for some time was in such a state that he did nothing as regards seal catching. Now as seal-skins are one of the articles of barter here, and as Rounak was in a measure supported by Mr. Noble's agent, he naturally got into troubled waters with this gentleman; so finding matters so tangled and unpleasant he gave up the idea of being a conjuror altogether. His next move, which has certainly proved the most satisfactory--as it has for untold numbers before him--was to enter the matrimonial arena and win the heart of a young Eskimo lady. This young person I am glad to say is a Christian, and she has had a marked influence over him for good. In this connection she told me lately (using an Eskimo expression) that 'his mind is being put in order? and that he wishes to follow her and believe in Jesus. This is good news. Here we see the drawing influence of Divine and human love."

A fortnight later this young man was baptized.

But perhaps there was almost more encouragement than these baptisms indicate in a more general movement among the Eskimos.

In March Mr. Peck, with his colleague Mr. Greenshield, made an expedition to Kikkerton. This was very largely in consequence of what they had heard about complications that had arisen through some vigorous heathen teaching. A man named Angmalik professed to have received a new revelation from the goddess Sedna. As he seemed to be causing a considerable commotion, and to be gaining some influence, it was necessary to deal with it.

The conclusion of the matter came a month later. The new revelation had been made known far and wide. On Sunday, April 17, Mr. Peck writes: "A wonderful day. The church was packed morning and evening. Hardly any of the men had gone away hunting, and the attention and reverent behaviour of the people was quite remarkable. I naturally inquired what these things meant. This is the answer which I received--an answer which gave me much joy, and will give joy to many hearts. They told me that having considered the new doctrine propounded by Angmalik, and having also considered the words they had heard and read, viz., the words of Jesus, they had come to the conclusion that His words were in every way preferable, and therefore they had determined to cast away their heathen customs and come to the place of prayer. . . . We pray that this movement may lead to the salvation of many souls, and that we may have grace and wisdom given to us so that we may be able to lay before this people the Gospel of the grace of God, which alone can meet the needs of their souls."

There is just one note of interest which belongs to February--a sequel to the baptisms--with which this chapter must conclude:

"Sunday, Feb. 23.--Another day to be long remembered. Six of those recently baptized were joined together in Holy Matrimony, Quite a number, chiefly women, came to our little church, and great was their surprise to see how Christians are married, and to hear the holy and searching words of our Marriage Service. This object lesson will not, I feel sure, be lost upon the heathen. How different to their loose and sensual ideas."

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