Chapter II. How I became a Missionary
IT is understood from what has been said that my desire was to become qualified for ordination, and work in the Church of England at home. But it frequently happens that "whilst man proposes, it is God that disposes," and sometimes we do not seem to realise that the two work together in harmony, and yet I feel bold enough to say that in the end, when we are able to take a retrospective view of the way God has led us, we shall be compelled to admit that "He hath done all things well."
I little thought when the heathen world loomed in sight, as I preached my sermons at the tail of the plough, that God intended to use me in that very work for a period of nearly forty years, yet so it has come to pass; but I am leading you to anticipate the end before I tell you the beginning.
After reading with Mr. Saunders for some months the time came round for the annual C.M.S. sermon to be preached in the parish church of Wisbech St. Mary. A missionary sermon was always a great event in a country parish in those days, and especially so if we were led to expect a real "live missionary" to address us, and it goes without saying that the darker his complexion, the more interesting he was sure to be. In those early days all heathen were looked upon by the uninitiated as black people, and some even thought that a white missionary after spending a number of years among the blacks would, as a matter of course, become dark, if not actually black, himself. Now, please do not think I am speaking at random, for I am not, that is so far as the young people understood missionary work; here is a case in point.
When I was reading with the Rev. L. Saunders, his two dear little boys, H. and F., used to come into the study to see me, and their father used to tell them that I was going out to preach to the black people (it was thought then that I was going to Zanzibar); and after I had been in the mission field a year or two, Mr. Saunders wrote and told me that his boys were so pleased to have my letters read to them, and, he added, they were very anxious to know if Mr. H. was a black man now. I rather think one of these once dear little boys is now a member of the C.M.S. Committee at the present time; he was so some years ago, and of course knows better now!
Well, at this particular anniversary we were doomed to disappointment. Our Vicar could not even procure for us a deputation from London, and so we had to be content with an exchange of preachers, our Vicar going to Guyhirn, and the Vicar of Guyhirn coming to us. I remember well the time. I was, as I have said before, a member of the choir, and it so happened that at the time of this anniversary, the chancel was being renovated, and we choristers had to sit at the west end of the church behind the congregation; yet in spite of our position and disappointment in not having some one to speak to us who had himself been in the mission field--in spite of all these apparent disadvantages--it was God's time and place for making known to me what He wished me to do. It was during that sermon preached by the late Rev. William Carpenter, who himself had been brought up on a farm in Devonshire, that I received the call to work among the heathen, and in response to his appeal, in the name of the Lord, "Who will go?" my heart replied, "Here am I, Lord, send me," I continued my reading with Mr. Saunders for some months, and then he wrote to the C.M.S. Committee about me, telling them what my attainments were, etc. His letter was a sort of feeler as he wished to know if there was any hope for future employment with the Society for me. To our great surprise, a paper of seventeen questions was sent to Mr. Saunders for me to answer. When my tutor read them, he appeared very much concerned, as half the questions asked were upon subjects he had not taught me, and we at once went on our knees and asked God for guidance.
The questions being answered to the best of my ability, they were forwarded to the C.M.S. House, Salisbury Square, and for three weeks there was complete silence, and we began to fear my answers were so incorrect that the Committee did not think it worth while writing to us again. The truth was my paper reached the house a few days after the Committee appointed to discuss such subjects had risen, and it had to remain in state of status quo until the next monthly meeting. The next communication received from the house was another paper of questions, seven in all; these were answered and forwarded, and again we had to wait for nearly a month for a reply. This waiting time was not wasted, however, as I kept on with my reading. When the answer came, it was simply a call for me to come up to London and be interviewed by the Committee. I obeyed the summons, and after being surveyed by the General Committee, the Ven. H. Venn, who was at that time the honorary clerical secretary, took me into his private room, and sounded me on points of doctrine. I remember one of his questions was:
"Can you distinguish between Justification and Sanctification, and let me have your views as concise as possible, with due regard to being explicit."
My answer was:
"Justification is the work of Christ, Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit. . . . Justification is a momentary work--Sanctification is a work of time. As soon as we believe in the finished work of Christ, and accept Him as our Saviour, we are at once justified from all things, but by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we are expected to grow in grace and become sanctified in all we do."
The dear old gentleman gave me his hand, and appeared pleased with my answer. He also tested my knowledge of Latin and Greek. This, too, did not take very long from the fact that I knew very little of either, though he said that I knew more than I gave myself credit for, and he encouraged me to persevere. He then gave me the address of another member of the Committee, the Rev. C. C. F., one of the secretaries at the time, and said that Mr. F. would be glad to have me at his house to take supper with him that evening and breakfast the next morning, and after receiving directions as to how I should find my way there, we parted. My stay with Mr. F. being over, I was passed on to some one else, and from there to some one else, until I had been sifted and winnowed to their satisfaction, and finally I was told I could return home. Again I was subjected to a long period of suspense, but after my examiners had met and compared notes, a final letter came to Mr. Saunders, and in this my interviewers spoke very kindly of me, not forgetting to say that I had yet much to learn, but adding that my case was a very hopeful one, inasmuch as I possessed one rare quality, viz., a knowledge of my own ignorance. At first I did not see the force of this remark and how it could help until my friend and tutor interpreted its meaning to me, and he was pleased that I had been frank and natural before my examiners. The letter also stated that my previous training on the farm had helped them much in locating me: that the Committee had decided to send me to Zanzibar to assist in establishing a mission at Frere Town for liberated slaves as soon as the negotiations between the British Government and the Sultan of Zanzibar had decided upon a section of country on which to locate the slaves. I was also told, that the principal of the C.M.S. Training Institution at Reading would expect me to take up residence on a certain date. On the day appointed I arrived at my destination and was kindly received by the Principal and others.
Before my departure from home another important event took place, which I will mention here; the members of my Bible Class, about which I have spoken, and others, expressed a desire to the Rev. P. Carlyon to present me with a souvenir, a token of their appreciation of my services among them. Mr. Saunders was asked to make the choice, and he named Barnes' "Notes on the New Testament" (six volumes).
When everything was ready I was asked to meet a number of friends in the parish schoolroom, who wished to bid me God-speed in my new work and whatever might follow therefrom. I obeyed their wishes, and a very pleasant and solemn time was spent and much sentiment expressed. I will mention here, so as not to refer to the matter again, that I found the "Notes" very useful, and after using them for thirty-eight years I passed them on to a young Indian, on the eve of his ordination to the office of a deacon in the Church of England. I had baptised this young man's grandparents and his parents from heathenism, and himself when an infant. They were among the first-fruits of my labours at my first Mission station north of the Saskatchewan River.
For some reason or other many months passed by before the authorities came to a decision about the locality of the new Mission. I afterwards learned, if I remember rightly, that the Sultan of Zanzibar was, in some way or other, personally interested in the slave traffic, and therefore showed no desire to expedite matters for their freedom.
My father was sorry when he heard I was designated to Zanzibar, because, having been raised in the fen country, I had nearly all my life been a martyr to intermittent fever commonly called the ague, and he felt sure that I should not live long in Africa. But, as I have said before, we are in God's disposal. So it came to pass that the plans laid by the Society for my future work were frustrated, and I will now explain how it came about. After I had been nine months in the C.M.S. Institution, the Rev. W. C. Bompas, who had been a missionary in the northern parts of Canada for eight or ten years, came home to be consecrated Bishop of Athabasca and on his way home, he travelled from Fort Simpson to the Red River Settlement (as Winnipeg was then called) on snow shoes, eighteen hundred miles approximately. When he reached London he told the Committee that, in all that distance of country over which he had travelled there was only one Protestant mission among the Indians, and that was in Touchwood Hills, not many miles west of Winnipeg. He explained to the C.M.S. Committee that the buffalo and other large animals were rapidly becoming exterminated, and he suggested to the Committee, that if any of their students, besides having other necessary qualifications for the work, had also a knowledge of agriculture, they would do well to occupy this field. He explained how, that by starting a model farm, the Indians would be attracted to it, and owing to the growing scarcity of buffaloes, would turn their attention to agriculture. Then schools could be started for the children, and a regular system of religious instruction could be carried on for all. The Society saw the wisdom of the Bishop's remarks, and their thoughts at once went out to me.
The Rev. Henry Wright, the honorary secretary at the time, came to our Institution to interview me about going to North-West America, as the country was then called. At the dinner-table I was told by the Principal that Mr. Wright wished to call on a certain lady in the town, and he asked me to show him the way to her house; I was pleased at the opportunity, and considered it an honour that I had been selected to be his guide, little thinking that I was about to be led, by a way I knew not, to a change in my future sphere of work. During our walk, Mr. Wright asked me if I had set my heart upon going to Zanzibar. I replied that I had, and only the previous night I had attended a lecture in the town hall given by a gentleman who had spent some years on the East Coast of Africa. He said I had done right to learn as much about the place and people as possible before leaving England, but, said he, "If the Committee had work for you to do in quite another part of the world, would you be willing to give up Zanzibar and go there?" "Certainly," I said. "I am willing to go anywhere the Committee think I can do the work," "Well," he said, "that is very nice of you. The place we propose sending you to is North-West America, to start a new Mission for the benefit of the Cree Indians of the great prairie; the life will be very rough, the isolation great, and the climate, though healthy, will be severe, yet we believe you are the man to occupy this field." He then asked me if I thought my father would agree to the change. I said I felt sure he would, for the reason already explained. Then he said, "We wish you to go home without any delay, consult your father, and let us know if he makes any objection, because if you do go West, you will have to start in a few weeks' time."
My father was delighted with the change, and in a few weeks I had bidden him "good-bye," which proved to be the last "good-bye" on earth, for he died fifteen months after I left home. When I received the news of his decease, being isolated and alone as I was, I felt his death very keenly, but the remembrance of the promise given in Matt. xix. 29 buoyed up my spirits, and kept my head and heart above the waves of this troublesome world.
The ten months I spent at the C.M.S. Training Institution at Reading proved to be a very happy and profitable time. The Principal, the Rev. H. Bren, his wife, daughter and two sons, all did their utmost to make the students feel at home. The eldest son Robert completed his Oxford course whilst I was at Reading, and his home-coming was always looked upon as a red-letter day for the students, as he sometimes took a class and so brought us in touch, so to speak, with one of the great seats of learning. The younger son was preparing for his entrance examination and at times was very studious, but he was always ready for a game of any kind; he was an enthusiast at cricket as well as rowing. At the former sport I excelled all the rest, and many a time Henry entertained the whole family at the tea-table with stories about my doings with the bat and ball; but when it came to rowing, as the Americans would say, I was "not in it." I remember on one occasion a race had been arranged--it was to be a four-oar contest--and I was drafted into the boat stroked by Henry, and I occupied the seat immediately behind him. The crews were very evenly matched, but an accident occurred near the finish which caused our boat to lose the race, and at the same time brought me into disrepute. I cannot say how it happened, but in the final spurt I got behind with my stroke, and in trying to catch up I gave Henry a very hard punch in the back, and the contact was so great that he was unseated and this of course threw us all out of order, and we did not regain our equilibrium until the winning-post was reached by our opponents. I hardly like to refresh my memory with trying to relate Henry's wrath with me in thus causing our boat to be beaten; suffice it to say I never rowed in a race again, though I frequently had charge of the rudder.
The Training Institution at Reading was not only that, but it was a sort of testing place, or, as some called it, a sorting house, for it depended very largely upon the report of the Principal as to our mental, physical, and moral qualities whether or not the students were received into Islington College or even sent into the mission field at all.
In the year 1873, when I was accepted as a student, if I remember rightly, no less than fifty offers of service were made and only eleven accepted, and of these eleven, five never reached the foreign field. One of these five was a young schoolmaster, but on his way to the North to see his dying mother he received an injury in a railway accident which affected his head, and he had to retire; years afterwards I heard that he became one of the leading auctioneers in Sheffield. Another was a Welshman, whom no one could understand, and so no one liked; he would not associate with any of the students, and we never knew what he did with himself during the hours of recreation. I heard he was "disconnected" after I left. Another was a six-foot Englishman, a man with a wonderful memory. He never studied; all that was necessary for him was to read through a chapter of history, or anything else for that matter, and it seemed to be indelibly impressed on his mind; but he developed some very strange doctrinal notions, which, to say the least, were not orthodox, and he, too, I was told, fell through the sieve. Another came from the North of England, but he was altogether too fantastic in his ways, and too much of a lady's man to suit our Principal, and he had to go home. The fifth was a nice little Irishman; no one doubted his goodness or his sincerity, but he, too, developed heterodox notions about the Sacraments, and he had to resign. I was afraid he would develop some sort of religious mania; he hardly, if ever, took any recreation, and the hours allowed us for such a purpose he usually spent in his bedroom studying his Bible. I heard of his doings in St. Paul's after he had left the C.M.S., but it is not for these acts that I cherish his memory, but for the reason that whilst a C.M.S. student he composed that beautiful tune that is generally sung to Bickersteth's beautiful hymn, "Peace, Perfect Peace." Those who possess a hymn book which gives the names of the authors of the different tunes will find the name of Colbeck standing opposite the hymn I have mentioned.
The students at Reading were expected to take up some kind of Sunday work, either in the Church Sunday School, or work in connection with the Ragged School. I very well remember my first Sunday's experience--they gave me the infant class to teach. There were about one hundred little mites all under the age of six years, and some, I should say, were not more than three years of age. They were seated on a sort of gallery which began to rise from the ground floor, and stretched across the end of the building. I had never before had any experience in entertaining children, and after my first experience I felt I was a miserable failure. After two or three Sundays of this kind of work, I asked the Principal if there was a Bible Class for young men in the parish. He said, "No, and I very much regret this, because, as soon as the youths get too big for Sunday School, we lose sight of them." I told him how I felt with regard to my infant class, and asked to be allowed the privilege of starting a Bible Class. He asked if I had had any experience in Bible Class work, and I informed him of what the reader already knows. Permission was given me, and the Messrs. Sutton of Reading kindly provided a room for our use. I went among the factory youths, principally those employed by Huntley & Palmers, and I succeeded in persuading about eight to attend my first meeting. This number was soon increased, until the room was fairly filled; and before the class had been in operation six months I was permitted to lead eight of its members to the Lord's Table. The Principal said afterwards that when he saw me come to the Lord's Table with eight of my converts following me, he thought it augured well for my future success as a missionary, and believed it was only the beginning of the "showers of blessing" God our Heavenly Father would pour down upon my efforts in the years to follow. After I left Reading I think the class was conducted by the Principal and afterwards by one of the Messrs. Sutton; I think it was the gentleman who died suddenly in London last winter, 1913. I very well remember it was he who came to me for the names and addresses of my boys before I left Reading. The same gentleman took an interest in me, perhaps because he knew I had a practical knowledge of farming, and on more than one occasion he called for me and drove me to see their experimental farms and the nurseries, when their professional gardeners were engaged in hybridising.
As I have now given a description of why and how I became a missionary, I will proceed to give an account of my journey from England to Green Lake, the place to which I was designated by the Society at home.