Full Text for Church History 3 - Volume 33 - Native American Missions (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CH3-033 PROFESSOR LAWRENCE RAST PROFESSOR WILL SCHUMACHER Captioning Provided By: Caption First, Inc. P.O. Box 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 800-825-5234 ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ***** >> NICK: Of course, most Europeans who immigrated to the United States came as Christians. But they must've also seen a mission field here, particularly among the Native Americans. At least that's what I, with my 21st century eyes see. Am I right? Were the colonists interested in bringing the gospel to Native Americans? And if so, how did they do that? >> SPEAKER: Well, Nick, you're right. The many colonists were interested in bringing the gospel to the people that were living here when the Europeans arrived, the Native Americans that are commonly referred to as Indians. The big question as you rightly point out is how. Even if there was a desire to do so, it wasn't really clear how that could come about. We shouldn't underestimate the enormous cultural and linguistic gulf that existed between the Europeans and the Native Americans. These two peoples were going to have a hard time understanding one another. I'm sure the Europeans were as surprising and hard to understand for the American Indians as the Native Americans were for the Europeans who frequently referred to the Indians as savages or barbarians, even when they were trying to be nice. An example of this was that when the puritans settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, they concluded that the Native Americans who were living there had no claim on any of the ground because they hadn't fenced any of it in. They had no permanently cultivated fields, and none of them held written title to any of the land. So of course, they assumed that since they hadn't settled the land in the same way that the English settlers might be expected to do that they had no claim on the land that was there. Naturally, the indigenous inhabitants took a somewhat different view and looked at these new arrivals from England who built fences and planted crops in permanent fields as intruders to a greater or lesser extent. And that sort of misunderstanding on both sides was certainly repeated over and over again in the various colonies. But, Nick, I want to point back to the last question Paul asked and part of my answer to that. When I talked about institutions of higher education as parts of a mission enterprise, I referred to Eleazar Wheelock and Dartmouth College. Wheelock's vision was for a school or college that would provide education for Indians for the purpose of bringing the Indians to the knowledge of salvation in Christ, that is for converting Indians and for training their leaders. That vision never quite materialized, of course. The white students quickly became a large majority at Dartmouth, and they have never had a majority of Indian students. But still, Wheelock's vision points us to this other dimension of America as a mission field: namely, the urgent task of bringing the gospel to the Native Americans, seeing the Native Americans as a people who needed to hear the gospel and needed to be converted to Christianity. As I said, many of the settlers came with such an attitude, even if they didn't always come with a clear idea of how that might be put into practice. There were others, of course, who doubted that that was a workable idea, and some even who doubted that it was necessary. There was a small minority that concluded that the Native Americans were little more than animals themselves and even a few who said that the Indian didn't have a soul. Therefore, it wasn't necessary to think about converting them. That was never a majority view, even when the hostilities erupted and war broke out between the colonists and the Native Americans. Most of the colonists recognized that these were fellow human beings, but nevertheless, there was a great chasm between them that was hard to cross. Let me back up before the English colonies really got established and talk a little bit about early Roman Catholic mission work. The Roman Catholic orders, and especially the Jesuits, carried out a great deal of very important missionary work in Canada. This often resulted in martyrdom for some of the Jesuit priests that were engaged in the work. Other orders soon followed and followed the troops. That spirit of willingness to sacrifice, even the willingness to undergo martyrdom, was an important part of the dedication shown by these early missionary orders. And I'd like to mention just one or two names that are associated with that work. Jean de Brebeuf was a Jesuit who came to Canada and began work about 1625. He started at the French settlement of Quebec and then made his way west to the area around the Great Lakes and worked among the Huron Indians. Brebeuf was a great advocate and recruiter of additional missionaries, but he never romanticized the difficulties of working among this very, very different and in most ways much less advanced people. He never painted a rosy picture of the conditions under which missionaries would have to work. Let me just take a moment and read part of a letter that he had written back to theological students and priests in France urging them to consider service in the mission in Canada. Brebeuf begins by describing the difficulties in even traveling to the places where the Hurons lived. There were no roads. The travel was mostly by birch bark canoe. This could take days, and the travel was subject to a variety of dangers. He describes the travel first, and then he gets into the glorious life awaiting the new missionary. "Easy as maybe a trip with the savages, there is always enough to greatly cast down a heart not well under subjection. The readiness of the savages does not shorten the road, does not smooth out the rocks, does not remove the dangers. Be with whom you like. You must expect to be at least three or four weeks on the way, to have as companions persons you have never seen before, to be cramped in a bark canoe in an uncomfortable position not being free to turn yourself to one side or the other, in danger 50 times a day of being upset or of being dashed upon the rocks. During the day, the sun burns you. During the night, you risk of being a prey to mosquitoes. You sometimes ascend 5 or 6 rapids in a day. And in the evening, the only refreshment is a little corn crushed between two stones and cooked in fine, clear water. The only bed is the earth, sometimes only the rough, uneven rocks and usually no roof but the stars, and all this in perpetual silence. If you were accidentally hurt, if you fall sick, do not expect from these barbarians any assistance. From whence could they obtain it? And if the sickness is dangerous, and if you are remote from the villages, which are not very scattered, I would not like to guarantee that they would not abandon you if you could not make shift to follow them. When you reach the Hurons, you will indeed find hearts full of charity. We will receive you with open arms. As an angel of paradise, we shall have all the inclination of the world to do you good, but we're so situated that we can do very little. We shall receive you in a hut so mean that I have scarcely found in France one wretched enough to compare with it. That is how you will be lodged, harassed and fatigued as you will be, we shall be able to give you nothing but a poor mat or at most, a skin to serve as a bed. Besides, you arrive at a season when miserable little insects that we call here tauhoc, that's fleas, will keep you awake most of the night. Instead of being a great master and great theologian as in France, you must reckon on being here a humble scholar and then good God with what must you reckon with what masters, women, little children, and all the savages and exposed to their laughter. The Huron language will be your St. Thomas and your Aristotle, and clever man as you are and speaking glibly among learned and capable persons, you must make up your mind to be for a long time mute among the barbarians. You will have accomplished much if, at the end of considerable time, you begin to stammer a little." Brebeuf paints a pretty harsh and dismal picture of the conditions that the missionaries could face among the Hurons. He's rather realistic. What's perhaps remarkable is that so many people actually responded to this call. And the orders were able to recruit new missionaries in significant numbers. Brebeuf died in 1649 and was followed by many others from the Society of Jesus, from the Jesuits. One more that I'd like to mention is Isaac Jogues who was actually martyred among the Indians in 1646 and had worked since the 1630's both among the Hurons and among the Chippewas further to the west. Jacques Marquette, another Jesuit, went as far as Wisconsin and worked among the Indians there and also helped to explore the reaches of the upper Mississippi. These Jesuits were tremendously willing to sacrifice and were, in many cases, very learned men. Marquette is said to have spoken at least six Indian languages which he learned during his time working among them. These Roman Catholic efforts stand in stark relief to the often harsh, exploitative treatment that European colonial masters showed to the Indians. In fact, the Indians and colonists were often at war with one another. But there were those, such as these Jesuits, that showed a different attitude and a willingness to endure great hardship and even martyrdom for the sake of spreading the gospel. If we turn to the Protestant colonists who arrived in the English colonies, several names can also be mentioned. Most prominent among these is probably the name of John Elliott who lived from 1604 to 1690. Elliott came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony and became a pastor in Roxbury, Massachusetts. And while he was pastor there, he immediately set to work trying to learn the Iroquois language of the Native American peoples that lived nearby. In this he showed a remarkable aptitude and was able to not only learn the language but also begin explaining Christianity to some of the tribe, the *Pecquat Iroquois tribe in his area. This bore its first visible fruit in 1651 when he baptized some of the tribe. Elliott discovered that it was very difficult for Native American converts to Christianity to maintain their faith and live as Christians while remaining in their own villages surrounded as they were by non-Christians. So we undertook a task of establishing what were called praying towns. These were, more or less, separate villages designed and set up for Christian converts from among the Indian tribes where they could live in a way that was acceptable to them, that was more familiar to them from their traditional way of life but at the same time practice their faith because there were living together with other Christian Indians. Elliott eventually established some 14 of these praying towns which were inhabited by over 3,600 Christian converts from the Iroquois people. That had been accomplished by the 1670�s or so. And in addition to that, he made the very important contribution of translating the Bible into an Indian language, first the New Testament and then the Old and spent much of his later years training and educating Iroquois leaders to be preachers in these Indian communities. There were 24 such Iroquois preachers at the time of Elliott�s death in 1690. So John Elliott really stands out as an early pioneer in the task of bringing the gospel in a variety of ways to the native Americans doing it A, by learning their language; B, by translating the scriptures; and C, by finding culturally appropriate ways for the Indian converts to live with other believers that could sustain their faith and help them to live in faith. In generations following Elliott, there are others who attempt to follow his example but none who are quite as successful and fruitful in their work. The missionary and preacher David Brainerd born in 1718 and died in 1747, died very young after exhausting himself through his labors with the Indians in his area. So his work was prematurely cut off, but he did leave behind an inspirational journal or diary that inspired later generations of missionaries. We hear the story frequently in mission history that a particular missionary endures hardship, seems to have little fruit from his work, and dies without seeing real results. But his example paves the way for others to follow after him. The last name I'd like to mention is Eleazar Wheelock himself, the founder of Dartmouth College, that I referred to in an earlier answer, his vision of providing higher education for Native Americans, was revolutionary at the time but ultimately, unsuccessful. He never really met with the success. Why don't these efforts have lasting success, and why is the history of mission work among American Indians so checkered? That has to do with the broader relationships between the European colonists and the American Indians. There were frequent wars. The increasing European population demanded more and more land which pushed the Native American population further and further away from their homelands. This increased the tension and conflict between the two groups. In some cases, the result of wars was that whole populations of Indian tribes were essentially wiped out. The fact of the matter today is there is not a living person who can read John Elliott's Bible translation. The language into which he translated the Bible died out entirely so there's a process of cultural and ethnic conflict that has gone on literally for centuries between the European arrivals and the American Indians. That has created a history of conflict and sometimes a legacy of mistrust that hasn't been easy to overcome. But there were early colonial leaders that saw this as an important obligation and that exercised a good deal of creative energy in meeting that challenge and paving the way for the message of the gospel to be brought also to the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas. ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. *****