I have been reading an excellent secondary source which recounts the life of John Eliot, apostle to the Indians, especially his apostolic labors in beginning the town of Natick, MA from a group of Praying Indian converts living in Nonantum. Nonantum and Natick by Sarah Sprague Jacobs partakes of the unfortunate triumphalism of the nineteenth century, seeing only what we gave to the native peoples of this land and not what we gained from them, but otherwise gives an inspiring account of Eliot’s heroism and bravery in the face of amazing obstacles.
Here is just a taste of Jacob’s account which resounds with later American history when the Gospel was also brought to the people by traveling preachers called circuit riders, who braved similar circumstances to fulfill the call of the Lord to preach.
But, though thus honorably escorted, the journey was far from being a pleasant one. The weather ‘proved very wet and tedious, so that [Eliot and his companions] were not dry three or four days together, night nor day. The streams which they had to ford were swollen by the rains to an unusual height, and the party were thoroughly drenched in riding through. Mr. Eliot’s horse gave out, and he was forced to take one belonging to another person of the company.
Nor were the difficulties of the forest and the stream the only disagreeable things encountered in these visits. Think of the smoky wigwams, of the rude life of the barbarian inmates, of the unpleasant sights, and sounds, and smells, constantly to be endured, and you will see how much Mr. Eliot must have loved the souls of these poor people.
More pleasant would it have been to this English student to stay in Roxbury with his pen and his books, to write his sermon for his English congregation; to work in his garden, to play with his children, to visit other ministers in Boston; to read, to think, to pray for himself; more pleasant, far more pleasant this, than riding with wild Indians, through wild woods, with the rain beating in his face; or than writing down Indian words in his vocabulary, by the light of a pine torch, with all those swarthy faces and gleaming eyes about him. And there were crying infants, and untamed children at loud, troublesome play, and dogs, and the details of cooking. Hard work it must have been sometimes to force himself to introduce the sublime verities of religion into such squalid companies as these.
When we consider what triﬂing things interfere with our study of the Holy Bible. and prevent or shorten our prayers, and then remember how Mr. Eliot bore up against so many obstacles and never lost heart nor hope, must we not own that he was nearer to heaven, and possessed more of the spirit of our religion, there, sitting on a heap of straw in the wigwam, or on a fallen log in the woods, than we in our quiet homes and comfortable churches?