History of Missions Lecture 8

THE FOLLOWING ARE NOTES FOR LECTURES GIVEN AT NEW COLLEGE, BIRMINGHAM. I AM NOT AN EXPERT AND BOOKS WILL BE CREDITED TO SHOW WHERE MY INFORMATION IS COMING FROM. IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS, COMMENT ON THIS POST AND I WILL TRY MY BEST TO ANSWER.

~*~

Lecture 8 focuses on the mission in Canada, specifically the work of Jean de Brebeuf and the Huron Mission.

A few questions for you to think about:

What things have we known missionaries to do in new places?

  • learning language, translating, etc.
  • setting up schools & churches
  • creating disciples

What difficulties are there?

  • language barriers, translation errors, etc
  • other religions
  • rebellion, riots, violence

JEAN DE BREBEUF (1593-1649)

 

He was ordained in 1622, and despite some people not wanting him to go, he asks to go to Canada as a missionary. He sets sail in 1625 and arrives on June 19th. He spent 5 months in an Indian wigwam in the dead of winter. Then he set out on a dangerous journey to Lake Huron to be a missionary to the Huron’s. He stayed for a while but was recalled as the colony was in danger of extinction. When he tried to return years later the Indians refused to take him.

However, he continued to lead the Huron Mission and although progress was slow, he made his first converts in 1635, ten years after originally travelling there. At first there were only 14 new Christians, a year later, that number had increased to 86. This may not seem like many but in a culture that had gods and spirits within the nature around them, it was common for the Jesuit missionaries to be blamed for any disasters that might happen. If there was illness, defeats in battle, crop failures, Brebeuf was blamed. At one point he was even condemned to death (although not killed in the end), and at another time severely beating. By 1647 there were thousands of converted Huron.

Unfortunately, in 1648 the Iroquios (another tribe who had been at war with the Huron for many years) destroyed a large village. By 1649 the Huron Mission was captured. Brebeuf was fastened to stakes, tortured, had boiling water poured over his head as a mock baptism, burnt, and his body slashed with knives. Through all this Brebeuf didn’t make a sound. It is said that the Iroquois were so impressed by this strength that they cut out and ate his heart in the hope that they might gain his courage.

He is remembered in Canada and was known by names given to him by the Huron people:

  • “The Apostle of the Hurons”
  • “Echon” which means both “healing tree” and “he who bears the heavy load”

A particular strength of Brebeuf’s mission was his skill in language. He is said to have written the first dictionary of the Huron language. He learnt the customs and language to become an expert. So much so that he wrote a Christmas Carol in the Huron language called Huron Carol. This carol is still used today, although the language has been changed a little.

What is interesting is the changes to the nativity story seen in the carol. The Wise Men, or Magi, would not have made sense to the Huron people, so instead there were three hunters, or chiefs, to came to see Jesus. And instead of Frankincense, Gold and Myrhh, they brought fox and beaver skins that would have been valuable to the Hurons.

Although we’re not quite in Christmas season yet, I thought I would put on a version of the Huron Carol, and read you the lyrics after. In some versions the lyrics have been changed into English but this is in the Huron language.

‘Twas in the moon of wintertime when all the birds had fled
That mighty Gitchi Manitou sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim and wondering hunters heard the hymn,
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

Within a lodge of broken bark the tender babe was found;
A ragged robe of rabbit skin enwrapped his beauty round
But as the hunter braves drew nigh the angel song rang loud and high
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

The earliest moon of wintertime is not so round and fair
As was the ring of glory on the helpless infant there.
The chiefs from far before him knelt with gifts of fox and beaver pelt.
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis gloria.

O children of the forest free, O seed of Manitou
The holy Child of earth and heaven is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant boy who brings you beauty peace and joy.
Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, in excelsis Gloria.

 ~*~

Neill, Stephen. A History of Christian Missions (Penguins Books, Great Britain, 1964).

Advertisements

Join in the discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s