Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Sochi stirrings & Archibald the Arctic

I've been enjoying the thrill of the Winter Olympics in Sochi along with millions of others around the world. It's stunning though to realise that it's warmer there than the average summer beach holiday in England! Whatever the accomplishments of these winter heroes, their exploits have reminded me of a true winter hero of the faith who has never been decorated with victors medals. I've written and spoken on him at length before, but the opportunity to honour him again is too great to miss.

Archibald Lang Fleming arrived amongst the Eskimos as a missionary in 1909. Ok, he was a hardy Scot from Clydebank, but nothing can have prepared him for the extremes of this kind of living. Remember,these were the days of Empire, when British explorer types set off up a mountain or into the Amazon armed only with a machette, a tweed jacket and a fine handlebar moustache!

Fleming needed more than a tweed jacket as he joined a people group who had maintained their existence for generations through the most precarious balance of hunting, skill and sheer fortune, in a climate which would finish off Europeans in a week.

Acclimatisation? Well, Fleming got straight on with it. That first winter of 1909 he spent living in a small igloo with two other Eskimo families! Stephen Neill in his 'History of Christian Missions' quotes Fleming as follows-

'Life in a crowded hut has many disadvantages. The foetid atmosphere was sickening, and the acrid smoke from the blubber lamps was an aromatic disinfectant, though when it caused us discomfort the hole in the roof was cleared and a better circulation of air was created.......What Commander Peary wrote of Eskimo dwellings was true. 'A night in one of thses igloos, with a family at home, is an offence to every civilised sense.'

Fleming is not famous amongst missionaries or explorers. There is probably a statue to him somewhere, but I don't know where. Even his Wikipedia page is brief! But this man was a giant, the kind who counted his own comfort and even his life nothing, for the sake of seeing distant people reached with the gospel. Jim Elliot rightly gained attention decades later, but Fleming also was 'no fool, who gave the things he could not keep to gain what he would never lose.'

That first, terrible winter of 1909, the whole settlement were only days from starvation, their lives hanging in the delicate climatic balance. At the last, the wind changed, and Eskimo hunters were able to find walrus to eat. Fleming survived, and persevered, discovering a brotherhood with the Eskimos through their shared adversity which drew them together.

By the time of his death in 1953, Fleming was known as 'Archibald the Arctic' with upwards of 80% of the indigenous Eskimo peoples of Canada now faithful Christians. It's a spectacular legacy of faith and perseverance, a winter endurance which sets the physical achievements of our current crop of winter athletes into a true perspective. As we marvel at their resilience in the Sochi games, perhaps we can think and pray too for unreached people groups in inaccessible places, and those who may be called to reach them with the gospel in our generation?

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The protective place of prayer

Driving to the office this morning, along a rural country lane towards the town, a family of deer chose their moment to leap through the hedgerow and cross the road in front of the car. The first three made it, then the smaller deer skidded and swerved to a stop by the side of the road as I did likewise in the car! There was no collision, and all six deer hurried on their way, our admiring glances at their beauty and poise lost on them as they disappeared into the opposite foliage.

When we come to prayer, we have many purposes and motives in mind. Breakthrough, healing, momentum. All good and rightly sought after. However, the encounter with the deer reminded me of a comment by E M Bounds, which emphasises the place of protection and comfort in our prayer.

Bounds tells this story in his book, The Necessity of Prayer:
'Rising early one morning I heard the barking of a number of dogs chasing deer. Looking at a large open field in front of me, I saw a young fawn making it's way across the field and giving signs that it's race was almost run. It leaped over the rails of the enclosed place and crouched within ten feet of where I stood.
A moment later, two of the hounds came over, and the fawn ran in my direction and pushed it's head between my legs. I lifted the little thing to my breast, and swinging round and round, fought off the dogs. Just then I felt that all the dogs in the west would not and could not capture that fawn after it's weakness had appealed to my strength. SO it is when human helplessness appeals to Almighty God.'

What a thought, that in the moment of our fear and headlight staring paralysis, the very strength and protection of God is released and secured for us! What an idea, that the weak and startled disciple, who doesn't know which way to turn, might be swept up into the arms of one who is stronger, into the heart of one who cares and acts!

May this picture of the deer cause us to run into the protective place of prayer, individually and corporately. May we find the one who laughs in the face of our fears, and sweeps us out of troubles and into his purposes as we hide ourselves in him.