A mission to reach the Inuit

In 1928, some of the earliest Crosslinks missionaries set sail for the Canadian Arctic on a mission to reach the Inuit.

They encountered some of the toughest working conditions a missionary can know. They travelled thousands of miles to the scattered camps by dog-sled and canoe, facing constant threat of death from drowning, exposure, or starvation. For 10 weeks the sun never sets and then for three long months it does not rise.  Once a year a supply ship slipped through the floating ice into the bay, and only once a year came the longed-for letters from home. Temperatures reached minus 47 degrees and roaring blizzards often thwarted return journeys from remote communities. On one trip, a missionary was stranded due to a blizzard for several days and had to resort to firstly cutting up his own harness and bedding to feed his dogs, and then eating one of his dogs himself in order to ensure his own survival. But the men and women who made these endeavours were blessed by seeing fruit from their labours. Remote Inuit communities heard the gospel, turned to Christ and were nurtured in their faith through subsequent visits.

Arthur Turner was the first Crosslinks missionary to the Arctic in the summer of 1928. He was joined a year later by Harold Duncan and his younger brother Jack Turner. During his time in the Arctic, Jack wrote, ‘Amongst these Inuit one is up against the old heathen religion, which has still quite a firm hold. When trouble comes they often turn back to the old ‘torngaks’, or spirits. One young fellow refused to observe some of the old customs when his elder brother died and was then ostracised by the rest of the camp, though all apparently professed a desire to follow ‘The Book’. Sickness and barrenness are attributed to the spell of some person who bears the victim some grudge, even by the Christians. I told them that Jesus has all power and when he was on earth was able to cast out evil spirits. If he indwells us, no evil spirit has any power over us.’

The mission station was strategically location at Pond Inlet. Though the number of permanent residents numbered only 52, around 120 families would pass through each year, travelling many hundreds of miles in order to pick up essential supplies. Crosslinks missionaries Arthur Turner and his wife Jean spent 25 years in this region and, as well as teaching Christ to locals, they succeeded in translating the Prayer Book and revised the translation of the Bible into the complex Inuit language. They are great examples of people who did not live for this world and the ‘treasures of Egypt’ but instead ‘desired a better country – a heavenly one.’

In 1992 Crosslinks Mission Partners Michael and Kit MacLachlan were sent from St John’s Church, Birmingham, to a more westerly region of the Arctic. Michael was the vicar of the parish, with all the duties and responsibilities that come with that task, as well as having to support Christians communities scattered further afield. Many of the small churches were led by untrained lay people, and so Michael travelled between them by aircraft and skidoo. Michael sought to teach, preach, nurture, encourage and build up the existing Christian congregations, as well as reach out to others. Kit initially taught English at the Arctic College, and then worked as an alcohol and drugs counsellor. The community in which they lived was ravaged by social problems resulting from alcohol and substance abuse – 90% of adults were addicted to one or both. Suicide rates were high and so counselling those in distress and bereaved families was a harrowing but much needed task.

But, during their time in the Arctic, God used Michael and Kit to build his kingdom – often in ways that far exceeded their expectations. They saw very obviously that there is nowhere on earth where Jesus is not present: even to people whose whole way of life and outlook are so very different, God has revealed himself.