How did the gospel ever reach the Inuit?

David Luckman

The account of the Inuit missions is a story that is filled with sacrifice, noble endeavour and great accomplishments. I shall begin the story in 1925, when Bishop Anderson of Moosonee (see map below) appealed to the newly established Bible Churchmen’s Missionary Society (now Crosslinks) to save the gospel work that had been undertaken by CMS missionaries. Their good work was now left fallow due to the withdrawal of CMS from the Arctic in 1915.

Bishop Anderson not only appealed for the shepherding of the flock, which had been left so long without real pastoral oversight, but he also encouraged an undertaking to open new missions in unevangelised areas.

Two Canadian graduates of Wycliffe College in Canada were accepted by the BCMS and commissioned without delay to enter this frozen land and take up the reins that had been left idle. The Rev. F.H. Gibbs went to Port Harrison, while the Rev. C.H. Jenkins journeyed to Pangnirtung, just north of one of the old CMS mission stations.

It was not all plain sailing. The ship that carried the two new BCMS missionaries to the Polar North sprang a leak and those on board were compelled to abandon ship and spend the night on a glacier. They were rescued by a sister ship the following day. Thankfully no lives were lost and the baggage that wasn’t stored in the hold was also saved. However, Jenkins and Gibbs watched the ship sink with the rest of their possessions. Their journey continued on board the rescuing vessel to Lake Harbour, on the southern coast of Baffin Land, and then on to the mission stations assigned to them. These men experienced severe isolation in the Arctic, enhanced by the fact that they could only be reached by ship once a year. 

In 1928, Rev. Gibbs sent a report back to the BCMS headquarters in London, describing some of the gospel opportunities that the Lord had graciously given him during a journey up the east coast of Hudson Bay. On that journey he baptized 48 children and 25 adults, confirming Archdeacon Fleming’s view of the Inuit that, “they are certainly a worshipping people and a bible-loving people.” (Rev. Archibald Fleming served in Lake Harbour from 1909-11 and 1913-15. He later became the first Bishop to the Arctic in 1933).

Sadly, neither of the Society's first two missionaries were able to remain long in the Arctic, Rev. Gibbs having the longer service of the two men. However, in 1928 Rev Arthur Turner was sent to Pangnirtung in Rev. Jenkins' place. The following year, Arthur was to be joined in the frozen wasteland by his younger brother, Rev John Turner, who travelled with Rev. Harold Duncan to Pond Inlet. Their parish was, at the time, the most northerly parish in the British Empire and the size of England and France put together. The communities who lived there were small and scattered. The missionaries had to travel many miles through inclement weather to reach the inhabitants of Baffin Land with the gospel of Christ. And that is exactly what they did, with the motto of the BCMS spurring them on - “for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:9). 

Not surprisingly, Jack began to understand for himself the sentiments of Rev. Fleming who had gone before him to preach the Word in that place.  It wasn’t long after his arrival at Pond Inlet that Jack Turner wrote in his diary, “I feel a greater love for the Inuit each time I go amongst them; they are a most lovable people” (Rev. John Hudspith Turner’s Diary, 1929).

The Diocese of the Arctic has a need for clergy to work in this region. Could you commit to praying for new labourers to be sent out? Or if you think you could serve in this way, do drop us an email.

Picture at top of page: Arctic mission team circa 1929. Clockwise from top left: Rev John Turner, Rev Harold Duncan, Bishop Archibald Fleming, Mrs Bailey and Rev Bailey.