A bible in one hand and dog-sled in the other

David Luckman

For the Anglican missionary serving the Lord in the Arctic back in the 19th and 20th centuries, life was difficult and travelling was especially hazardous. Rev Dr Edmund Peck served in the Arctic from 1876 to 1905 as a CMS missionary. Back then the average day’s journey in the winter was about thirty miles. In the spring, when the days were longer and the ice was in good condition, maybe sixty miles a day were possible – still not much at all when your parish is the size of England and France put together! The winter journeys were often accomplished in temperatures ranging from minus forty to minus sixty degrees Celsius.

The icy, rocky terrain of the Arctic

Peck had been living among the Inuit for some time when he described a particular journey he took, along with an Inuit companion. The travellers were at each side of a heavy-laden sledge, standing on the runners. The dog team was about twelve in total with a lead dog out front. Peck wrote in his diary:

‘As our feet became chilled, we both (this is exceedingly unwise, I confess) got off the sledge at the same time. The leading dog, a knowing old fellow, realising what the sudden diminishing of weight meant, looked back and, seeing both of us running by the side of the sledge, suddenly set off at a flying pace, and in spite of all our cries to stop the runaway team and the use of all our racing powers, we were soon left far behind. Our position was not to be envied. Everything we possessed was on that sledge; we were far, far away from all human habitations or settlements, and the wind cut like a knife. Fortunately, the weather was clear, and we could see the track of the sledge across the snow; so, panting and blown, we followed the fugitives, hoping, praying that the sledge would get stuck up somewhere amid the hummocky ice, which, to our joy, as we pressed on, we saw piled up ahead in the immediate track of the runaways. We knew that our deserters could never draw the sledge unaided through that rugged ice mass that loomed in the distance and sure enough, presently, the sledge got jammed under a boulder. The dogs tugged and howled, but at last gave up the job in despair and, when we finally arrived on the scene, they looked up at us in the drollest manner, as much to say, ‘you’ve got us, it’s true, but that is not our fault.”’

Crosslinks missionaries arrived in the frozen north shortly after and they experienced similar difficulties as they travelled around their parishes. Rev Jack Turner had been in Baffin Land for about three years when he wrote a description of sledge travelling in his diary:

‘Soon after midday we came into very rough ice which meant plenty of warm work. We wanted to reach another snowhouse, (igloo) so we pushed on. ‘Pushed’ is hardly descriptive enough; ‘struggled’, ‘stumbled’, ‘pulled’, and ‘sweated’ are only some of the words needed to describe travelling in the dark, through rough ice and deep snow.’

In all of Rev Turner’s trips in the Arctic, covering approximately 25,000 miles of hard winter travelling by foot and dog sledge, he always praised God for his loving kindness to him. As the lost sheep were sought for the Master’s fold, Jack would be reminded of the promise from Scripture, that ‘He…preserveth the way of His saints’ (Proverbs 2:8).

Today travel is made somewhat easier by modern modes of transport such as skidoo, car and plane. God’s people can travel around and between communities in the Arctic with greater ease than the generations before them. Please pray that as the gospel of Jesus travels with them, many will come to repent and believe in the Christ who died on the cross to reconcile them to God. 

Does this sound like something you would like to get involved with? Arctic churches are currently seeking more clergy to join their number. Email us to find out more.