Saturday, August 10, 2013

American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM)

There are three prominent names associated with the history of Missions in America, Eliot of the 17th century, Brainerd of the 18th century and Mills of the 19th century.

John Eliot (c. 1604 – 21 May 1690) was a Puritan missionary to the American Indians. His efforts earned him the designation “the apostle to the Indians.”

David Brainerd (April 20, 1718–October 9, 1747) was an American missionary to the Native Americans who had a ministry among the Delaware Indians of New Jersey.

Samuel John Mills (1783-1818) was the key instigator of American foreign missions. He grew up in Torringford, Connecticut, where his father, also named Samuel John Mills (1743-1833,) was pastor of the Congregational Church.

In the early-1800s, the US was swept by religious revivalism and many people were converted in the wake of the newly born religious fervor.  The Second Great Awakening spread from its origins in Connecticut to Williamstown, Massachusetts; enlightenment ideals from France were gradually being countered by an increase in religious fervor, first in the town, and then in Williams College.

In 1806, Mills headed off to Williams College in Massachusetts; he shared his thoughts on a missionary life with a few friends at college.

In the summer of 1806, in a grove of trees, in what was then known as Sloan's Meadow, Mills, James Richards, Francis L Robbins, Harvey Loomis and Byram Green debated the theology of missionary service.  Their meeting was interrupted by a thunderstorm and they took shelter under a haystack until the sky cleared.

That event has since been referred to as the “Haystack Prayer Meeting” and is viewed by many scholars as the pivotal event for the development of Protestant missions in the subsequent decades and century.

The first American student missionary society began in September 1808, when Mills and others called themselves "The Brethren," whose object was "to effect, in the person of its members, a mission or missions to the heathen."  (Smith)  Mill graduated Williams College in 1809 and later Andover Theological Seminary.

In June 1810, Mills and James Richards petitioned the General Association of the Congregational Church to establish the foreign missions.  American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was formed with a Board of members from Massachusetts and Connecticut.

In February, 1812, Rev. and Mrs. Judson, Rev. and Mrs. Newall, Rev. and Mrs. Nott, Rev. Gordon Hall and Rev. Luther Rice were commissioned as the Board's first missionaries and set sail for Calcutta, India. (williams-edu)

In 1818, following a brief stay in England, Mills sailed to the west coast of Africa to purchase land for the American Colonization Society, then embarked for the United States on May 22 - he died at sea on June 16, 1818.

The story of the Foreign Mission School (1817-1826) connects the town of Cornwall, Connecticut, to a larger, national religious fervor of the Second Great Awakening. Cornwall’s Foreign Mission School exemplified evangelical efforts to recruit young men from indigenous cultures around the world, convert them to Christianity, educate them, and train them to become preachers, health workers, translators and teachers back in their native lands.

The school’s first student was Henry ʻŌpūkahaʻia (Obookiah,) a native Hawaiian from the Island of Hawaiʻi who in 1809 (at the age of 16, after his parents had been killed) boarded a sailing ship anchored in Kealakekua Bay and sailed to the continent.   In its first year, the Foreign Mission School had 12 students, more than half of whom were Hawaiian.

The next year, the enrollment doubled to 24 and, in addition to Chinese, Hindu and Bengali students, also consisted of seven Native Americans of Choctaw, Abnaki and Cherokee descent. By 1820, Native Americans from six different tribes made up half of the school’s students.

Once enrolled, students spent seven hours a day in study. Subjects included chemistry, geography, calculus and theology, as well as Greek, French and Latin. They were also taught special skills like coopering (the making of barrels and other storage casks), blacksmithing, navigation and surveying. When not in class, students attended mandatory church and prayer sessions and also worked on making improvements to the school’s lands.

ʻŌpūkahaʻia died suddenly of typhus fever in 1818; the “Memoirs of Henry Obookiah” served as an inspiration for missionaries to volunteer to carry his message to the Sandwich Islands.

On October 23, 1819, a group of northeast missionaries, led by Hiram Bingham, set sail on the Thaddeus for the Sandwich Islands (now known as Hawai‘i.)  With the missionaries were four Hawaiian students from the Foreign Mission School, Thomas Hopu, William Kanui, John Honoliʻi and Prince Humehume (son of Kauaʻi’s King Kaumuali‘i.)

The Prudential Committee of the ABCFM in giving instructions to the pioneers of 1819 said: “Your mission is a mission of mercy, and your work is to be wholly a labor of love. … Your views are not to be limited to a low, narrow scale, but you are to open your hearts wide, and set your marks high. You are to aim at nothing short of covering these islands with fruitful fields, and pleasant dwellings and schools and churches, and of Christian civilization.”  (The Friend)

Over the course of a little over 40-years (1820-1863) (the “Missionary Period”,) about 180-men and women in twelve Companies served in Hawaiʻi to carry out the mission of the ABCFM in the Hawaiian Islands.

Today, the Hawaiian Mission Children's Society, a nonprofit educational institution and genealogical society, exists to promote an understanding of the social history of nineteenth-century Hawai‘i and its critical role in the formation of modern Hawai‘i.

The Society operates the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives, comprised of three historic buildings and a research archives with reading room. The Society also compiles the genealogical records of the American Protestant missionaries in Hawai‘i and promotes the participation of missionary descendants in the Society's activities.

Through the Site and Archives, the Society collects and preserves the documents, artifacts and other records of the missionaries in Hawai‘i's history; makes these collections available for research and educational purposes; and interprets the historic site and collections to reflect the social history of nineteenth century Hawai‘i and America.

The image shows the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut.    In addition, I have added other related images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.

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