Mamas have the joy of discovery every day.

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I love producing history curriculum for children. When I learn something I never knew before, it must be something like the joy an explorer feels. Yesterday I was writing about John Eliot, who is called “The Apostle to the Indians.” (For those of you who are looking forward to our new American history for grades 1-4, don’t worry that I was writing in the 1600s. The curriculum is in chronological order, but we aren’t necessarily working on it that way!)

Here’s where I do my exploring.

For a long time, I have known a little bit about John Eliot. Back in 2015, I wrote to you about the mural of Eliot preaching to Native Americans that decorates the interior dome of the Massachusetts State House. As always though, I learn things I never knew before when I am “exploring” for things to tell children.

I’ve been researching in The Life of John Eliot, The Apostle to the Indians, written by Convers Francis and published in 1844. It was super-exciting to read details about the Sunday Eliot preached his very first sermon to Native Americans. He had been studying for several months with an Indian who knew English. Unfortunately we don’t know the man’s name for sure. Eliot welcomed him into his family. The Native American taught Eliot Algonquin, and Eliot taught him how to write.

On the last Sunday in October of 1646, Eliot and three companions walked or rode on horseback to a village about five miles from their home in Roxbury, Massachusetts. A village leader named Waban came out to meet them, accompanied by other people from the village. They greeted the Englishmen with English salutations. The group went into Waban’s wigwam, where other Native Americans waited. The service began. First, Eliot or one of his companions said a prayer in English. Then Eliot gave a sermon in Algonquin. He covered a lot in his 1 hour and 15 minute sermon. He taught them that God made the world. He told them about Adam and Eve and their sin in the Garden of Eden. He recited the Ten Commandments and made a few remarks about them. He told them about Jesus, the Savior of the world.

This illustration, “John Eliot Preaches to the Indians,” was published 210 years later in 1856.

When Eliot finished, he asked his listeners if they understood what he told them. Many voices said that they did. He asked if they had any questions. They asked:

  • How they could come to know Jesus Christ.
  • Whether God or Jesus Christ could understand prayers in the Indian language.
  • Whether there was ever a time when Englishmen didn’t know about God.
  • How there were so many people in the world if they were all once drowned in the flood.

Eliot continued to go to Waban’s village every other Sunday. By his third visit, he or one of his companions felt comfortable enough with the Algonquin language to close the service with a prayer in Algonquin. Waban himself began to teach the villagers the lessons Eliot had taught. Waban began praying when he woke up during the night.

Eliot’s ministry with Native Americans began when he was 42. Until he died in his 80s, he ministered to his local English church in Roxbury and to many Native Americans. People called the Native Americans that Eliot converted Praying Indians. Over the years Eliot translated the Bible into Algonquin with the help of Indian assistants. The New Testament was printed in 1661 and the Old Testament in 1663. When the two were bound together, it became the first Bible in any language to be printed in the Western Hemisphere.

Reading in that biography of John Eliot felt like a ring-side seat during one of American history’s sweetest stories. Even though the book is 174 years old — about the same age as our house! — it is new to me. Every day you get a ring-side seat with your children. You get to see what you have never seen before. You get to live a day with them that you have never lived. Celebrate the joy of discovery!

The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23

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