Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Book Review: The Forgotten Awakening by Douglas McMurry

Back in the middle of October, I had the privilege of attending the Montana Bible College Pastors and Leaders Conference. The focus of the conference was worship. The main speaker, Bruce Gore from Moody NW in Spokane, spent one of his sessions speaking about the theme of worship. He spoke on how worship is good for us, good for the rest of the world, and how the power of God’s word is not dependent on us, but on God’s grace.

The bulk of his session was filled by a story he told about how the Native Americans of the northwest anticipated and later received the gospel at it was brought to them first by fur traders, and second by some of their own people. The story is told in full in a book entitled The Forgotten Awakening: How the Second Great Awakening spread West of the Rockies by Douglas McMurry.

McMurry’s story, based on the witness of early fur traders and missionaries, is a fascinating one. Around the turn of the 18th century, a number of Indian tribes in the inland northwest recieved visions that anticipated the coming of the gospel among them. One tribe was given the symbol of the cross. Another was warned of the arrival of men with pale skin. Still another tribe was informed that men would come with “leaves bound together” that would be a source of life and mercy for the tribe. These tribes lived with these hopes for a number of decades until the first white explorers and fur traders came among them.

The book is filled with stories of the original Caucasian pioneers of the inland northwest: the mapmaker David Thompson, the fur trapper Jedidiah Smith, and the powerful George Simpson, chief factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Each of these men and more contributed to the fulfillment of the vision received by the native tribes, introducing them to the white man’s world, but also, more importantly, to the white man’s God, a God they anticipated knowing.

All of this culminated in a decision by the Church Missionary Society and the Hudson’s Bay Company to take 2 local Indian teens back to the Red River Colony (modern Winnipeg) to be educated. Spokan Garry and Kootenai Pelly, which were the names given them by the whites, were chosen. They made the 1000+ mile journey up the Columbia River, over the Rocky Mountains near Jasper, Alberta, and then down the Saskatchewan and Red Rivers to the Red River Colony. Their education, directed by local pastors, taught them much about the world, but more importantly introduced them to Jesus Christ, who became their Savior. Filled with this new knowledge, they returned to their people and shared the true fulfillment of their people’s visions - the Savior Jesus Christ.

The story McMurry tells is fascinating and much of it was new to me. Having grown up in Winnipeg, it was interesting to read the descriptions of the perilous life of the settlers in the Red River Colony. I have personally visited many of the locations described in the story, which made it especially fascinating. Unfortunately, my thoughts on this book are not overwhelmingly positive. The writing is fine, but not exceptional. The book is somewhat disjointed. There are rabbit trails the author takes (such as following Jedediah Smith after his encounters with the Spokane tribe) that are not really necessary and do not really propel what to me was the most fascinating part of the story, the Indian visions and their fulfillment.. I would have also loved to see the last days of Spokan Garry’s life fleshed out more.

That said, this is a good book on a truly fascinating subject. If you are interested in the history of the inland Northwest, or in a portrait of God’s faithfulness and creativity, or merely like a good, true to life story, pick up a copy of The Forgotten Awakening. It will be worth your time.

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