Today in Church History

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August 30, 2019 by directorfsm

Samson Occom, American Indian, Ordained

Samson Occom, American Indian, Ordained

There was a great stir of religion in these parts of the world both amongst the Indians as well as the English, and about this time I began to think about the Christian religion, and was under great trouble of mind for some time.” That is how Samson Occom, direct descendant of the great Mohegan chief Uncas, described the effect of the Great Awakening on himself when he was sixteen years old. As a consequence, he put his faith in Jesus Christ.

In 1743, when he was twenty, he went to study with Rev. Eleazar Wheelock who ran a school. Since his conversion, Samson had shared the gospel with other Indians. Now he hoped to learn to read so that he could study the Bible for himself. In this, he was successful. Despite poor eyesight, he became one of the first American Indians to publish works in the English language. These included sermons, hymns and a short autobiography.

Word of Samson’s work among the Indians impressed American religious leaders. Wheelock himself recognized that if more Indians could be trained like Occom, they could carry the gospel to their own people. He threw open his school to Indians.

Meanwhile, Presbyterian leaders in Long Island took notice of Samson’s work. He had not been able to go to college and get his theological training because of his poor eyesight; nonetheless, they ordained him on this day, August 30, 1759, to go as a missionary among his own people. To its shame, the church never paid Samson what it paid its white preachers. But despite his deep poverty and continual bad health, he worked tirelessly to convert Indians and to pass on to them the things he had learned in school.

Samson felt betrayed. He realized he had been used. It seemed to him that Wheelock saw him not as a brother equal in Christ, but as an exhibit or a performing monkey. In spite of his pain, or because of it, he clung even more tightly to Christ. To the end of his life, he preached among the Indian tribes and also pleaded for their rights and privileges.

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