By Renee Rusler, Park Ranger
We live in a world of instant communication. For us waiting a few minutes for a response to a phone call, e-mail, or text message can seem like an eternity. The Whitmans’ world was different. It could be well over a year before they would get a response to a letter.
Here is the story of one request.
In April 1838, Dr. Whitman and Rev. Spalding sent a joint letter to the American Board requesting more supplies and additional helpers. Whitman and Spalding each had a mission station. The American Board was the group who sponsored them. Only five missionaries total were assigned to staff the two stations. In the letter Whitman and Spalding asked for an additional 220 people!
Eleven months later in Boston, Rev. Greene of the American Board wrote his response:
“Your joint letter of April 21st, 1838, and those from Doct. W. of May 8th & May 15th, came to hand on the first of November. The several topics introduced in those letters I will remark upon briefly at the present time, hoping to write again soon.”
Regarding the request for such a large number of additional staff, Greene wrote:
“Of reinforcements I would say that your expectations are too high for the means of the Board … If the Board should attempt all that you request, it would be equivilant to about doubling the present number of laborers under its patronage [whole patronage around the globe], & of course, doubling the expenditures. We hope to go on increasing from year to year, & believe the Christian community will sustain the Board in so doing; but we have no evidence that they will, at our call, double their donations in a single year, & for one mission, & that a comparatively new one.”
The Board was willing to help, just not to the degree asked:
“As to the articles which you wish to have purchased. We are expecting a ship soon to sail for the Sandwich Islands [Hawaii], in which we will endeavor to send a portion of what you ask.” “As to fellow laborers to enter your field – We trust that Messrs, Walker, Eells, Smith & Gray, with their wives have before this time reached you, and and [sic] are going forward in the labors of the mission. We should be very glad to send additional laborers by water next autumn, if the Board should have suitable persons and sufficient funds to admit of it. Whether we shall be able to do so cannot now be determined.”
“This letter I intend to send by way of St. Louis & the mountains, by a party of emigrants, which is expected to start soon. A copy will also go by way of the Sandwich Islands.”
Who are “Messrs, Walker, Eells, Smith & Gray” and wives? While these letters were slowly moving across the continent or traveling the high seas, reinforcements had arrived at the mission stations. We’ll meet them next time.
This is part 16 of "A Missionary Saga." More from Season 2