Thursday, August 3, 2017

Northern Light Gospel Mission's Printing Efforts - August 3, 2017

The Last post "A Walk To Remember" was about the four of us, Johnny Stoltzfus, Lilly Stoltzfus (Burkholder), myself, and another friend who in 1956 survived a potentially dangerous walk. Last Thursday, July 27, Johnny Stoltzfus, my brother in law, died of a heart attack. We have lost a prayer warrior. But we will see him again on the other side.

(This was written some time ago when I was managing the Printing Department)
Some time ago, I was talking with an elderly Indian man who was the Chief on his reserve. He was telling me about a big forest fire which had burned much timber only a few miles from their village. By now the burned-off area had already been green from new growth. I asked him, "When did it burn?" To answer my question, this wise Chief merely laughed, then proceeded to tell me that he didn't write down and keep a record of the year it happened.

Down through the centuries the Ojibway people did not depend on writing as their means of communication to their contemporaries or to future generations. There are a few exceptions to that in as much as a few men, especially Medicine men, who kept record on birchbark, of weather, important activities, etc. Even birth dates were usually not recorded.

Their means of communication was talking. They shared news with friends, who in turn passed it on to others. They also used story-telling to communicate tradition, Indian heritage and morals. All these were taught in interesting legends which were told around the fires in the evening. Experiences were shared by groups of people as they sat around and talked.

In North-western Ontario, ancient sign writing is nearly non-existent today. There probably was no system of writing for detailed communication as we know it today until the 1800's, when a missionary introduced a system of syllabic script. His reason for introducing it was to be able to write the Scriptures he was translating into their language.

The syllabic writings are now in wide-spread use among the Ojibway and several Cree tribes as well as the Eskimo people. It is now considered "Indian" writing except in the Southern Ojibway communities where the Indian words were spelled out in Roman script, i.e. with the English alphabet.

How does this background affect NLGM's printing effort? First of all, to print the Bible and hymnals in their language in syllabics, was readily accepted because these were not to be found in their traditional legends. Then when we started to print Gospel tracts, periodicals and booklets to share and teach Christian principles, they needed to adapt to a somewhat new form of communication. Of course before this they had already become accustomed to letter writing.

Indian people have always been educated, but their education didn't come from books and papers, but by example, life experiences, and by being told by their parents and relatives. The introduction of Christian publications was and is readily accepted and greatly appreciated, especially since the introduction of the public schools and that form of education.

When we looked for writers among the Christian Indian people, we of course would not find any, not because they were not able, but because it was a new concept. They needed to be encouraged to begin writing their testimonies and beliefs, etc., but this introduced even another new concept in communication. Namely that they were not writing to a certain known person or people, but as mass media is, to whoever might happen to pick it up and read it.

Today there is a great need for Christian publications in Indian syllabics for the older generation and in English, but Indian-oriented, for the younger ones who have attended school.

Our NLGM printing department is endeavoring to meet these needs in the form of sound Biblical teachings in the areas of evangelism, Christian growth, youth and helps for Native pastors.

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