missionary biographies & adventures
David Brainered: Trailblazer to the Indians
story by Vernon Howard; edited by Stephen Ross

"Good-Bye!"

David Brainerd"David, come on! We're hiking to the Indian hills!"

The slender boy whose name had been called shook his head at his friends.

"Not today, Tom. I'd better not go."

"What's the matter, David? Not sick again, are you?"

"No," the boy replied as he sat down on a near-by stump. "I guess I'm just tired."

Young David Brainerd watched regretfully as his friends filed into the woods. He wanted desperately to go with them, but he knew his weak legs could not stand the long hike. He wondered why he should have such a puny body that tired so easily. Why couldn't he have been a hardy pioneer like his Pilgrim ancestors who had settled the state of Connecticut? Why couldn't he have been born with a rugged body that could carry him deep into the Indian hills along with his friends?

David had no answers to his questions. At the time it seemed that he must spend his whole life just sitting on a stump, watching his companions disappear into the trees.

But God had a plan for the New England lad...

The Decision

When David grew older he entered Yale College. He worked hard over his books and soon became an honor student. Still, he was not altogether happy. He longed to be active in Christian work. Shortly after leaving school he received a letter from a minister in New York. He gasped with delight as he read it.

Dear Mr. Brainerd:
We wish to send a missionary to the New England Indians. We would appreciate your assistance. Can you come to New York at once?

David felt like tossing his clothes into a bag and taking off for New York. But first he would pray about it and talk it over with his friends.

"There is nothing I want more than to preach to the Indians," he told his Christian friends. "But I am not very strong. A missionary to the Indians would have to fight the thick woods and swift streams. It would be a rough life."

"If God wants you to go, He will give you the strength," his friends replied.

It didn't take David any longer to make up his mind. He would go!

A Stormy Way

When David arrived in New York he was questioned by the men who had sent for him. Did he really want to spend his life in the lonely woods as a preacher to the Indians?

"I believe God wants me to bring the gospel to the Indians," he answered. "And I will carry on as long as God gives me strength."

Having made up his mind, young David promptly sold his books and extra clothing. Of what use were fancy clothes among the Indians? He had now cut himself off from the world of the white man, and there was only one place where he could be happy. That place was in the forests and valleys where the Indians lived.

David began to write a diary in which he recorded the adventures and experiences that came to him. He wrote of two early hardships:

"I rode all night long through a drenching rain without seeing a single hut or Indian tent. The coldness numbs my fingers so I can scarcely write...

"This morning I came to a raging stream. I do not know how I will get across. I will rest here for a few hours and pray about it..."

A Gift!

Prayer and hard work solved many problems for the young preacher. But it seemed that no sooner had he licked one problem than another took its place. Among his greatest difficulties were the suspicions of the Indians. Dishonest white traders had cheated the Indians many times before. It was no wonder that they looked upon all white men with distrust.

"I have come to give you the gospel of Christ," David told them from the very first.

"We think you want our furs," they insisted.

"I am not interested in anything you may have. I want only to tell you of a wonderful gift that God has for you."

A gift! This was something different. What kind of a white man was this?

"Here is a Bible," said David, holding up the Book. "It tells of the Lord Jesus Christ, who came to earth many years ago so that all men might have everlasting life. You see, I want to give you something, not take anything away."

"We will listen to you," the Indians agreed, "but you must not try to take our furs."

Powwows!

Like most missionaries, David found the native Indians bound by ancient superstitions. He was dismayed to find them worshiping birds, animals, trees, and even the weather. The Indian priests led their people in all sorts of weird worship in an effort to please the many gods. The Christian missionary often angered these priests with his pointed questions.

"Why do you worship the wind?" he would ask. "Has it a tongue to speak to you? Has it ears to hear? Can it forgive your sins? Why do you worship the wind?"

Of course, the priests had no reply. They showed their anger by attempting to cast a spell on the missionary. By wild dances and horrible screams they called down the anger of their gods upon the white man. These priests were called powwows, or magicians.

"You have angered our gods by bringing this strange religion into the forests," the powwows screamed. "The storm wind will carry you into the river or cast you away into the sky!"

David patiently explained that he had no fear of the wind or any of the other strange woodland gods.

Through the Rapids

Since there were many Indian languages and dialects, David often was unable to make himself understood by them. One day he met a young, intelligent Indian named Tantamy who could speak both English and the Indian tongues.

"I need an interpreter, Tantamy," David told him. "How would you like to go with me on my missionary trips?"

"I am not a preacher, Mr. Brainerd," the Indian youth answered. "I am not even a Christian. I have heard you preach many times but still I am not a Christian."

"Just the same, I would like to have you with me."

"All right, I'll go."

David and Tantamy traveled the forest trails together. Whenever they came to a tribe whose dialect was unknown to David, he could count on Tantamy to make the gospel message clear to the natives. David was delighted to have such a faithful and helpful friend. One day, after the missionary had preached a powerful gospel message, Tantamy came to him.

"Mr. Brainerd, I have just taken Jesus as my Savior. Now we are Christian friends."

David's Diary

Much of what we know of the life of David Brainerd comes from the diary he started early in his missionary career. From this day-by-day journal we learn what incredible hardships this young man went through in order to turn the New England Indians toward the Cross. His diary often reads like an exciting narrative of early American days. It is packed with thrilling adventures with hostile Indians and wonderful stories of Indian conversions.

While visiting one village he wrote:

"In the evening they met together, nearly a hundred of them, and danced round a large fire, having prepared ten deer for the sacrifice...at the same time yelling and shouting in such a manner that they might easily have been heard two miles or more. They continued their sacred dance all night near the altar. ...I at length crept into a little crib made for corn and slept on the poles."

Another time he happily wrote:

"The Word of God...seemed to fall upon the assembly with a divine power. The dear Christians were refreshed and comforted."

A Close Call

The journeys of the young missionary were always perilous. To reach some of the remote tribes he often had to cross steep mountains in the dark of night or pass across treacherous swamps or cut his way through beast-infested forests. It is miraculous that he ever reached some of his destinations alive.

One inky night David and a companion were attempting to cross a rocky mountain top. Just below them, hidden in the deep gloom, were sharp gorges.

"Maybe we had better stop for the night," David's companion spoke. "If our horses slip off the rocks we would plunge hundreds of feet straight down."

Young Brainerd peered into the darkness below. "It would be just as dangerous in the day," he replied, "and if a storm catches us up here we'd be in it for sure."

They were picking their way through the darkness when David's horse suddenly caught its leg between two rocks. The animal snorted with pain and jerked wildly about. The missionary was thrown to the ground but managed to keep from sliding into the gorge.

"I'm all right," he called to his anxious friend. "But it was close!"

The Hermit Priest

David Brainerd met many strange Indians in his travels, but none more strange than the hermit priest whom he met deep in the woods. When David first saw him he was clad in a weird assortment of skins, shells, and leaves.

"I am trying to restore the ancient religion to my people," he told the white man, "but they will not listen. They are happy with their woodland gods."

"I have something far better than either the ancient religion or the woodland gods," David assured the mournful Indian. "It is the gospel of Jesus."

The priest listened carefully as the missionary told him the Christian story. It was a strange pair they made—David Brainerd, the frail white man, and the hideously dressed Indian priest. But they liked each other and listened carefully to each other's words. After a while, the priest spoke to David.

"I think you know the God for whom I have been searching these many, many years. I will take Him as my Heavenly Father, too."

"And you will want to tell your people of Him, too," reminded the missionary; "for you want them to be as happy with the Christian faith as you are."

The Girl Who Laughed

One day as the missionary was resting in his lodgings he heard a timid knock on the door. Opening it he saw a young Indian woman standing there.

"I have come to learn more about the religion you have been spreading among the people," she said. "I have heard that you do not believe in the many gods whom we and our fathers worship."

"I believe in the one God of the Bible," David assured her.

The woman laughed heartily as she spoke again. "You have a funny religion. It has only one God, while we have hundreds of gods. I think our gods are mightier than your single God."

She continued laughing, but just the same she went to the place where David was preparing to preach. She listened carefully as he told everyone of God's salvation in Jesus. Her face became more serious as his words sank into her mind. She finally began to sob.

"Guttummaukalummeh! Guttummaukalummeh! Have mercy on me! Have mercy on me!"

The wonderful news soon spread through the woods that the laughing woman had been converted.

A New Religion

As the fame of the young missionary spread throughout the forests the number of listeners grew. Many of them came out of curiosity, wanting to hear of this new religion that so many of their tribesmen had adopted.

"Have you seen Manntama since he has believed in the Christian religion?" one warrior would say to another. "He is as happy as a forest brook. He sings all day long about his new God."

"Yes, I have seen him. No longer does he quarrel with his brothers. He is too cheerful to fight with anyone. It must be a good religion that can make a friendly warrior out of Manntama!"

So whenever the Indians heard that the white preacher with the "Book of God" was arriving, they set aside their weapons and tools to hear him. As many as one hundred Indians often sat in the clearing among their wigwams and turned attentive ears to the preacher's words. Many of them bowed their heads where they sat and asked for God's mercy.

"Now we will be as happy as the others," the newly converted Indians would say, "for we have Jesus in our hearts, too."

The Man with the Book

The missionary was a great curiosity to the Indian children. Many of them had never seen a white man before. So when they heard their fathers speaking of the mysterious man who invaded the woods with only a big book, they wondered at his courage.

"Even the bravest warriors do not go into the forests without a strong bow and a quiver full of arrows," they remarked.

"What is in the big, black book under his arm? Is it some new kind of rifle that can scare away the wolves and wildcats?"

"I will run and tell the warriors that he is coming!"

David soon overcame the children's fears by telling them the simple gospel story. Their eyes grew wide as they heard of the wonderful life of Jesus.

"Now we know why you are so brave," the children finally said. "God Himself goes with you into the woods. Please tell us more about Him."

David established several schools where the children were trained. No more would they spend their days running through the woods. Now they learned how to farm and sew and build. Best of all, they heard more of the gospel!

War Dance

One of the most exciting ceremonies David witnessed as he traveled among the natives was a war dance performed at the village of a tribe of Delaware Indians. He had journeyed to the village to preach the gospel but found the tribesmen busily preparing for a ceremonial dance.

In the center of a great clearing a huge fire was beginning to throw brilliant arrows of flame into the surrounding darkness. Around the fire were gathered the young braves and older priests. As the flames leaped up, so did the Indians. Screeching horribly, they pranced in a wide circle around the fire.

"Eeeeeeaaaaahhhhh!"

"Waaaaaaaeeeeeeeeeee!"

All night long they kept up the mad parade. David wanted desperately to tell them of the gospel but decided that it was best not to interfere at this time. Standing quietly in the shadows, he watched the noisy ceremony for several hours. Toward morning the weary Indians slipped off to their wigwams.

The next day they heard the gospel story from the white missionary.

"Go To Your Friends!"

David realized that many Indians who would not come to hear a white man preach would surely be curious enough to hear the preaching of a fellow Indian. So he gathered about him several stout Christian warriors and spoke to them.

"I want each of you to be a missionary to your own people. Go and tell them the gospel just as I have told it to you."

"But we are not preachers," they protested. "We can't even read the Bible. How can we expect anyone to believe us?"

"Do you think you could do it if I went with you?"

"Yes."

"Could you do it if God went with you?"

"Yes, we could."

"Then God will go with you and give you strength, just as He gave me strength."

"You are right," the Indians admitted. "We will go."

"All God asks is that you do your best with what He has given you. Now, go."

David's heart leaped happily as he saw the Christian warriors turn to the camps of their own peoples.

David Goes Home

From the very beginning, David Brainerd knew that the damp forests were not good for him. But the preaching of the gospel was far more important to him than his own health.

"Maybe you should forget about going back into the forests," friends told him as he came home for a rest. "Maybe if you take it easy for a few months you can return to the Indians."

"The minute I am able to get to my feet, I will head for the camping grounds," he cheerfully replied. "I may not have much longer to preach."

And it was God's plan that the faithful David Brainerd should not preach much longer. His work was like that of a man sowing seeds in fertile ground, making it ready for others to reap a rich harvest.

Though David went home to God while still a young man, his life is an inspiration to others to this very day. What he accomplished among the New England Indians may also be achieved among the peoples of Asia or Africa or South America. Young David Brainerd proved that God's man can succeed in spite of hardships and handicaps.


Copied and edited by Stephen Ross for WholesomeWords.org from David Brainerd, Trailblazer to the Indians by Vernon Howard. St. Louis: Bible Memory Association International, [n.d.]. First published by Fleming H. Revell, ©1951.

David Brainerd Information


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