Adam London HSTY 7390 May 14, 2012 Ferdinand Drebert and the Early Moravian Church The Lutheran

church was a relatively late arrival on the Alaska mission scene. The Lutheran church arrived in 1894 with the Reverend Tollef Brevig. Brevig was the first pastor of Teller Mission, which would eventually (many years later, in 1963, 30 years after his death) be renamed Brevig Mission in his honor. Lutheran historian, Henriette Lund chronicles the early Moravian Church in the book, Of Eskimos and Missionaries. While virtually all other Alaska church history books begin with stories of white missionaries, instead, Lund begins with stories of a few the Eskimos that have had great impact on the Mission carried out by the church. The first story that Lund tells is that of an Eskimo orphan. The Eskimo orphan, Emma, in addition to her Native Inupiaq, “learned to speak Norwegian, the mother tongue of the Brevigs, as well as English.” Lund reports that all orphans under the Lutherans received good care.i Emma would later be confirmed in 1900 by Brevig’s successor, Pastor Tjernagel.ii Emma grew up and married a Native reindeer herder, who had been a herder since age 12 (one of the first Native apprentices until the Lapps). It is reported that “Pastor Brevig officiated at the wedding.” This wedding must have happened during Brevig’s second term of service after Tjernagel left. As further proof of the Brevigs influence on Emma, their first child was named Julia, after Mrs. Brevig.iii The next Eskimo story begins with the note: “As we go through the annals of the Missions, no name pops up more frequently than that of an Eskimo, Sam Ailak…Sam Ailak was born at North Spit, at the northwestern edge of the North American continent, the one nearest to Asia. Made an orphan in the 1918 influenza scourge, he came to live at the Teller Mission.”iv Among the many good deeds of Ailak, he will most be remembered by the record history he kept of the many incidents of his life at Teller Mission.v The third Eskimo story which opens the book is Mary of Igloo. As Lund says, “Mary was an Eskimo who never wanted to be anything else.”vi Mary came to faith “When the missionary Tollef Brevig came to Igloo on one of his exploratory journeys in the area, he became acquainted with Mary…” While at Igloo, “Pastor Brevig held religious services to which these [Mary] listened” and “in time” became a devout Christian.” To Mary’s credit, her stepson, William also became a devout Christian and a “friend of mission workers.” vii Throughout the rest of this Lutheran history, Lund continues to make sure the Eskimo workers get recognition, even as she turns her attention to the Norwegian missionaries. One such

example is the Eskimo orphan, Katherine, who grew up and moved to Ikpek, a small untouched village, starting a Sunday school there.viii Lund even makes notes about some converted shamans. Like other denominations who encountered shamans, the Lutherans saw many of these medicine men turn to Christ, the greatest Spirit. Lund writes of one medicine man that told his testimony: “I heard about the gospel and so my curiosity took me wherever it was preached, but I still could not understand. I did not know what the commandments and the creed meant. I wanted to understand more about this new life. Now I believe. I am glad we do not live in the past.”ix Another story of shaman coming to Christ simply involved curiosity; “Some venturous hunters went down to Teller Reindeer Station where there was a white man who could tell them more about…God who rules over everyone by love…Among the travelers was Tucktoo, the medicine man reputed to be in close touch with good and evil spirits…all were baptized before they left for home.”x After firmly establishing that the Eskimos were an integral part of the Lutheran church, Lund then goes on to explain how the Norwegian Lutheran Synod came to have a presence in Western Alaska. The story begins with the famous missionary statesman, Sheldon Jackson. In the midst of the great reindeer project, Jackson had hired several Siberian reindeer herders that achieved mediocre results. In addition to the results, Jackson always was looking for a way for the church to take responsibility for more work in Western Alaska (much to the angst of many secular government officials). As Jackson surveyed the reindeer project, “…he decided it would be advantageous to replace the Siberians with herders of the Christian faith.”xi Jackson made a trip to Norway to recruit “Lapps” (or “Laplanders”), Scandinavian reindeer herders that were are part of the Norwegian Lutheran church. Jackson successfully recruited a large handful of men, women, and children to move to Alaska, but they made it known that they would only go if a Lutheran Pastor would accompany them. As Lund reports, “Fortunately, the right man was found in the Revered Tollef Larson Brevig, a robust, outgoing man, 37 years of age.”xii Ministry for Brevig was always about both the Lapps and the Eskimos, and in later years his focus became much more on the Eskimos as the Lapps moved on. Interestingly, according to Lund, “Eventually, most of the Laplanders returned to their native land, but a few settled at Unalakleet, where their descendants live today.”xiii Unalakleet is the home of the Covenant Church, which at the time was predominantly served by Swedish speaking missionaries at the time. Ministry began slowly for Brevig among the Eskimos, with Lund reporting; “In the first year three Eskimos were converted and three more the following year.”xiv Early on in their ministry, they also added to their family as “…a daughter was born to Tollef and Julia Brevig.

She was christened Dagny Alaska, Dagny meaning New Day in Norwegian. Eskimos translated this into Oblomit, meaning Dawn.”xv Not long into their ministry, the Brevigs found themselves face to face with an epidemic which killed thousands of Eskimos throughout the state. The measles epidemic was said to have come to Alaska as “…two sailors with measles had been dropped off at Nome by a whaling vessel…”xvi The measles epidemic was the reason why the Lutheran orphanage was started at Teller Mission. Countless numbers of Eskimo parents succumbed to the disease, leaving their children to die or find other means. Fortunately, in most villages, the church stepped up and opened their own homes and mission buildings to care for the least of these. Brevig was deeply touched by the suffering and made extreme sacrifices for them. As Lund reports, “Although [Brevig] was a poor man, he was so concerned about the welfare of the Eskimos that during the three following years [after the measles epidemic] he gave his salary received from the government, which was $2900 and even $600 besides, for their help and support.”xvii The work at Teller Mission was a taxing ministry as the Norwegian Synod soon recognized. “To assist Pastor Brevig, the Synod at this time sent to the mission two workers: Karen Weeks and Helen Naas from the state of Washington.” It is interesting to note that the two ladies came in the summer time and were able to reach Teller by horseback from Nome.xviii In 1903, Brevig took a furlough in which he took with him two Native girls (names unmentioned) to the Lower 48 to drum up support for the Mission. Upon “Arriving home, the pastor again lectured extensively to Lutheran congregations, and the two girls often sang at meetings…the Norwegian Synod in March, 1904, accepted Teller Mission as an official project.”xix Abraham Haavig, “a Lutheran carpenter” was also around in the early 1900’s. He had come to Alaska seeking gold, but soon became ill and “found his way” to the Mission. “Mr. Haavig was a good helper during the measles epidemic and had his reward, one might say, by falling in love with and marrying Miss Naas.”xx Haavig would go on to write an extensive, but unpublished, history of the early Lutheran church in Alaska, which would aid later historians in their efforts. With all the new workers and positive momentum after years of service, Brevig was at the peak of his ministry. Lund, observing Brevigs own reports, writes that “The Christmas celebration in 1905 was described by the pastor as one of the most enjoyable events in his life. Ninety persons were baptized, and many asked for the sacrament of Holy Communion.”xxi In every day ministry, Lund also notes that “The pastor was spontaneous in his play with the children, and they loved him.”xxii

Brevig would go on to Pastor in Teller Mission until 1908. During that time, Jorgine Enestvedt was another early helper who was remembered for going “by dogteam to give lessons to children in nearby encampments.”xxiii After Brevig left Alaska there were a couple changing of the guards a relatively quick fashion. “In July, 1908, the Reverend and Mrs. Ditler Wentzel Tornoe of Tacoma came to relieve Pastor Brevig….The Tornoes remained for two years.” After Tornoe, Reverend Helge Mathias Tjernagel, “his wife Anna, and their children, Olivia, Rolf, and Neelak Sewawlook” arrived to take over Teller Mission.” Tjernagel also had a nephew who had come up to Alaska in 1906 to teach at the school in Igloo. His nephew, Clarence taught until 1915.xxiv Where Brevig was focused mainly on Teller Mission, Tjernagel was much more interested in serving the entire region. Tjernagel made regular Gospel visits to “Nome, Ageapu, Wales, Shishmaref, Igloo, and Council City.”xxv At first, Tjernagel traveled by reindeer team and sled, but found out soon that reindeer were much slower than dog teams (dogs were almost two times faster). As a result, Tjernagel became the first Lutheran missionary to make a regular habit of spending his time on dog sled to do Gospel trips to other villages. On one village Gospel trip, Tjernagel was fascinated to visit an Eskimo family in a village where there was no church and no previous missionary contact. Before eating their meal, Tjernagel was surprised that the family prayed before they ate. Through a translated conversation (much credit goes to the early Eskimo interpreters and dog sled guides), Tjernagel found out that “The family had learned to pray from passing Christian Eskimos.”xxvi Tjernagal served in Alaska until 1913 when the Norwegian Synod faced the task of finding his replacement. Tjernagal expressed desire that he “be succeeded by a young man who can learn the language.” The Synod was unable to grant Tjernagal’s exact desire, but the result was probably even better than he could have hoped for. Instead of a young man who could learn the language, a young woman who was already fluent in the language volunteered to serve, along with her father who was already accustomed to the Mission. In June, 1913, Pastor Brevig and his daughter, Dagny answered the call to return to Teller Mission.xxvii Dagny, at the age of only 17, became the youngest commissioned missionary by the Norwegian Synod in their history. She was charged with teaching at the school, while Pastor Brevig would resume his previous duties. Dagny was described soon after by Carl Lomen of Nome as “a beautiful woman of eighteen who grew up at the Mission, speaks the Eskimo language fluently, and is the most competent interpreter that it has been my pleasure to listen to.”xxviii Unfortunately, Pastor Brevig’s physical strength was not what it used to be, and the duo were only able to serve for 3 more years, leaving in 1916. After the Brevigs, two sets of missionaries were chosen to replace them (perhaps if the Synod had sent at least one couple earlier to aid the Brevigs, they may have not burned out, but that is only speculation), Reverent

Cornelius H. Malmin and his wife, Christine and Oluf Fosso and his wife Clara. The former went to Igloo and the latter to Teller Mission.xxix In 1918, the Spanish influenza epidemic hit Alaska and decimated the Native population. This epidemic was reported as much worse than any previous epidemics as “Whole village populations were wiped out. The death toll in the vicinity of the [Teller] mission was 107.”xxx Caring for the sick and orphaned during the epidemic took a severe toll on Fosso, who only served a few years in Brevig, though his intense ministry no doubt left a lasting mark on those who received care by him and his wife. When the Fossos left, they brought a young Native man with them, “Leonard Seekeoglook, a 16-year-old lad who wanted education to help him become a leader among his people.” Seekeoglook attended Luther Seminary and returned to do ministry in Teller Mission, Igloo, and Council City. Unfortunately, Seekeoglook had a very short career as he succumbed to tuberculosis not long after he returned. No doubt all of the tragic epidemics left the Eskimo people shell shocked.xxxi Winding down the early years of the Lutheran church in Alaska, Pastor and Mrs. Malmin came to serve in Igloo in 1917 and took over the vacant position in Teller Mission in 1920. Anna M. Huseth arrived in Teller Mission in 1919 as a medical missionary, the first of many women who were trained at Deaconess Hospital in Chicago. Huseth remained for 8 years in the wake of the largest epidemic to hit the Lutheran church. In the midst of a people in recovery, Huseth encouraged the people to “look not only to their own needs, but also to the needs of others” (Philippians 2:4). Huseth even organized an Easter giving project in 1920, collecting enough to “send a small cash gift to the Lutheran mission in Madagascar, Africa.”xxxii Other women medical missionaries from Deaconess Hospital from 1919-1931 included Agnes Nostdahl, Magdalene Klippen, and Anna Mathison. Huseth contributions were remembered many years later as they named the hospital in Shishmaref “Anna Huseth Memorial.”xxxiii The final two missionaries that we will mention in this paper are the Reverend Elmer H. Dahle and Helen Frost. Dahle and Frost brought the early Lutheran church into the modern age. Dahle has the record for longest time of service in the Alaska Lutheran church, spanning from 1921 (replacing Malmin) to 1961.xxxiv Likewise, Frost has the record for longest time of service for a woman, serving from 1926 through 1956 in the orphanage. Interestingly, Frost only intended to stay “for a few years” but could not make herself leave.xxxv “Like his predecessors, Pastor Dahle considered that visits to other communities were among his duties.”xxxvi Dahle encouraged local leadership and soon saw the Sunday school programs become “an indigenous project, with Eskimos leading classes for various age groups beginning with kindergarten.”xxxvii

Looking to the future, by 1972 (when Lund’s book was written), there were “four Missions on the Seward Peninsula, namely, Nome, Teller, Brevig, and Shishmaref, with a newly established one at Wales. The Eskimo population at these locations totaled about 3500…”xxxviii

Resources Lund, Henriette. Of Eskimos and Missionaries. Minneapolis: The American Lutheran Church, 1974.


P. 7 P. 33 iii P. 8 iv P. 9-10 v P. 11 vi P. 12 vii P. 13-14 viii P. 78 ix P. 82 x P. 72 xi P. 17 xii P. 18 xiii P. 22 xiv P. 19-20 xv P. 21 xvi P. 23 xvii P. 25 xviii P. 26 xix P. 26 xx P. 26 xxi P. 27 xxii P. 30 xxiii P. 32 xxiv P. 60-61 xxv P. 33 xxvi P. 35 xxvii P. 37 xxviii P. 38 xxix P. 42 xxx P. 43 xxxi P. 44 xxxii P. 62 xxxiii P. 43-47 xxxiv P. 49 xxxv P. 54 xxxvi P. 52 xxxvii P. 62 xxxviii P. 136-137

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