American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) had its origin in the desire of several young men in the Andover Theological Seminary to preach the gospel in the heathen world. (The term ‘heathen’ (without the knowledge of Jesus Christ and God) was a term in use at the time (200-years ago.))
“The Board has established missions, in the order of time in which they are now named at Bombay, and Ceylon; among the Cherokees, Choctaws, and the Cherokees of the Arkansaw ….” (Missionary Herald)
The following are portions of a December 20, 1809 letter written by Samuel J Mills to the Rev. Gordon Hall, then a student in the Theological Seminary at Andover (he was later a Missionary in the island of Bombay.)
It speaks of ‘Ōpūkaha’ia and his influence in establishing the Hawaiian Islands Mission.
“Very Dear Brother, I received your kind letter, and feel much indebted to you. I have been in this place about two months. When I came, I found my worthy friend E. Dwight here …”
“… I roomed with him about two weeks, and then removed my quarters to the Rev. Mr. Stewart’s, with whom I have lived to the present time. As every day is not so singularly spent by me as this has been, I will notice something not a little extraordinary.”
“To make my narrative understood, you must go back with me to my first arrival in this place. Mr. Dwight, I then found, was instructing a native Owhyean boy. Two natives of this island arrived here five or six months ago, and this was one of them.”
“As I was in the room with Mr. Dwight, I heard the youth recite occasionally, and soon became considerably attached to him. His manners are simple; he does not appear to be vicious in any respect, and he has a great thirst for knowledge.”
“In his simple manner of expressing himself, he says, ‘The people in Owhyhee very bad – they pray to gods made of wood. Poor Indians don’t know nothing.’”
“He says, ‘Me want to learn to read this Bible, and go back then, and tell them to pray to God up in heaven.’ (Not having a place to stay,) I told him he need not be concerned; I would find a place for him. …”
“I told him he might go home with me, and live at my father’s, and have whatever he wanted. He then came with me to my room. I heard him read his lesson, and attempted to instruct him in some of the first principles of Christianity, of which he was almost entirely ignorant. …”
“I told him further, that as my father was one of the Missionary Trustees, he would no doubt obtain for him a support, if it was thought best to educate him, which is my intention to attempt so far as that he may be able to instruct his countrymen, and, by God’s blessing, convert them to Christianity. To this he could hardly object. …”
“He had been talking with the President of the College, and I told him I would see him on the subject … (and I) related to him a part of my plan, which was that Obookiah should go with me to my father’s, and live with him this winter …”
“… and be instructed in the first principles of reading and writing, as well as of Christianity, where he would be abundantly furnished with the means of acquiring both. …”
“The President came fully into the opinion that this was the most eligible course which could be pursued, if Obookiah was willing to go. Obookiah is his Indian name, and he is seventeen years old, I told him he would be glad to go; he was without a home – without a place to eat, or sleep.”
“The poor and almost friendless Owhyean would sit down disconsolate, and the honest tears would flow freely down his sunburn face; but since this plan has been fixed upon, he has appeared cheerful, and feels quite at ease.”
“I propose to leave town in two weeks, with this native of the South to accompany me to Torringford, where I intend to place him under the care of those whose benevolence is without a bond to check, or a limit to confine it. Here I intend he shall stay until next spring, if he is contented. Thus, you see, he is likely to be firmly fixed by my side.”
“What does this mean? Brother Hall, do you understand it? Shall he be sent back unsupported, to attempt to reclaim his countrymen?”
“Shall we not rather consider these southern islands a proper place for the establishment of a mission?”
“Not that I would give up the heathen tribes of the west. I trust we shall be able to establish more than one mission in a short time, at least in a few years; and that God will enable us to extend our views and labours further than we have before contemplated.”
“We ought not to look merely to the heathen on our own continent, but to direct our attention where we may, to human appearance, do the most good, and where the difficulties are the least. We are to look to the climate – established prejudices – the acquisition of language – the means of subsistence, &c. &c.”
“All these things, I apprehend, are to be considered. The field is almost boundless; in every part of which, there ought to be Missionaries.”
“In the language of an animated writer, but I must say, ‘he is of another country – O that we could enter at a thousand gates, that every limb were a tongue, and every tongue a trumpet to spread the Gospel sound!’”
“The men of Macedonia; cry, Come over and help us. This voice is heard from the north and from the south, and from the east, and from the west.”
“O that we might glow with desire to preach the Gospel to the heathen, that is altogether irresistible! The spirit of burning hath gone forth. The camp is in motion. The Levites, we trust, are about to bear the vessels, and the great command is, Go Forward.”
“Let us, my dear brother, rely with the most implicit confidence, on those great, eternal, precious promises contained in the word of God: …”
“‘And Jesus answered and said, verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake and the Gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundred fold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come, eternal life.’”
“Be strong, therefore, and let not your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded. ‘Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty; and in thy majesty ride prosperously, because of truth, and meekness, and righteousness; and thy right hand “shall teach thee terrible things.’” Let us exclaim with the poet:
Come then, and added to thy many crowns,
Receive yet one, the crown of all the earth.
Thou who alone art worthy! It was thine
By ancient cov’nant, e’er nature’s birth,
And thou hast made it thine by purchase since,
And overpaid its value with thy blood.”
By 1816, contributions to the ABCFM had declined. There were several reasons including post-War of 1812 recession and the fact that India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) were too remote to hold public interest. (Wagner)
Folks saw a couple options: bring Indian and foreign youth into white communities and teach them there, or go out to them and teach them in their own communities. They chose the former. They formed the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall CT.
The school’s first student was Henry ʻŌpūkahaʻia (Obookiah,) a native Hawaiian from the Island of Hawaiʻi who in 1808-1809 (after his parents had been killed) boarded a sailing ship anchored in Kealakekua Bay and sailed to the continent. In its first year, the Foreign Mission School had 12 students, more than half of whom were Hawaiian.
At the beginning of the school’s tenure, ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia was considered a leader of the student body, excelling in his studies, expressing his fondness for and understanding of the importance of the agricultural labor, and qualifying for a full church membership due to his devotion to his new faith.
ʻŌpūkahaʻia was being groomed to be a key figure in a mission to Hawai‘i, to be joined by Samuel Mills Jr. Unfortunately, ʻŌpūkahaʻia died at Cornwall on February 17, 1818, and several months later Mills died at sea off West Africa after surveying lands that became Liberia.
ʻŌpūkahaʻia, inspired by many young men with proven sincerity and religious fervor of the missionary movement, had wanted to spread the word of Christianity back home in Hawaiʻi; his book inspired missionaries to volunteer to carry his message to the Hawaiian Islands.
On October 23, 1819, a group of northeast missionaries, led by Hiram Bingham, set sail on the Thaddeus for the Sandwich Islands (now known as Hawai‘i.) With the missionaries were four Hawaiian students from the Foreign Mission School, Thomas Hopu, William Kanui, John Honoliʻi and Prince Humehume (son of Kauaʻi’s King Kaumuali‘i.)
Over the course of a little over 40-years (1820-1863 – the “Missionary Period”), about 184-men and women in twelve Companies served in Hawaiʻi to carry out the mission of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) in the Hawaiian Islands.