A Missionary’s Demise at Sea

By J. J. F. Auch

Translator’s Preface

In January of 1850, a 20-year-old Johannes Strieter set out from Freedom Township, west of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and headed north to Saginaw to pay his sister Dorothea and her husband, Missionary J. J. F. Auch, an extended visit. In Saginaw Missionary Auch picked Strieter up in his sled and drove him to their home in Sebewaing, on the western coast of the “thumb” of Michigan. There Strieter helped out as much as he could with the Lutheran mission to the Chippewas there. He also spent time with Missionary J. F. Maier at the Shebahyonk station, about seven miles northeast of Sebewaing.

Strieter clearly enjoyed his time there, including his time with Missionary Maier, who had a good sense of humor. Missionary Maier was also married to a Dorothea, the sister of Missionary Auch who had been confirmed with Strieter at Salem Lutheran Church in Scio. When Strieter left with Friedrich August Crämer to begin his pre-seminary studies in Frankenmuth in the spring of that year, after helping to build the new mission house in Shebahyonk, the parting was a sad one.

In the article below, Missionary Auch describes the tragic demise of Missionary Maier in the fall of that year. By that time Strieter was actually attending the seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Although Strieter doubtless heard of the tragedy, he does not mention it in his autobiography. Still today and even in English, Auch’s emotion is palpable.

You can view Missionary Maier’s grave at Find A Grave.

Mission News

Sibiwaing [sic]
November 28, 1850

Most Reverend Mr. President!1

A difficult task has been assigned to me by the Lord, that of informing you and our entire synod of the terrible misfortune that befell our mission on the fifteenth of this month. Mr. Missionary Maier and another man by the name of Haushahn, a resident here, found their grave in the Saginaw Bay on the just-mentioned day. They set out from Sibiwaing on the 12th with the purpose of bringing winter provisions back home and set sail from Lower Saginaw2 for the return trip on the 15th with a favorable, though very strong wind, and when it grew stronger and stronger, and there was also such a thick fog on the sea that they could only see a short distance ahead, they came right into the worst spot of breakers on the entire east side of the Saginaw Bay, and here they were shipwrecked, perhaps a half mile from shore and six miles from Sibiwaing. Just as I was returning to Sibiwaing from Shiboyank [sic],3 Mr. Missionary Maier’s place of residence, where I had held divine service in his absence, I found a man at my door with a note from a merchant who had been so kind as to bring the boat’s cargo into his custody. This note contained the terrible news. Mrs. Missionary Maier4 was actually staying with us during her husband’s absence and was now notified of her husband’s misfortune at the same time we were. I will not describe the heart-rending scene that followed. May the Lord from whose hand this distress came also comfort us according to his great mercy. To him be praise, thanks, and honor for such mercy!

The next day I rode out to the spot and found things as they had been reported to me, the mast on the boat broken off, the boat itself overturned, and the cargo scattered over a half-mile stretch of the shore. Although I rode back and forth along the shore nearly eight miles, the only thing I could find was Mr. Maier’s cap drifting along the shore. How horrible I felt! The day after that I went back to the spot of the accident with our German settlers here, who proved very devoted and sympathetic to the cause and flipped the boat back up in the water. But after we had once again searched all around in the water for the bodies for a long time and to no avail, we returned home to Sibiwaing with the badly damaged load of flour.

I then discontinued any further searching until last Monday, the 25th. On that day, I once again went out to the spot in the company of our interpreter, Mr. Maier’s brother, who had made his way here at the news of his brother’s death, and with another man. Two miles above the site of the accident, I and Mr. Maier’s brother climbed ashore and, while the other men continued in an Indian boat, we went searching along the shore. On the way I found a coat belonging to Mr. Maier, in addition to other small articles from the boat. Finally we came to the place where we had found the most flour and as I turned my gaze forward, I saw Brother Maier on his face in front of me, his coat over his head, the waves beating against him, lying on the shore in water perhaps four inches deep. Calling out to his brother, I hurried over. Ugh, what a sorry sight! We turned him over, his hands were washed snow-white, his face was puce, his skull bashed in. Maier’s brother was wailing dreadfully. I did my best to comfort him with God’s Word, but the pain my own heart was in to see my brother-in-law in that condition right there in front of me—there are no words to describe it. We also found the other man just sixty paces away from Mr. Maier. We returned home. On the next day we buried them and thereby sowed the first seed corns on the mission property here in Sibiwaing that are looking forward to a blessed resurrection [cf. John 12:24,25].

Mr. Missionary Maier was faithful in his calling. I can vouch for this on his behalf in good conscience. He lived to his Lord in faith, and so we also have the assurance from God’s unchangeable Word that he has also died to the Lord [cf. Romans 14:7-9]. He lived to the age of 27 years, one month, and 11 days.

His death has left a gaping hole in our mission. Who is going to fill it? — Our Indian congregation is very sorrowful. When I comforted them with God’s Word, the chief told me, “Yes, we now have a spiritual shepherd under us, who is proclaiming God’s Word to us; I sincerely rejoice with my people in that fact. I was intending to see myself soon put into a position where I would be able to teach God’s Word myself, but what are our prospects now? Night and darkness now surround us again, when I think of going to school. Yet I do believe what you told us from God’s Word, that ‘for those who love God, all things must serve for the best.’”5

“…”

I have now taken over Shiboyank again, trusting in God’s assistance. I have promised to hold service there every Sunday and, when the weather permits, once during the week too. I have also started up Indian school again. Here in Sibiwaing I am responsible for the Indians and perhaps eight German families. Consequently there is not a single hour in which I do not see myself surrounded with work on all sides. Oh, how unfit I feel for such a serious calling! There are many times I almost do not know how to keep my faith from dwindling. If God’s Word were not my comfort, I would surely perish. I therefore ask the entire synod and especially you, dear Mr. President, to remember me in your petitions to the Lord as your lowly fellow brother. May the Lord show mercy and provide another shepherd for the abandoned sheep in Shiboyank in the near future! These sheep have begged me to please earnestly stress to the synod how dire their situation is, along with the request that they be sent another spiritual shepherd in the near future. God grant it, etc., etc.

J. J. F. Auch.

Source
Der Lutheraner, vol. 7, no. 8 (December 10, 1850), pp. 63-64

Endnotes
1 That is, the president of the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States (today the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod), namely F. C. D. Wyneken, who was also serving as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in St. Louis at the time

2 That is, Bay City. According to Herman Zehnder, the name of this sailing vessel was the Huron (Teach My People the Truth, p. 79).

3 Now usually spelled Shebahyonk. The location of this Native American community and mission station is today roughly identical with the unincorporated community of Weale, about seven miles northeast of Sebewaing near the mouth of Shebeon Creek.

4 The author’s sister (see Translator’s Preface)

5 The author seems to be quoting the chief of the Chippewas at Shebahyonk. We have conflicting reports on this chief’s position with respect to Christianity. His name is variously spelled Nocktschikome (letter from Friedrich August Crämer to Wilhelm Löhe, July 25, 1845), Nage-Dschikamik, Nage Dschickamik (both in Strieter’s autobiography, describing events of 1850 predating the events of this article), and Meganigischik (Herman Zehnder, Teach My People the Truth, p. 83, apparently citing Frankenmuth church records from 1849). Strieter says that his name meant Great Chief, and he describes a powwow he attended, sometime around early spring of 1850, at which the chief denigrated the Christian God in favor of the great spirit of the Chippewas and their dancing rites for worshipping him. When Strieter went back to the spot the following morning, “there lay the chief dead-drunk, with his squaw sitting next to him, watching over him.” However, we do know that the chief’s brother converted (taking the Christian name Sam) and was married in the Lutheran church in Frankenmuth, and perhaps this article is indication that the chief himself also converted later in 1850. Perhaps it was precisely because of the chief’s decidedly unchristian character and conduct earlier that same year that Auch was left speechless in response to his strong affirmation of Christian faith here.

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Quote of the Week – The Soul’s Medicine Chest

John Chrysostom likely preached the following circa 390 AD during his priesthood in Antioch in Syria. It is taken from §1 of his ninth homily on Colossians, an exposition of 3:16,17.

Listen, I urge you, all you who care about this life, and procure books that are medicines for the soul. If you do not desire anything else, get at least the New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles, the Gospels, as perpetual teachers. Whenever grief befalls you, delve into them as if they were a medicine chest. Find relief from your suffering there whenever you experience detriment, death, loss of family members. Yes, do not so much delve into them as absorb them entirely; have them in your mind. This is the cause of all the evils—not knowing the Scriptures.

Source
Patrologia Graeca 62:361

I would like to thank Pastor Kurt Hagen for acquainting me with this quote.