What Begins Well doesn’t always End Well

tim_savage_christian life
This is a follow up from my post, “Christian Beginnings of America’s First Universities”.

Samson Occom, a Native American from the Mohegan tribe, became both a gifted evangelical preacher in the latter third of the eighteenth century and also the inspiration for the creation of Dartmouth College, which today is one of our country’s elite centers of higher learning. Its founder, the Puritan pastor Eleazar Wheelock, dreamed of training additional Native Americans to be missionaries to the indigenous peoples of the New World.

Wheelock sent Occom to England to raise money for the new college, and for eighteen months in 1766-1767 Occom preached his way across Britain, delivering almost four hundred sermons. Wherever he went, he drew large crowds and raised an enormous 12,000 pounds for Wheelock’s college, including 200 pounds from King George III and 50 guineas from the second Earl of Dartmouth, after whom the Ivy League college was named.

But when Occom returned home, he discovered that Wheelock had failed to keep his promise to care for Occom’s wife and children. Additionally, Wheelock then used the funds raised by Occom to establish college for the education, not of Native Americans, but of Englishmen!

Indeed, in the first two hundred years of its existence, Dartmouth College graduated a paltry 19 Indians.

It was only in 1970 that the college decided to live up to its charter and to recruit and admit at least some indigenous peoples. Since then, Dartmouth has graduated more than 700 Native Americans from 200 tribes, more Indians in the last forty-five years than in the other seven Ivy League universities put together.

Regrettably, none of these graduates has been trained in Christian ministry – Dartmouth College having long ago abandoned its original Christ-centered mission. Indeed, for our son’s graduation, the charter of the college was printed on the cover of the program, with all references to Christ and Christian ministry elided!

What shall we say of Eleazar Wheelock? He was a Puritan pastor, Christian evangelist, missionary strategist, founder of a Christian college – and yet he betrayed his young protégé, a man of color, and failed to fulfill the divinely inspired vision for his college.

Gratefully, God is not deterred by human weaknesses. He is sovereign even over our foibles and never abandons his purposes.

Occom – while never paid the same salary as white preachers and often burdened by deep poverty – gave himself fully to proclaiming Christ to fellow-Indians, winning a number of converts among the Iroquois in upstate New York. Later, he organized a settlement in central New York called Brothertown, a place where Christian Native Americans, displaced by white settlers, could find a home.

As for Dartmouth College, it became for many years a place where Englishmen received sound training for Christian ministry. Today its archives contains a highly prized autobiography entitled A Short Narrative of My Life, the memoirs of a Christian Indian named Samson Occom.

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