May 13: Rev. Dr. David McFarland

Alaska’s Courageous Missionary
by David T Myers

Born in Fairmont, Virginia (later West Virginia) on August 12, 1832, Amanda Reed was one of thirteen children in a Christian home. The father of this brood worked on the river, but died in a tragic accident on that river. Amanda traveled to Steubenville, Ohio to attend a young ladies college. After graduation, she taught school until age twenty five. She then married the Rev. Dr David McFarland, a Presbyterian minister, even though he was eleven years her senior.

The next ten years would be ministering as a pastor’s wife in Illinois. In 1866, the Presbyterian Board for Missions challenged them to go to the Territory of New Mexico to plant a church. This was difficult for three reasons. First, the religion in this far west territory was Roman Catholic. And second, other Protestants churches had tried and failed to get any churches planted there. Last, the challenge to move West caused family and friends to be opposed to the move. So Rev McFarland moved first to the area, where within seven months he planted an organized church in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Then Amanda joined him in May of 1867, after traveling by stagecoach with forty pounds of baggage!

A year later, their only child, a son, died at age seven months. Amanda threw herself with mother’s love by boarding twelve needy children in her own home. This was a forerunner of her life work in Alaska. By this time, the health of the husband had broken down, and even though in time they finished their missionary call with the Nez Perce Indians in Idaho, he eventually died of cancer on this day on May 13, 1876.

Twice bereaved, Amanda went to Portland, Oregon, where the Rev. Sheldon Jackson (treated elsewhere in these posts) met her and challenged her to go to Alaska. This Christian with a loving missionary heart obeyed the divine call through Rev Jackson, and she landed on August 10, 1877 at the village of Fort Wrangle, Alaska. She discovered that she was the only white woman in a lawless miner’s town. Further, slavery among the native Americans was accepted, and witch-hood was a practice as well. But Amanda threw her heart and soul into the ministry there.

The only building in town to teach Alaskan native Americans was the local dance hall. And it was used regularly by the miners when they came from their claims to dance. But Amanda rented the hall when it was not being used for dancing and began to teach. Starting out with just twelve Indian children, it soon swelled to close to seventy five. It was said among the Indian chiefs that she was the one who loved their people. All this despite outside pressure being great against her efforts from the whites. Miners wanted to abuse Indian children for prostitution, but Amanda McFarland rescued them.

Two other towns in Alaska – Sitar and Howkan – became her place of ministry. And God sent reinforcements to help in the ministry, both men and women. She eventually retired after twenty years of ministry to Alaska and became known as “Alaska’s Courageous Missionary.” She died in 1912 at the age of eighty back in Fairmont, West Virginia.

Words to Live By:
The Indian chiefs knew her as the woman who loved their children. And she did. As she daily taught them Christianity and life skills. A loving spirit is necessary for all of us called to His service. Have you checked recently your love portion in your service for Christ? Do you love serving the Lord and His people? We workers for Christ can undergo anything, including difficult service, if that love is strong and growing for His glory.


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