3.05.2017

The Native American Christian

In the very early 1800s, when Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa were still the wild west, a young Native American maiden named Maw Waiquoi woke up from her sleep having dreamt of the handsome white man she had encountered near the trappers' settlement near her village.  The men there were mostly Frenchmen, but this man was Scottish.  From her dream, she knew he would be her husband; so she went to him and a few days later they were married.

Her husband was a surgeon, trained at the medical college in Edinburgh, Scotland before emigrating to America.  He was still in his mid-twenties, and fearless.  Maw Waiquoi was in her mid-teens, and her dream had made her fearless too, even though she knew that marrying a white man meant, to her people, she was no longer a member of the tribe.  Now she was one of the white settlers, as far as the Sak and Fox were concerned.

Maw Waiquoi adopted the name "Sophia Muir", and she bore two children to Dr. Samuel Muir before he was conscripted by the American army and taken south to fight in the Americans' war.  Although Sophia was no longer a member of her tribe, she also was not considered by American law or American society to be a member of their tribe.  She and her children not only had no legal rights; they were considered a reason for treason by the military, who had ordered all soldiers to abandon their Native American families and have no further contact.  So Sophia was alone with two little ones, with no way to feed them and with no tribe to care for her.

Sophia had a canoe, and she was not ready to let her children die.  She could scavenge berries, and she could fish.  She took supplies, the children, and her canoe, and she pursued her husband.  She traveled 800 miles over many months, and she reached him.  Her children were strong and healthy, but she was a walking skeleton.  She had fed her children well, but had not been able to feed herself more than enough to survive.

Dr. Samuel Muir vowed never again to be separated from Sophia and his children.  He left the army, and he was one of the founding community of Galena, Illinois, and built a home and life near Keokuk, Iowa.  They had two or three more children, and they were happy.  The women of Galena respected Sophia and did their best to be welcoming, although she never really fit in.  Sophia embraced Christianity, and raised her children to follow Jesus.

In 1832, Dr Samuel Muir took ill and died.  Their home of many years was taken away from Sophia and their children.  Sophia appealed to the governor of Illinois for the lives of her two youngest children who were still dependent upon her, and he granted her the relief of turning them over to the custody of one of the leading women in Galena, who would care for them.  Sophia took the children to the meeting place, but was late, and found the woman had left Galena without the children.

Sophia had no resources and no welcome in American society without her husband, and the Black Hawk War had destroyed her people.  Desperate to save her children, she again gathered what she could to provide for her children on a journey, and pursued the remaining Sac and Fox tribes.  She had Jesus, and she had hope and love and survival skills.

Sometime that cold winter, American settlers found the bodies of Sophia and her youngest two children, in the snow of what is now the upper MidWest.

Sophia is my hero.  She did what the best of us do:  she made her path through the realities she encountered as best as she could, with perseverance, grace, and hope.

In my imagination, Sophia calls me to do the same, but also to widen the path for others, and to heal the broken places in our world that make survival so difficult for those who are not fortunate enough to be born into the right family.

She missed being killed by American soldiers at the Battle of Bad Ax on August 2nd the year her husband died of cholera at their home on the banks of the Mississippi.  She successfully raised her two older children who grew up remembering her mad dash to save them and reunite with their father.  And she held her youngest two children as they froze to death in her arms over a decade later.

Our big question is not "Does God exist?", nor is it "Is Jesus my Savior and Lord?".  I personally answer both of those questions affirmatively, as did Sophia; I believe Sophia is present with Jesus now, and I believe I will be too, once I reach my end.  

I believe Jesus was with Sophia in her most terrifying and final moments; it was Christians who were not.  And so, to me, THAT is our big question: "How do I respond to real needs around me today, both to help individuals and to fix broken systems that oppress or abandon the people of today."

In all of Jesus' teaching, He called us to meet real needs of real people: our brethren, or enemies, and the strangers and outcasts.

Sophia echoes the teaching of her Savior:   Do not just teach what is true.  Live it.

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