I stagger through the last steps of the gauntlet, but the Iroquois warrior drags me forward. Rivulets of blood stream down my chest and legs, and my feet are numb from the snow.
While I’m being lashed to the stake, I seek out the Hurons who were captured with Brother Gabriel and myself.
“Look to our Father in Heaven for grace. Be strong. Our suffering will last but a moment. Great will be your reward.”
I am punched for my words of encouragement.
The smell of scorching flesh assaults my nostrils, and I remember the first scent I encountered when I approached this foreign land years before: the tangy fragrance of evergreens rising through the mists along the rocky shore. I had breathed in the magnificent, heady perfume, eager to begin my life among the natives in the New World.
Red-hot hatchet blades have been placed on my shoulders, and I stifle my cry. Echon, “the man who carries the load,” the Hurons called me. Many times, I carried a canoe or pack in portages around rapids or waterfalls; now, I willingly carry this burden for my Lord.
I was so exhausted as we travelled deep into Huron territory that I couldn’t imagine how I would endure another day, but at the same time, I was overwhelmed with amazing joy that my suffering was for God. The hordes of ravenous blackflies and mosquitoes, the mud, the bare rock that cradled our weary bodies each night. All for Jesus, all for Him.
An Iroquois spits into my face. I gaze on him with all the love and compassion that I know Jesus bears for him. He is a ransomed child of God. He draws back, confused.
Another warrior approaches with a knife. Grabbing me by the hair, he slices through my scalp. Blood obscures my vision, and then, as the flow abates, I see he is frowning. The two warriors peer at me intently.
Boiling water is poured over my head.
“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”
The Brothers and I had baptized the sick and dying first, those who had succumbed to smallpox and other diseases. In the beginning, the Hurons thought we had brought plagues on purpose, to lure them into baptism. We were blamed for crop failures and defeat in battle with other tribes, but we calmly maintained our trust in God. Later, the Hurons’ faith in Jesus grew, and we baptized them by the thousands.
We continued to teach the Hurons about Jesus, to love their neighbours as themselves, and to embrace the way of peace. They put aside the weapons of warfare. But the Iroquois nation rose against them, penetrated deep into Huronia, and destroyed village after village, killing my beloved brothers and sisters.
Now, peering through swollen eyes, I see that many of the Huron captives are already in the everlasting arms of the Father. God, have compassion on their precious souls.
Pieces of pitchy bark are laid about my chest and shoulders, around my loins and feet, and then set ablaze. The smoke surrounds me, rising as incense, carrying my prayers for swift and sweet mercy.
The warrior returns. Encouraged by the crowd of Iroquois, he takes a mighty swing with his axe. My bones crack, and I feel a curious lightness. Another swing, and I realize my feet have been severed.
God, give me courage. I have walked with You in joy, followed You with gladness all the days of my life. Now, suffer me to stand, during my last moments, as one worthy of You.
I hear faint whimpering from Brother Gabriel, and I comfort him through my blistered lips.
“Our Father sees us, dear brother. A few final sufferings and we’ll see His face. What joy, Gabriel!”
What manner of treatment comes now? I welcome the Iroquois warrior with a smile, but I fear it’s a distorted grimace. For answer, he pries open my scalded mouth and shoves a searing iron down my throat.
Here am I. Send me.
And so I came.
I cannot breathe.
A knife is raised. Sudden fiery pain in my chest.
For one darkening moment, I see the throbbing mass of my own heart.
Into Your hands, Father...
Based on the life and death of Jean de Brébeuf (1593 - 1649) - Missionary to the Huron people. “Suffer me to stand” is a phrase from his writings.
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
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