October 11, 2005
“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith,” said Dr. Michael Thompson as he quoted Hebrews 13:7.
At the annual J.M. Gaskin Lectureship at Oklahoma Baptist University on Oct. 3, Thompson, professor of religious studies at Oklahoma State University, spoke on Oklahoma Baptists and their missions to Native Americans.
“We have over 1,900 years of spiritual leaders,” he said. “We are here today as part of a legacy of people who came before us, but I want to use one person as a gateway for looking at Oklahoma Baptists and missions to Native Americans. Joseph Samuel Murrow is our focus for today.”
Thompson shared how Murrow, born in 1835, the same year that President Andrew Jackson removed all southeastern tribes to Okla., served as a missionary to Native Americans from 21 years of age until the time of his death in 1929.
Murrow initially contacted the Creek Nation, but he also worked with Osages, Comanches, Wichitas and Seminoles throughout his career. His path was a difficult one as he was often in danger from those he was trying to reach. He also struggled with illness while on the mission field, often functioning with a high fever.
During the first two years that he stayed with the Seminoles, Murrow baptized more than 200 converts. A remarkably effective leader, Murrow was known as “a man to attract attention” because he was “large in body, brain and heart.” Murrow also recognized the advantages of using native preachers, granting authority and meaningful leadership to natives on the mission field.
Murrow also founded the Murrow Indian Children’s Home, an orphanage which grew out of his desire to protect the interests of uneducated natives. Constantly demonstrating his care for natives, he was the only Southern Baptist to remain on the mission field during the Civil war.
Murrow was a loyal southerner, but he knew that the war would spill into Indian lands and Indians would be dispossessed. He believed that southerners should stand ready to defend Indian territory.
“Murrow was not a perfect man, but he was a person who we can learn from,” said Thompson, who mentioned that he is a member of the Kaw tribe.
“It is said that history is written by the victors,” he said. “History also is written by those with the tradition of doing so. For that reason, Native American history is woefully weak. There were a number of significant ministers who we know nothing about and I want to honor these folks.”
The Gaskin Lectureship is designed to honor and recognize the significant contributions of Dr. J.M. Gaskin, Oklahoma Baptists’ first Historical Director. Known as "Mr. Oklahoma Baptist History," he led in forming the Oklahoma Baptist Historical Commission in 1952 and was elected as the organization’s first historical secretary in 1953.
Gaskin also was founding president of the Oklahoma Baptist Historical Society in 1956 and has been the only editor of the Oklahoma Baptist Chronicle, which began in 1958. In 1976, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma employed Gaskin as director of history for the convention’s Historical Commission.