Labrador History - 2.2 SUNDAY-SCHOOL


Mary Taylor2.2 SUNDAY-SCHOOL
In October the Maraval, the Grenfell medical boat that was equipped with a little clinic room and X-ray facilities, visited us. On board were Dr. Gordon Thomas, the medical officer in charge of the Grenfell Mission, and Rev. Peter Macaskill, the United Church minister from St. Anthony. A married man with a family, Peter originated from Montreal but worked this lonely coast as his parish. The medical team on this little boat travelled the coast of Labrador and Newfoundland, taking chest X-rays, doing routine checks for tuberculosis and other ailments, seeing patients, doing dental extractions and generally helping all they could. Peter came along to visit his parishioners and helped with X-rays.
Nurses in each settlement made lists of patients who needed to be seen by the doctor and these, together with others who wanted attention, headed out in small motor boats as the Maraval sailed into the harbour. Sometimes, if I were not expecting any deliveries, I would go along on the Maraval to help.
It was always a treat to have visitors at the nursing station, especially the doctor, as I had so many problems to discuss. It was on this visit that Dr. Thomas asked if I had started a Sunday School yet. I told him I had been thinking and praying about it, and would like to do so, although I did not have very much experience.
From time to time, in the old nursing station building (the former “Dennison Cottage”) I had gathered children together on a Friday evening to teach them gospel choruses and read Bible stories to them. We called this our Bible Club and the children seemed to enjoy it. The two men encouraged me to start a Sunday School and Rev. Macaskill told me to use the United Church building, which was conveniently located next door to the nursing station.

Sheila Rawlings and I with Leslie's dog. Outside the old Nursing Home at Forteau, 1953.

Sheila Rawlings and I with Leslie's dog. Outside the old Nursing Home at Forteau, 1953. 


In the meantime I had made friends with Sheila Rawlings, a nurse from Flower’s Cove, a settlement on the northern coast of Newfoundland across the Strait of Belle Isle. One of two nurses at Flower’s Cove, she came to the “coast” a month before I did, and from time to time we would have friendly chats to encourage each other and exchange news. Shortly after the visit of the Maraval I was talking to Sheila and she asked how I was enjoying the work.
I replied that it was all right, but a bit lonely at times.
“0 yes! But if you have the Lord, He makes all the difference, doesn’t He?” Her reply convicted me.
I had indeed found this to be true. In isolation, fellowship with my Lord in prayer and Bible reading had become much more meaningful and increasingly precious. I was so delighted to find a kindred spirit nearby that I invited her to come and spend a weekend with me, which she did a few weeks later. By this time arrangements had been made to start Sunday School, so she was able to help, which was nice for me.
We began Sunday School and that first Sunday there were several children present, both from Forteau itself and from neighbouring settlements, such as English Point and Buckle’s Point, the latter a small settlement of a few houses at the mouth of the Forteau River. The service was interrupted abruptly when someone came to the door and asked one of the nurses to come quickly to the nurs4ng station. On the way to Sunday School a boy had thrown a stone at another child causing a cut that needed suturing. The next week we mentioned that this was NOT the way to treat fellow students! I could see there was plenty of teaching needed here.
We ran Sunday School with about 70-100 children and sang choruses, learned Bible verses and held a lesson. Later, as it developed I used a flannel graph and taught the main lesson and other teachers heard the children s verses and had a question time. The children loved to sing the choruses we taught them At recess time in the regular school next door children frequently used a swing behind the nursing station and often I heard them singing I am H A-P-P-Y and I will make you fishers of men another favourite We enjoyed hearing their peals of laughter and hearty singing as they played The minister from Red Bay suggested I needed more help so some young people, including Bertha (my nurse s aide ) Hattie (who worked in the laundry) and one of the school teachers came and we started having classes. None of them had taught Sunday School before, so I had a preparation class once a week and thus began what was later to become an adult Bible class. We went over the for the following week together and discussed it -  these were very profitable times for all of us.
This adult Bible class of five or six continued during the winter. At first we just studied the Sunday School lesson for the week, but later we went on to consider the basics of the Christian faith, using as a study book, “Basic Christianity” by John Stott, which Peter sent us. We had many interesting discussions.
One of our early studies was on Psalm 139, a favourite of mine, which speaks of God being everywhere and of our not being able to get away from Him. In later years a young man, who attended those studies, frequently quoted from that Psalm when speaking in public. The words had made quite an impression on him, although he may have been unaware of this at the time. How important it is to hide God’s word in our hearts while we are young!
Another study that we did at that time was the conversion of the Philippian jailer in Acts chapter 16. Interestingly, the local social worker had recently shown a film on this very topic. One young man was impressed by the story.
“What must I do to be saved?” asked the jailer.
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,” was Paul’s reply.
“That sounds easy enough!” the young man in our study group commented. He did not, however, come into that truth experimentally for a couple of years.
While Sheila was staying with me we did an “operation” together, giving us memories that lasted for a while. A fisherman had been admitted with a large, deep abscess on the back of his neck and something had to be done. I got on the RIT to St. Anthony and called the doctor for advice.
“Dr. Thomas,” I said, “I have a man here with a large abscess on the back of his neck.” I expected him to tell me to send him over to the main hospital in St. Anthony.
“Well, go ahead and open it,” he replied briskly, taking me by surprise.
“How do I do that?” I asked.
“Just stick a scalpel in, and drain it,” he replied. “Afterwards put in some gauze packing to help the abscess drain.”
He made it sound easy, and never mentioned the hospital.
Opening an abscess was a “first” for both Sheita and me, so we went at it cautiously. We prepared the patient for surgery then, as Sheila poured ether on a mask to put our patient to sleep, I scrubbed up and got my instruments ready.
“Is he out yet?” I asked Sheila.
“Not quite,” she replied. A bit more ether and finally our patient was asleep.
We turned him on his side and I got ready. The task, fortunately, was not as difficult as I had anticipated. I took the scalpel in my hand and, after cleansing the skin over the abscess, plunged it in. Out poured the pus! “That was not as hard as I thought,” I said. Since that took only a few minutes and didn’t seem all that difficult, our thoughts went to the man’s teeth, which were awful.
“Maybe we should take out some of those rotten teeth while we are at it,” Sheila said, reflecting our youth, keenness and desire to maintain a winning streak.
At that point, just before we could carry out our ambitious plans for his oral hygiene, the patient recovered from his anaesthetic! This was just as well, we reflected later, because we hadn’t considered the danger of infection.
A few days later I bade Sheila farewell and she sailed back across the straits to Flower’s Cove. Later that fall I had the opportunity of crossing the straits by motor boat to spend a day with her. We enjoyed our times together.
Back in Forteau life was busy, with a number of deliveries, and caring for many others who were sick. We had a number of admissions in those early months, and long hours were spent poring over medical books to get help in reaching a diagnosis. If I couldn’t come up with a diagnosis, I called the hospital in St. Anthony over the radio telephone for advice.
Beyond the normal routine activities we had several emergencies, one of which was a young L’Anse-au-Clair girl in great distress. Acute appendicitis, I figured. I had been there for a clinic, so I took the girl with us back to the nursing station by boat. This girl needed more help than I could give her in Forteau, so I passed her on to the hospital in St. Anthony, where she had surgery soon after her arrival. This experience had a profound impact on her and she decided to become a nurse, so she could help others.
On that same trip to L’Anse-au-Clair, I gave immunizations to the children at the school. The teacher called the children together and (nervously) they lined up to get their “needles”, most of them being quite scared at the very thought. As the line moved along, one little girl ran right out of the room, out of the school, and all the way home! My first year certainly was not boring!
Later as we returned to Forteau by motor boat under a full moon, we sang gospel choruses. Dorothy Tucker, who I met in Harrington Harbour on my trip down the St. Lawrence, was with me. It was a beautiful night and I was happy to have come to serve the people on the coast.