From The February, 1823 Issue of The Wesleyan Methodist Magazine
Extract of a letter from the Rev. J. Raby, to the Rev. Dr. Clarke, dated Midzett, Shetland Isles, Dec. 10th, 1822.
"Soon after our arrival in Shetland, I wrote to you at considerable length, and gave you a detailed account of our voyage, the reception we experienced, and the prospects of usefulness which appeared to open before us: that letter I sent by the Coldstream, (the vessel in which we came,) when she returned to Leith; but as there is great reason to conclude that site was lost on her passage up, and that all on board, consisting of eight passengers and crew, found in the deep one common grave, this melancholy circumstance will inform you why you have not heard from us before now.
"On the 29th of October, we went on board the packet which regularly sails between Leith and Shetland. To describe the feelings which were excited in my mind is impossible: the magnitude of the work before me, the difficulty connected with a faithful discharge of my duty, and the strangeness of the place and the people where, and among whom, I am appointed to labor, were considerations that almost overwhelmed me; yet, to the Most High I was determined to look for direction, support, consolation, and success. To our numerous friends in Edinburgh, we feel ourselves under great obligations for their kindness and attention, especially to George Simpson, Esq. This gentleman not only introduced us to several of his friends, but procured for us letters of introduction to several respectable families in Shetland. Our voyage we accomplished in about seventy hours, the wind being fair, and the weather fine. The lateness of the hour when we cast anchor, induced us to remain on board all night. The next morning we hastened on shore, and as we had letters of introduction to different respectable individuals, we found no difficulty in stating our motives, object, and design; and, without one single exception, they signified their approbation, and wished us success in the great work in which we are engaged. The Rev. Mr. Reed, the independent minister, whose chapel is large and commodious, kindly lent us the use of it. In it we several times preached to large and attentive congregations, and hope that our labor was not in vain. Lerwick is the capital of Mainland, and, in fact, it is the only town of note in Shetland. It consists of about 400 houses, and about 2,000 inhabitants: in it are one church and a dissenting chapel; both are pretty well attended.
"About a week after our arrival in Lerwick, an opportunity offered for my visiting what the termed the North Islands. Of this I was anxious to avail myself; and found the people in general desirous to be instructed in the things which belong to their peace, and to hear the word of eternal life. They hailed with joy the prospect of our settling amongst them, and of our preaching unto them the unsearchable riches of Christ. The particulars of this journey I shall introduce in a few extracts from my journal, which will lead you to infer that here a great, and, I hope, an effectual door is opened for doing good; but I am not aware that there are any adversaries.
Sept. 10. -- I this morning sailed from Lerwick, on a visit to the North Isles, which he from thirty to forty miles north of Lerwick, and in the evening reached the island of Midzell. Having a letter of introduction to a gentleman, upon whom I called, and by whom I was received in the most friendly manner, to him I explained the object of my visit, and the motives which led to the appointment of myself and colleague to this part of the world. With these he was perfectly satisfied; and allowed that there was great necessity for additional exertion in a cause so noble and important, and hoped that success would he the reward of our labor. This is an island of considerable extent, and contains a population of upwards of 2,000 soul's. With the exception of what is called North Zell, it forms but one parish; on it is only one church, in which service is generally performed once every Lord's day. The people, in point of religious instruction are certainly in the most deplorable state; of this they are fully aware, and earnestly requested me to take up my residence among them."
"11th. -- We this morning proceeded from Midaell to the island of Unst, which is also large and populous. The people here enjoy greater religious privileges than those in Zell. They have an opportunity of hearing the gospel in the Kirk once a week and their present worthy minister feels interested in their eternal welfare, and strives to promote it. But what is one church for an island upwards of eleven miles long, and one minister to a population of 2,500 people?"
"13th. -- (Lord's day morning;) I walked over to Harroldswick; and from thence, in company with a friend, to is place called Skaw. This is the most northerly part of Shetland. I preached in one of the cottages, which is of singular construction and form, to a considerable congregation; and perhaps it is nearly a century since a sermon was preached here before. They were all attention, whilst I exhorted them to open the door to the voice of the Son of God. In the evening I had at Harroldswick a more numerous assembly, and felt inconsiderable freedom of speech, and enlargement of heart, whilst urging them to become the disciples of Christ. As I continued on this island several days, I had frequent opportunity of preaching to the people, and of visiting them from house to house. Most or all of them, are able to read, and pretty well supplied with Bibles; they are shrewd, inquisitive, and hospitable; and for the tracts I gave them they professed great gratitude, and invited me to repeat my visits soon and as often as circumstances would allow. On my way down to Lerwick, I spent a sabbath on the Island of Midzell, and was again affected with the destitute situation of the people. They are like sheep who have no shepherd, and with propriety it may almost be said that no man has cared for their soul. The request, or rather petition, which they urged with a great deal of feeling and fervor, was, that one of us at least would come to reside among them. I preached in the house of a lady; the parlor, kitchen, passage, and stairs, were crowded. The deepest attention sat on every face, whilst I informed them of a certain man who made a great supper, and invited many. The next morning I had an interview with J. R., Esq., who resides in another part of the island, and so deeply does he feel for the people, that he offered to open his house for the preaching of the gospel. All these things are encouraging; and I hope the expectation they have excited in our minds, will, in some measure, and to a considerable extent, be realized."
On my return to Lerwick I found my excellent friend, Mr. Dunn, well. After much deliberation and prayer, it was agreed that I should go and reside at Midsell, and he for the present remain in Lerwick, but visit, as his health and the weather will admit, the principal places on Mainland, where there is a prospect of doing good. This plan has since been brought into operation, and on this island I have three places at which I preach on the Sabbath alternately, and four during the week. I have also four other places on the Island of Unst; to which I occasionally go; but the weather has been so unfavorable, the days so short, and the sea so rough, as to render it difficult and often dangerous to cross the sounds which separate the different islands. I believe the leading desire of our hearts, and the grand object of our pursuit, is, to promote the glory of God, and the happiness of our fellowmen. This work is difficult and important; we require your advice and your prayers."
"Our worthy Brother, John Nicholson, appears to possess genuine piety, considerable zeal, and some ability for preaching; and, in the places where he has chiefly labored, has been made useful. He is likely to be a valuable auxiliary. To us in the part of the country where he resides; for what can one man do on an island like Mainland, which is sixty miles long, and from sixteen to twenty broad, and in which there is not, with the exception of five miles, the appearance of any made road?"
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