Monday, June 25, 2007

Letting Go of All Our Affections for This World

Very few people, even those who live in Oklahoma, appreciate the great Baptist heritage of our state. Shortly after the formation of The General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States in 1814, a thirty-year-old missionary, named Isaac McCoy, petitioned the convention for appointment by the Board to be a missionary to the Indians. Fifteen years later Isaac would plant the first Baptist church in Oklahoma.

The General Missionary Convention, later known as the Triennial Convention because it met every three years, appointed Isaac McCoy in 1816 as a missionary to the northern 'wild' Indians of Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky and Illinois. Just a few years later, in 1828, the United States government took notice of the effectiveness Isaac had in both evangelizing and educating the northern Indians and called upon McCoy to survey the uncharted territory 'west' of Arkansas for a permanent home for the 'red man.' With the Board's approval, McCoy moved to the western edge of Missouri and, with the assistance of his son John Calvin, established his base at 'Westport' Missouri for the future relocation of the Indians to 'a permanent Canaan.' While some historians view the relocation of the Indians as a 'tragic' black mark in American history, both McCoy and the Indians felt it was best to relocate to a homeland where the Indians could progress as a people without interference from the white man as was happening in the east. The United States government would later break her promise to the Indians of a 'permanent' homeland in punishment for siding with the Confederates during the Civil War, but the initial relocation of the Indians to Oklahoma has been called by even some Indian historians in Oklahoma as 'the golden age' of Indian civilization.

Isaac McCoy had no formal education, but he gained both the respect and friendship of U.S. President John Quincy Adams, and later U.S. President Andrew Jackson. The manner in which he administered the move of the eastern and northern Indians to the territory of the red man (Oklahoma Territory), is a study in classic Christian leadership and the ability to overcome any obstacle. Oklahoma is the Choctaw Indian word for 'red man' and Oklahoma Territory, as surveyed by this Baptist missionary and pastor Isaac McCoy, became the place where the United States Government would eventually move the 'Five Civilized Tribes' from Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and over sixty 'wild' Indian tribes from other states both north and east of Oklahoma Territory.

Isaac McCoy's Mission to Convert the Indians

Isaac's mission and ministry responsibilities were almost unbearable from a human perspective. Imagine traveling from north to south, east to west, both during the scorching long days of summer and the freezing short days of winter, charting the Oklahoma Territory for the United States Government, all the while ministering to the dozens of tribes with whom he had developed close relationships. McCoy had a special fondness for the 'wild' Indians (like the Ottowas, Sac and Fox, Osage, etc . . . ), but his influence was unsurpassed by any white man in the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole and Chickasaw) as well. McCoy's base of operations at Westport would eventually transform and become what we know today as Kansas City, Missouri. He single-handedly and temporarily stopped the Mormons in their migration westward. McCoy feared the Mormons' warped theology would corrupt the orthodox Christian missionary work being done in Kansas and Oklahoma Territory. The Mormons resented McCoy's authority over the soldiers who blocked their path west and called him a 'terrible sectarian,' but they eventually gave up in their attempt to pass through Western Kansas (Kansas: home of the Kanzaws or 'Kaw' Indians) and they set up shop across the river in Independence, Missouri. Only later did a break off sect of the Mormons make it to Salt Lake City -- after Isaac McCoy's death. In addition to his work at Westport and the Shawnee Mission, Isaac McCoy traveled in the 1820's and 1830's throughout Oklahoma. He made several trips on horseback to Washington D.C. and was often gone from his family for many months at a time. The first Baptist church in Oklahoma was founded just north of the modern town of Muskogee in eastern Oklahoma by Isaac McCoy on September 9, 1832. The charter members of that church, called the 'Muscogee Baptist Church, Ebenezer Station,' included a Creek Indian named John Davis (who himself was ordained the pastor of Muscogee Baptist by McCoy), a school teacher named David Lewis, and three slaves.

Isaac would devote his life to missions for the cause and glory of Christ among the Indians. I am amazed that David Brainard is better known than Isaac McCoy, but I believe, in time, that will change. Baptists, particularly Southern Baptists, shall become more familiar with the incredible missionary work of Isaac McCoy through books that are now taking advantage of the research available by reading the voluminous personal papers of McCoy, which until recently, were under lock and key at the world famous Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

A Biography on McCoy You Must Have

Dr. George Ella, a member of Emmanuel, Enid and a dear personal friend of mine, has now written the definitive biographical work on the life and ministry of Isaac McCoy. His 663 page biography, published by Particular Baptist Press in 2002, reads like a work of fiction, but it has the historical accuracy and scholarship one would expect of the uber meister scholar Dr. Ella is. As I was reading (again) Ella's 'Isaac McCoy: Apostle of the Western Trail' I could not help but draw insight for my own life from this man's example. All of us who are Southern Baptists should be interested in this great missionary because he was one of the men present in Augusta, Georgia at the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845. Luther Rice called McCoy 'the greatest missionary since Carey.'

McCoy died June 21, 1846 and was buried in Western Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Here in Oklahoma, at institutions of higher learning like Bacone College, buildings and halls are named in McCoy's honor. His influence in our state is unparalleled by any Baptist since. I would encourage anyone interested in studying the life and ministry of a great Southern Baptist missionary to order Dr. Ella's book.

In doing research for my trip yesterday to the mission stations of McCoy in eastern Oklahoma, I came across the following letter penned by McCoy after the death of his eldest daughter, fourteen-year-old Mahale. She had died of typhus fever while serving on the field with her parents among the wild Indians. His daughter would be one of eleven children that Isaac and his wife Cristiana would lose to death. Only three of their fourteen children would survive to an old age.

McCoy wrote the following about the death of his daughter (I've updated it to modern English to make it easier to read):

We believe that Mahale's death is sanctified to our benefit. It has induced us with less reluctance to let go of the hold which our affections had upon people and things in the regions of civilized society. We have been enabled to trust all -- our children, ourselves, and all our interests -- to God.

When we thought about taking up residence with the Indians in their country, we felt great anxiety on account of Mahale; our other children were young, but she was old enough to cause us to desire that she enjoy the benefit of a good school and live in a good society. Though we did not want to keep her in the woods, it seemed impossible for us to leave her in a place where she could be comfortable and receive a good education -- we had no financial means to provide this favorable situation for her.

But our Heavenly Father, by one stroke (her death), has taught us not to feel undue anxiety for anything on earth, not even for our children . . . The day she died I wrote in my journal the words of the Psalmist: "I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread." Our children may be hurt by living with us among the Indians in their native country, but they might have become worthless had they been brought up in what others call 'good society.' The additional risk to them for living among the Indians will be more than balanced by the mercy of Him who has called us all to labour there. This confidence in God has not been disappointed: and we mention it here, for the encouragement of other missionaries who may realize painful anxieties on account of their children while resident among the heathen people."

To order Dr. Ella's book 'Isaac McCoy: Apostle of the Western Trail' contact:

Particular Baptist Press
2766 W. FR 178
Springfield, Missouri 65810

Here's praying we all are able to let go of our worldly affections like Isaac McCoy.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson


Anonymous said...

For many years my family and I lived near So Baptist missionaries in the states for their year-long R&Rs. We know that the most difficult situations are caused by wanting to do the right thing for their children. None faced the harsh reality of sacrifice like the McCoys. Pray for this area in the lives of our current missionaries.

John Daly said...

When I read biographies of great Christian men and women, I’m often ashamed at my own lukewarm, cultural, carnal, complacent Christianity. In fact, if one of our former dear brothers or sisters would happen to visit this age in which we live, I do believe they would have but one word for the state of American Christianity today…Repent. In the Roman world when one was told to pick up their cross, it was because they were about to die. When I pick up my cross, am I dying to the deeds of the flesh? Sadly and all too often, no. These accounts do inspire however and it is very encouraging to see people putting boots to their theology. Know what you believe and then go do it. The resolve of men like McCoy, Watts, and Wilberforce is just jaw dropping compared to the resolve that many have today. Lord, give us the grace to stand for the Cross.

John in STL

Rev. said...

Isaac McCoy was an incredible man of God. A few years ago, when learning more about him, I was struck by his children facing difficulty and harm. Do you remember the line from his little girl, "Daddy, that man hurt me!"? That tore out my heart.

Thanks for plugging this book. A definite must read!

davidinflorida said...

Pastor Wade,

One verse that I believe Isaac did not have to be concerned with is ...1 John 2:28 And now, little children, abide in Him that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.

After reading this post, I`m ashamed...

Anonymous said...

Some years back I asked an in-law about raising her 2 small children in one of the most dangerous places on the planet. The kids were 3 and 1 years old.

This awesome woman of God (an SBC missisonary) replied "These children are God's. He created them and he gave them to me to raise. If my children get killed here, I will be overwhelmed, probably curl up in a corner and cry for months. However, ultimately, I will recognize that He is the Creator of all and I will see them again."

I felt like dirt at that moment.

This woman is the example of SBC missions to me.

GeneMBridges said...

Those whacky Particular Baptists...always doing evangelism! Didn't they know better, Calvinism kills evangelism.


Anonymous said...

Heroes of Christ like these shrink our worldly cares to nothingness.

Steve Austin

R. L. Vaughn said...

Thanks for the recommendation of Ella's book on Isaac McCoy. Several months back, I read the autobiography of Elder Wilson Thompson. Thompson traversed through Kentucky, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, etc. preaching the gospel in roughly the same time frame as McCoy. His encounter with McCoy's Indian mission on Raccoon Creek (circa 1816) was Thompson's first encounter with the "modern missionary enterprise". McCoy invited Thompson to join him in his mission. Thompson eventually decided against the "Baptist Board of Foreign Missions" and the "modern missionary enterprise", and is identified today as a "Primitive Baptist". I wrote all that to say this: One thing that caught my eye while reading Thompson's autobiography, written several years after McCoy's death, was that Thompson obviously had a deep respect for Isaac McCoy the preacher, despite their differences.

As to letting go of our affections for this world, it seems that often we do not begin to let go until God has pulled many of them from our grasping hands.

WTJeff said...


You seem to be a fan of biographies. I know we can learn much from what God did in the lives of past saints. If you had to recommend five biographies for God's people to read, what would they be?


Jeff Parsons

truth, not religion said...

I was raised in western Oklahoma where 3-4 counties were considered a reservation for the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes.

Later in life I had the privilege of teaching Vo-Tech for the Creek Nation in eastern Oklahoma just south of Muskogee. I am very familiar with the tracks that Brother Mc Coy left behind. One of my dear friends is the Indian Pastor of the Eastside Baptist Church outside of Eufaula, Oklahoma. This church has been there for 150 or so years. It is an Indian church planted by a missionary, although I don’t remember if it was McCoy or not.

I love the fact that Brother McCoy had little education and a great heart for the Lord.

There is another such story about a man in the Ozarks. It is called “The Walking Preacher of the Ozarks”.

I cannot find any copies of it and mine got away, If anyone has a copy I would appreciate the chance to read this work again.


Bob Cleveland said...


I think it was Oswald Chambers who referred to this as "abandonment" .. to abandon all your earthly natural desires, in favor of those thing God desires for us. Rod Parsley said, last week, that we can't have our own life, and have Jesus', too.

Gene: In 32 years in Birmingham, every single time someone has asked me THAT question (If you were to die tonight ... etc), it's been someone from a PCA church. Never once an SBC. When I was in the PCA, they sure were Calvninists. Somebody needs to tell them....... said...


I would recommend biographies on

Isaac McCoy
Charles Spurgeon
Albert Einstein
John Gill
Oliver Cromwell
Abraham Lincoln

The classic biographies of these men are easily identifiable at any major book store except for Gill -- I would highly recommend Dr. George Ella's biography of Gill.

The same Ella who wrote McCoy's biography.

Jim Shaver said...


You had promised more info on Dr. Ella after I noticed his name on your church's web site and inquired about him last year.

Can you tell us more about his life?


Jim Shaver said...


I shall later. He is an incredible man, and his life is worthy of a biography in itself.


R. L. Vaughn said...

While looking around on the WWW, I found this page of letters to the editor, evidently all written by George Ella. There is one about Isaac McCoy that is interesting.