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The Free Church in the Andes

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Buy one copy of The Free Church in the Andes and we will include – completely free! – one copy of John MacPherson’s epic story of the Free Church school in Lima – Colegio San Andrés!


(Special offer only valid for as long as stocks last)

2021 marks the centenary of the missionary effort in the Peruvian Andes by the Free Church of Scotland.  This remarkable book draws on a wide range of sources – and personal memories – to tell , for the first time ever, the story of that effort.  It documents the extraordinary difficulties that confronted the early missionaries, who travelled into the mountains by mule-back on paths and tracks cut into solid rock in the times of the Incas.  It documents too the problems that the men and women of the Free Church faced in the forms of the ever-present danger of earthquakes, and the ever-present reality of poverty and disease in the northern mountains of Peru.  And yet these doctors, nurses, ministers and teachers – over a century of selfless effort – made a significant contribution to the material and spirtual welfare of the people among whom they worked, in the form of churches, schools and hospitals.  The Free Church in the Andes is extremely well-researched and well-written.  It will be of interest to all students of missionary history, and of Scottish history more generally.

“My wife and I spent 22 years in Peru in the coastal capital, Lima. Out of term times I travelled widely in the sierra and to a lesser degree in the jungle regions. I know nearly all the places mentioned in “The Free Church in the Andes” and I also knew or know all the contributors. At the request of the International Missions Board of the Free Church, I also wrote a book about Colegio San Andres in Lima, founded over 100 years ago by a Free Church missionary. However, with all these advantages, I could never have written such a competent, comprehensive and eminently readable book as Iain Fraser Grigor has put together in this volume. Particularly striking are the chapters by the pioneer missionaries who braved many hardships and overcame many obstacles in fulfilment of their Christian calling to love God and love their neighbour, especially their under-privileged neighbours. In spite of the lack of most of the original correspondence, the author has also drawn up a remarkable bibliography, which will of great usefulness to future researchers. This book deserves to be read not only by all Free Church of Scotland members, but also by all interested in the Scottish contribution to Latin American history and to the remarkable growth of Latin American churches throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.”

– Rev. John MacPherson, former acting principal of the Lima Evangelical Seminary, and former headmaster of Colegio San Andrés, Lima.

“Surprises come in many shapes and forms. This one came in a brown paper envelope on Friday, and I thought it was probably a volume that I had ordered from Amazon months ago. As it happens, it does mention the Amazon a few times!

I was astonished to see the title and the name of the author. I knew Iain Fraser Grigor decades ago, when we were both trying to learn something about crofting history in the nineteenth century. I was unaware that Fraser had an interest in the Free Church or its history.

So this was all the more of a surprise. In fact, the book is the result of a surprise for Fraser too, for when he tried to find out more about the work of his aunt Netta Fraser as part of the Free Church mission to Peru, he discovered that there were only articles in the FC Record. He realised that the story had to be told; so he set to work in 2019, gathered all he could find in the Mitchell Library, tyed it up … and here in 2020, regardless of pandemic, is the result! Good going, Fraser!

Although I myself have no formal connection with the Free Church, I met, or knew of, several ministers who had been part of its mission in Peru, among them the Revs. Fergus MacDonald, Charlie Douglas, and John MacPherson (brother of Roy, formerly Headmaster of Tiree High School), who had been head of Colegio San Andrés in Lima for some years. I also knew Dr. Neil A. R. Mackay. I had friends too who worked in Peru, among them Dr. Bill Mitchell, an expert on Quechua language, and other missionaries with the Evangelical Union of South America – all very impressive people. Astonishing and exemplary people indeed, and I am delighted that their story has been written. The book gives very just credit to Gaels like the Revs. Murdo Nicolson (Raasay) and James MacIntosh (Glenurquhart) who were outstanding preachers in English, Gaelic – and Spanish! Inspirational!

I thought I would take a quick skim through the book on Friday, just to skim its contents. Now I am hooked on a great story. Fraser provides a sparkling introductory overview, and currently I am reading the first account in the volume by the Rev. John Alexander Mackay, who tells of his exploratory visit in 1915 which led to the establishment of the Peru mission. The book takes us through to the present day, with reports and interviews, the last being the Rev. Charlie Douglas (who sold me many a volume in that fine bookshop on the Mound in the late 1980s).

This book is for all who have a missionary interest. At £12.99, it is a bargain. It is beautifully produced, with some fine photographs, a map, and plenty of directions for future exploration. I hope all who read this will buy a copy, and enjoy it as much as I am enjoying it now!”

– Professor Emeritus Donald Meek

“To human understanding it was an inauspicious time for the Free Church of Scotland to commence mission work in the Andes.  Union with another church had reduced the Free Church of Scotland to a splinter of its former self.  International relations were increasingly troubled in the first years of the twentieth century – troubles which would lead eventually to the war that was supposed to end all wars.  This Great War had actually  started by the time that the South American venture became a reality – a venture which would lead in time to the formation of Christian congregations throughout the Andes.

Iain Fraser Grigor has elegantly and brilliantly knitted together what are largely the writings of others to provide a connected story of developments never before described in the form of a book.  His connection with this work is through an aunt who served first as a nurse in the Moyobamba Hospital and later in the medical work of the Evangelical Union of South America in the southern mountains of Peru.   The Free Church in the Andes is a worthy tribute to those who have proclaimed the Word of God amid mountains and jungles, who have served the people pastorally and with medical services, and provided encouragement to the Peruvians who now bring these services to their own people.  The author’s initiative and effort have been vital to this record.”

– Rev. Willie Mackay, former headmaster for 12 years of Colegio San Andrés, Lima

“In December 1992, the Assynt Crofters secured ownership of the 21,000 acres where their people had lived for generations.  Unbeknown to them, they had just launched the modern community land movement.  A public meeting was called that night in Stoer Primary, to mark the successful buy-out.  Campaign leaders entered to great applause.  One was carrying a book which he said had inspired them.  It was MIghtier than a Lord by Iain Fraser Grigor.  An important book, it contributed significantly to public understanding of the debate over Highland land.  Its author was not a typical academic historian.  Fraser Grigor was as much at home on a fishing boat working in the Minch as he was trawling through records in the National Library.  Raised on a croft in Morar, he had studied economics and history and Strathclyde and Glasgow universities and trained as a teacher.

He was also a journalist, writing and reporting for many Scottish newspapers and the BBC.  He is possessed of an original and indefatigably enquiring mind.  He has just published his latest work on a subject which may surprise.  He edited and introduces The Free Church in the Andes.  It tells the little-known story of missionaries from the Free Church of Scotland who went to Peru last century.  One of them was his aunt Rebecca (Netta), his mother’s sister.  They were from the old Clan Fraser country in the Braes above Beauly.  It was a Free Church home.  “…there were but four books – a Gaelic Bible, an English Bible, a volume of Spurgeon’s sermons, and a copy of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress”.  She had trained as a nurse and a midwife.  In 1946, aged 30, she headed for Peru to the Free Church mission hospital in Moyobamba.  She did not fit the popular image of a missionary.  At one point she kept a puma as a pet, taking it for walks on a chain.  It didn’t like the local dogs.  Her son later recalled, “If one came within reach, the puma would kill it instantly with a casual side-swipe of a paw.  After a few such incidents, my mother decided that the time had come for her pet to be re-homed”.

She had married another missionary, Dr. David Milnes, and moved to a mission in southern Peru, where his fluency in Quechua (indigenous language-family of the Inca Empire) could be put to good use.  These men and women who had gone out to Peru because of their faith, helped address the profound public health and educational challenges in the remote mountain communities.  You do not have to be a believer to admire their sheer determination.  They faced a physical geography that could require weeks of travel, sometimes by horse or mule, on occasion ascending to 13,000 feet.  Some lived with little sanitation.  They suffered illness.  Netta herself had suspected pneumonia while her husband was away.

There were many other missionaries.  Those from the Free Church were most commonly from Gaelic Scotland.  After 1900, when it lost most of its people to the new United Free Church, nine of its 11 presbyteries were in the Highland and Islands.  Meanwhile, Glasgow actually included Inverary and Arran, where many still spoke Gaelic.  Missionary work was not new to Scotland’s Presbyterians.  The Church of Scotland was in Africa, India and throughout the British Empire.  But there had been other empires which had called, as the book underlines.  “In August 1909, there is a prophetic editorial in the (Free Church) Monthly Record referring to Peru and suggesting, inter alia, that the native people of the Peruvian Andes ‘had been better off under the Inca than the Spanish’ “.The Monthly Record was the main source for this compelling book.  Its contemporary reports “snatch from the jaws of oblivion” these Highland voices in the Andes.  We are the better off for hearing them.”

– David Ross, author of the book Highland Herald, writing in the Press and Journal.

Cha robh fhiosam de a chanain nuair a nochd Iain Friseal Griogar anns an oifis agam ann an Dùn Èideann sa Mhàirt seo chaidh agus e air bhoil mu’n leabhar ùr anns an robh e a sàs. Chan e gu robh e a sgrìobhadh leabhar ùr a bha na annas – se ùghdar a th’ann – ach cuspair an leabhair: The Free Church in the Andes. Bha mise air eòlas a chuir air Friseal nuair a bha mi fhèin ’se fhèin ag obair air prògraman leithid Cearcall agus Prosbaig aig a BhBC anns na ochdadan agus cha robh càil mu dheidhinn an uairsin a bha ag ìnnseadh dhomh gu robh ùidh sam bith aige anns an Eaglais Shaor neo ann an eaglais sam bith eile. Agus s dòcha nach robh aig an àm ach, mar an robh, bha ceangal-teaghlaich aige ris an eachdraidh air am bheil an leabhar tarraingeach seo a toirt iomradh oir bu Rebecca (“Netta”) Fhriseal, te dhe na boireannaich – agus bha na h-uidhir dhiubh ann – a chaidh a-mach on Eaglais Shaor gu ruige Peru sa chiad leth dhe’n fhicheadamh lìnn, piuthar-a-mhàthar. Ach ged a bha an ceangal sin ann on a latha a rugadh Friseal, sann dìreach an uiridh a thainig ùidh sa chuspair beò an deidh dha fhèin agus co-ogha dha a North 500 a criochnachadh anns a Mhanachainn far an robh dachaidh nam Frisealach. Bha an dithis aca mothachail nach robh mòran eòlais aca air de a chuir leithid Netta gu ruige Peru agus, mar is dual dha, mhionnaich Friseal ann an làrach nam bonn gu lorgadh e a h-uile dad riamh a chaidh a sgriobhadh mu dheidhinn obair na h-Eaglais anns an dùthaich sin. A-steach leis dhan a Mhitchell Library far an do thòisich e a leughadh tro leth-cheud bliadhna de dh’iris na h-Eaglais, am Monthly Record, agus a sgrìobhadh fhads a bha e a dol air adhart. Mar is motha a leùgh e, sann is motha a bha e air a bheò-ghlacadh leis an sgeul agus seo, ann am beagan mhìosan, torradh a chuid saothair.

A bharrachd air toiseach is deireadh an leabhair, chan ann na bhriathran fhèin a tha a sgeul air h-ìnnseadh ach ann am briathran na feadhainn a bha thall ’sa chunnaic – na ministirean, missionaraidhean, dotairean, banaltraman agus tidsearan a fhreagair an gairm an Soisgeul, foghlam, cùram-slainte agus mòran eile a thoirt gu muinntir cheann-a-tuath Pheru, na h-Ìnnseanaich bha a fuireach anns an Sierra, agus a chuir cunntasan air mar a bha a dol dhan obair dhachaidh, gu h-àraidh gu Àrd Sheanadh gach bliadhna. Sann o na cunntasan sin a tha an leabhar, gu ìre mhòr, air a tharraing. Tha an sgrìobhadh beò agus tarraingeach, fiu’s èibhinn aig amanan, agus air a chomharachadh bho thùs gu èis le spèis agus urram dhan a mhuinntir dhan an robh iad a frithealadh a measg, bochdain, tinneas agus iomadh gàbhadh.

Fhuair mise mo thogail anns an Eaglais Shaor agus tha cuimhn’ agam air mòran dhe na h-ainmean – ainmean dhaoine agus àitichean – a tha a nochdadh anns an leabhar. Ach ged nach biodh ceangal agad ris an ealglais sin neo ri eaglais sam bith eile se leabhar a tha seo is fhiach a leughadh oir tha mu dheidhinn na gniomharan iogantach is urrainn do dhaoine a dheanamh tro chreideamh. Thubhairt Crìosd fhèin gun gluaiseadh creideamh beanntan. Cha do ghluais creideamh na missionaraidhean seo na Andes ach thug e buaidh orra a dhaindeoin sin. Ann a sgrìobhadh an leabhair tha an t-ùghdar air ceartas a dheanamh do chuimne na fir is mnathan (cuid dhiubh nach robh ach nan clann-nighean), a chuir an aghaidh air na cunnartan sin agus a thug buaidh, Netta Fhriseal nam measg.

 – Roddy John MacLeod, Lord Minginish, Scottish Land Court.

This book gives a fascinating insight into aspects of Free Church missionary endeavour in the Peruvian Andes in the 20th century.  It is a story of arduous journeys to incredibly remote places at high altitude, medical missions and church planting against hostility from Roman Catholic clergy, and of some remarkable characters who deserve not to be forgotten by history, and especially not by the Free Church.

The book opens with an introductory chapter by the editor giving an overview of the missionary effort in the Free Church from its founding in 1843 to the establishment of mission work in the Andes in the 1920s, and on to the present day with the prospect of celebrating the centenary of that work in 2021.  As one who was not brought up in the Free Church I found this to be an excellent opening to the subject.

It not only introduced key characters and places, but also highlighted issues that faced the Free Church of how to establish church structures and allow the Peruvian church to become truly independent. Names such as Annie Soper, J. Calvin Mackay and Dr. Harold Lindsay, and places such as Cajamarca, Celendin and Moyobamba may be well-known to older church members. However, they are new to me, and probably also to the younger generation coming through the Church.

Due to a lack of resources for a traditional history, each of the subsequent chapters is an extract from a missionary journal, a visitors’ report, or personal reminiscences from more recent missionaries of the ’70s and ’80s. All of the writers are engaging and succeed in painting vivid pictures of the cultural setting and the challenges of missionary living in the Andes. I will highlight two contributions as illustrative of the whole: first, the account of Dr. Kenneth Mackay’s trip from Glasgow to Moyobamba in 1926 via train, steamship, coastal steamer, train, horse, mule and foot.

It was an epic journey and demonstrated the commitment required to take the gospel to a new field in those days. Secondly, Ronnie Christie’s account of his time in the 1970s where he shows the progress of the work including conventions, camps and a bookshop in Cajamarca. Travel could still be extremely difficult, culminating in a 35 mile walk to find a helicopter to rescue two people seriously injured following a major earthquake.

The book left me with many unanswered questions and wanting to know more. Who were the first converts and the first congregation? Why were Peruvian pastors not allowed to administer the sacraments in the late ’60s and early ’70s? (Could they really be considered pastors in those circumstances?) Iain Fraser Grigor suggests in his afterword that a lot of the gaps in knowledge could be filled in with further research, perhaps for a doctoral thesis.

I, for one, would support such research being carried out at the ETS Centre for Mission. The work in Peru was a major achievement for a small denomination and we would do well to remember, teach and celebrate it … Perhaps it is time that we meditated upon our past in order to get a larger vision for the future. This book is a useful starting point and well worth a read.

Extracted from ‘The Record’, reviewed by Duncan MacPherson of North Harris Free Church

The Free Church in the Andes is a fascinating book that will be of great interest to many older readers, whether or not they have an association with the Free Church. Its story will also resonate with a wider readership in the West Highlands and Islands.

The author’s own familial connection to the Free Church Mission provided the impetus for this volume which fills an historical void. Fraser Grigor could find no academic work on the Free Church South American Mission where the pioneering proselytisers were Highland theologians, nurses and doctors, each from humble crofting and Gàidhlig backgrounds.

Fraser Grigor’s auntie, Rebecca (Netta) Fraser grew up in a Free Church home on the Braes above Beauly where “there were but four books – a Gaelic Bible, an English Bible, a volume of Spurgeon’s sermons and a copy of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress”. Netta trained as a nurse and midwife in Aberdeen and left for Peru just as the Second World War drew to a close.

She travelled to Peru on an Avro York civil airliner from London, via Paris, Madrid and Dakar, landing on the South American continent at Natal on the coast of Brazil. From there a series of small aircraft took her to a destination deep in the North Eastern Andean Cordillera. Her journey marked an auspicious beginning to her life in a new country and the calling, both medical and evangelical, to which she was drawn.

How different Nettta’s journey was to the weeks at sea and gruelling treks on mule-back across deep ravines and precarious mountain passes undertaken by earlier pioneering missionaries. Fraser Grigor has given voice to those personal accounts to brilliant effect, elevating what might have been a book of niche interest to Free Church adherents into a story laced with history, adventure and examples of indomitable human spirit.

While the concept of evangelical overseas mission is rightly questioned in contemporary society, it was a cornerstone of the early church. Converting others, regardless of their own primordial belief systems, to Christianity was a core evangelical calling, common among – but by no means restricted to – all the major Christian denominations.

The Free Church in the Andes reminds us that the early history of overseas Christian mission had been littered with dubious practice  towards the first nation peoples of South America, from the northern reaches of Peru to the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego, resulting in the extinction of indigenous cultures and beliefs.

Fraser Grigor separates these wider questions around evangelicism from respect for the devotion, courage and great humanity which form his basic story.  The Highlanders and islanders went to South America with high motives and did a great deal of good in exceptionally difficult circumstances at a time when the ethical issues involved barely impinged on general consciousness. It is also worth noting that their work had the approval of the Peruvian authorities who appointed Dr Kenneth MacKay, a missionary from Alness, as Medical Officer of Health for the entire north-eastern mountain region.

The noble calling of pioneering missionaries was to spread the word of God and to provide education, medical aid and succour to the poor.  What remains remarkable so far as the early Free Church is concerned is the extent of its ambition. This numerically small, relatively poor, largely Highland and Gàidhlig church became a major player in a crowded and resource-strong field.

Because of its traumatic origins, the Free Church had extraordinary energy and a surplus of ‘spiritual capital’. It had emerged from the Disruption in 1843 with no property, stipends or land to call its own. Four years later, writes Fraser Grigor, there were “700 churches (along with 650 schools) and its overseas mission work was the largest of any Protestant church in the world – in India, the Orient and the Near East (but not yet in South America)”.

Ongoing schisms in the domestic church soon intervened. In 1893 it was dislocated, but only slightly, with the formation of the Free Presbyterian Church. Then in 1900 it was almost catastrophically damaged when much of its membership abandoned it for the United Free Church. All of the original Free Church missionaries joined the United Free (which later merged with the Church of Scotland). The remaining rump was overwhelmingly Highland and Gaelic in character.

It quickly revived its overseas mission obligation. Over the first decade of the 20th century, missionaries were sent to India and South Africa. The Keswick Convention established the Evangelical Union of South America and apportioned a huge chunk of north eastern Peru to the Free Church of Scotland. As Fraser Grigor notes:  “In the Free Church Monthly Record for August 1914 – as the lamps were indeed going out all over Europe- there was a five-column editorial on mission work in South America, where there were ‘six million Indians to be baptised’.”

Over the years, there was a strong Lewis presence among the nurses working in the Peruvian field. Another outstanding figure was Neil A.R MacKay, a teacher at the Free Church School in Lima, “a Gaelic-speaking polymath from Breasclete who for time held the chair of English Literature at the University of San Marcos”.

The book provides marvellous stories of men and women of resolute and robust faith who navigated their ways across continents to educate and heal the poorest people in the most rudimentary conditions and to impress upon them the teachings of Jesus Christ. It is a story of its times and what shines through is the courage and commitment of those who journeyed to the further corners of a distant land.

Joni Buchanan, Stornoway Gazette

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