Stephen Riggs was born in Steubenville, Ohio. After graduating from Jefferson College, he attended Western Theological Seminary. In 1837, Stephen Riggs married Mary Ann Longley. They were commissioned that same year as missionaries to the Dakotas from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. They worked in several different villages of the Dakotas, establishing churches and teaching them the Bible.
Riggs also became very fluent in the language and culture of the Dakota. He translated the Old and New Testament in the language of the Dakota, as well as Pilgrim’s Progress. He also wrote two books: Gospel Among the Dakotas and Mary and I (about his life as a missionary.)
For Riggs, the Bible was the most important part of his work. While many of the other missionaries to the Native Americans ran themselves crazy trying to “civilize” the tribes and make them act like the white man, Riggs simply taught them what the Bible said and gave them a love for God’s word. He once wrote:
Thus it will appear that we have placed and kept the Bible in the fore front of our work. It has been evangelization first, and civilization following along with it. This, it seems to us, is the true order. The civilization and the grand unification of the world is to be accomplished through faith in Christ. Hence it is written: ‘For it pleased God that in Him should all fullness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things to Himself. That uncivilized heathen nations should first be civilized, and then Christianized, is a sentiment of the past. Now it is coming more and more to be acknowledged, that the Bible is the great civilizer of the nations and that is what should be taught!
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