Andrew Stirrett: Full Obedience And Entire Consecration
In 1902, Andrew Stirrett called at the home of Rowland Bingham (founder of Sudan Interior Mission – SIM) to tell him that he had read a leaflet which Mr. Bingham had published, entitled, “A Plea for the Central Sudan.” Its message had gripped him until he felt that this great, untouched field must have the Gospel.
Stirrett had a successful business in Canada as a pharmacist, had completed his medical course, but was unable to take his degree because of some insufficiency in his college papers. He had, however, been so moved by the appeal of the need in Sudan that he felt he must go. He told Mr. Bingham, “If you do not think I am the man to go, I want you to sell all my property, and see that somebody else goes.”
Mr. Bingham was greatly impressed with the tremendous earnestness of this quiet, unobtrusive little man. Stirrett felt that, instead of spending the year necessary to satisfy the college entrance requirements, he would be of greater service to the work if he took a special course in tropical medicine in Britain.
“Ye Have Not Chosen Me…I Have Chosen You”
He filled out and returned SIM’s application forms. These were brought before the Mission’s Council and favorably received until it was learned that he was thirty-seven years old. The Council decided to investigate the practice of other mission boards in regard to accepting men as old as this.
In the meantime, Mr. Bingham received a brief note from Stirrett saying that he had sold his drug stores and was leaving his property, stocks and bonds to the Mission, and was on his way to Liverpool to attend the tropical medicine course. He added that he hoped to receive the Council’s decision before he had completed the three months’ course.
It was learned later that, in turning over all his material resources to the Mission, Stirrett had not kept enough for his boat fare, but had arranged to work his passage across the Atlantic on a cattle boat. In those days, a crossing on a cattle boat was a terrible experience, and must have been full of very real hardship to one whose life had been spent in comfortable circumstances.
The Council had not yet arrived at any decision. Finding that other mission boards would not consider a man of his age, they were reluctant to accept him, although the Mission’s need of a doctor was very great. They decided to pass this dilemma on to the committee that represented SIM in Liverpool.
The Liverpool committee began their investigation at once. They were appalled to learn that Stirrett had taken lodgings in the slums. They did not know that he had chosen to live among the poor of society so that every morning he might witness for his Master, with open Bible, giving his testimony and offering prayer. Late one night he was found on the street reading his Bible under a lamppost as he had given up his bed to a homeless man for the night.
At the end of three months Stirrett wrote briefly to the Toronto Mission Council saying that he had completed the course in tropical medicine and that, though it was difficult for him to understand why he had received no decision from them, he had booked passage on a ship sailing for West Africa the following week. He was headed to the SIM station on the field, and asked that the Mission’s superintendent there be notified as to whether he was accepted or rejected.
The Council decided to direct the field superintendent to take Stirrett into the Mission on probation. They found it hard to understand that a man would give a mission two stores, with four apartments above them, stocks and bonds worth thousands of dollars, and go on the mission field without being accepted. They wrote him suggesting that they administer his estate for him, and send the income on to him, fearing that later on he might regret the course he had taken and wish to leave the Mission.
How little they understood the man, or the Spirit of God in the sphere of entire consecration! In reply to their letter, Stirrett wrote that, as truly as Barnabas had been moved to sell his land and place the money at the apostles’ feet, so he felt led to put everything he had into the Mission, and to live the same life of faith as the other missionaries.
However, the Mission did not sell his property, but held it intact until he returned on his first furlough. At that time he drew up a trust deed, conveying the whole estate to the Mission. Over the following years, again and again, from his small allowance, he would send a hundred dollars toward sending out some new workers to the field.
Small, Tough and Committed
Physically, Stirrett proved to be as tough as he was small. Spiritually he was utterly committed to winning men and women to Christ. It became his unalterable practice to preach the Gospel or speak to someone each night before he retired, no matter what the circumstances. His constant visits to traders’ camps, his earnest personal witness and his acts of kindness spread his name along the caravan routes long before his first term ended.
During furlough, he completed his medical studies and returned to Nigeria a physician. During that term he made a grueling two-month exploratory trek through 12 unreached tribes…selecting sites for mission stations among each of them.
That was his passion – taking the Gospel to people who did not know it. Nothing else mattered. “What a glorious privilege to go into one of these tribes” he wrote, “and unlock to a whole nation the door of eternal life!”
Looking back on Stirrett’s pioneer journeys, one of his friends commented: “He wasn’t an explorer as was Livingstone, but he was no average traveler.”
He was no average doctor, either. He was given recognition by the British government for his medical contribution. He wrote an authoritative handbook on the treatment of West African diseases. He oversaw the many dispensaries of the growing SIM medical arm and was family doctor to missionaries and their children. He conducted his own dispensary and, as a pharmacist, prepared drugs for the Mission’s clinics.
A Passion to Preach
But Stirrett was even better known for his preaching and personal witness. “He was not a great preacher,” SIM leader Guy Playfair observed, “but he was great in that he preached without ceasing. Our estimate is that he preached not less than 20,000 times, and was heard by at least one and one-half million people. Two thousand such men could have evangelized the world in any generation.”
Stirrett’s lifelong motive for service was his anticipation of Christ’s return. “I never had a call,” he used to say but he was driven by the command of Scripture and by his great concern for those who did not have the Gospel. “Come!” he urged young people. “The Lord is coming very soon and you will surely have to meet Him. Do you want Him to find you in your easy chair?”
The Hausa tribe was his first love. To see them have the Bible in their own language was his dream. He became a key member of the translation committee. The crowning joy of his life was the day in 1932 when the British and Foreign Bible Society placed the completed Hausa Bible in his hands.
A man of rigid personal discipline, Stirrett fixed a pattern of daily behavior that rarely varied. Determined not to let the sun rise before he was on his knees in prayer, he rose at 3:45 a.m. each day, even on trek, to meet with God. He set aside specific days for fasting and prayer, to plead with God for “his” African people.
He arrived in Nigeria with one box and one suitcase, and lived out his days almost as frugally. He majored on plain foods such as porridge and fresh fruit, and at the first streak of dawn each day was out for his daily walk.
A bachelor all of his life, his severance with home ties was so complete that he had little concern for furloughs. Forty-one of his 46 years with SIM were spent in Africa.
Even in his later years, Stirrett worked diligently on Hausa revisions and translations, and preached daily in the market. When age prevented him from walking the two miles each day, he begged car rides and kept his practice unbroken until the day before he died at 83 years of age.
He was found July 9, 1948, beside his bed, apparently communing with his Lord when stricken. He roused briefly, then quietly fell asleep in Jesus. He departed from this life after forty-six full, consecrated years of consecrated service for Christ in Africa.
– Arranged from an account by Rowland V. Bingham and from the SIM Now article “The Pioneer Who Never Had A Call” by Kerry Lovering. Used by permission.