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David Livingstone, Pioneer Missionary In Africa (Part 2)

    David Livingstone’s obedience to God’s leading took him from his native Scotland in 1840 to Bechuanaland (present-day Botswana) in southern Africa. His heart burned to press into the interior of the great continent where lived multitudes who had no knowledge of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. With great joy he received permission from the home board under which he served to leave the established mission station to open a new station farther inland. There his wife, the former Mary Moffat, daughter of missionary Robert Moffat, and their children proceeded to live amid many privations at a station opened at Kolobeng among the Bakwains.

    The first fruit of Livingstone’s missionary labors in the interior area among the Bakwains was the conversion of Sechele, an African chief. The two men developed a warm relationship. As soon as opportunity presented itself, Sechele learned to read, and he loved to read the Bible. Like Livingstone, he was very desirous that his people should become converts to Christianity. Sechele was very disappointed that whereas the Africans normally followed the lead of their chiefs in whatever pursuits they took up, good or bad, in the matter of Christianity they were slow to follow him. School and church attendance was small, but the Christians were still treated with kindness.

    Later, the chief Sechele himself became a missionary to his own people and had considerable influence over them and could preach well. Dr. Moffat said some years afterward, that this was the "most prosperous, extensive, and influential" of all their stations in Bechuana country. Wherever Livingstone preached to the Africans, Dr. Moffat said, his preaching was "simple, scriptural, interesting, very direct, and well suited to the capacity of the people."

    Livingstone was not so concerned to have numbers of converts, as he was to have genuine converts who lived a pure Christian life. Seeing how difficult the field was and how the people were suspicious of his having some ulterior, sinister object in view, he would have been in despair had he not known the Holy Spirit was faithful to work. He determined that even as Christ persevered when He was contradicted, so would he. He asked the family back in Scotland to pray that he would not grow weary in well-doing.

    One serious obstacle to the spread of the Gospel in this field of labor was an extended drought. Since this had not occurred before Christianity came, the Africans naturally suspected its coming contributed to the drought. As one influential among them said, "We like you as well as if you had been born among us; you are the only white man we can become familiar with; but we wish you to give up…preaching and praying; we cannot become familiar with that at all. You see we never get rain, while these tribes who never pray as we do obtain abundance."

    Seeing that this village would have to be abandoned by the people because of the river drying up, Livingstone made several journeys of 400 or 500 miles to find a new location. Although his thought had been to remain with the Bakwains, he learned of the Makololo, a large tribe who were said to be desirous of having a missionary. After several tries, he met the Makololo chief Sebituane. This man was very friendly to Livingstone and promised to find a good place for a station, but alas, he died after a short illness and Livingstone with sad heart returned to Kolobeng. But his journeys were not in vain. He discovered Lake N’gami and the river Zambesi at this time, the latter destined to be a great highway into the interior in later years.

    The vision that burned continuously in his heart was urged upon the directors of the mission: a vigorous pushing forward of the work into the interior, the employment of the natives in the work, and the establishment of a training school to enable the natives to become qualified for the work. This call of God to the interior meant that his family would need to return to England for the present, as the fever in the interior where he would search for a new location, was too perilous to the lives of the family. So with a heavy heart, he sent his family to Britain, hoping to follow in two years. Then he prepared for a journey of 1,000 miles, hoping to find a healthful site for a station to which he could welcome the return of his family.

    From the coast and the sad farewell to his family, Livingstone returned alone to his station of Kolobeng. There he was further saddened to see that a group of the Boers, who opposed the expansion of Christianity into this area, had burned his house and had killed some of the Bakwains, who had already moved to another site due to the drought. With ties with the Bakwains now severed, Livingstone proceeded to Makololo country for a nine-week tour. The tour exposed Livingstone to men in utter darkness without yet a ray of Gospel light to change their individual lives and the society in which they lived. He was more determined than ever that a way must be found whereby the redemptive Gospel of Jesus Christ could travel to the interior of Africa. He diligently taught the Gospel wherever he went, but the natives were slow to receive it. He wrote in his journal that "no evidence of success in the way of conversion cheered our paths." But by faith in the faithfulness of the omnipotent God, he continued on, preaching twice every Sunday, sometimes to as many as 1,000 people. He realized he was a pioneer sowing the seed from which later missionaries would see a harvest.

    After weeks of journeying, disappointed by not finding a suitable, healthful site for his family, Livingstone gave himself to a second objective – finding a shorter route to the ocean from the interior. He was appalled by the slave trade that was infiltrating this area. It was profitable to the natives to capture and sell their fellow human beings to a life of slavery. Someone needed to introduce other profitable means of legitimate commerce and find a way to transport products to the coast in order to supplant the slave trade. For the next seven months Livingstone led a team of 27 Africans to seek for a way to the west coast through unexplored jungles for a convenient route. Endeavoring to keep himself as well as the Africans who accompanied him encouraged in this effort, he endured "incredible hardships, sickness, hunger, constant wading through swollen streams, tedious delays and harassing exaction of hostile tribes." At last when he reached a Portuguese settlement on the west coast, he was as "a skeleton clothed in tatters, and he was soon prostrated by a long and distressing illness." But the Portuguese traders kindly received and refreshed him.

    Being at the coast, it was a great temptation to return to his family in England, but he had promised the team of 27 Africans with him that he would return them safely home, and he knew this would be impossible without his personal leadership. So he faced the same hardships and succeeded in returning them safely home. The Africans had high regard for his careful treatment of them, and once when he was thrown into the river off the ox he was riding, about twenty of the men made an immediate rush for his rescue and were very joyful at his safety. Although he could not say he had found a practicable highway to the coast, a day of thanksgiving was observed when the journey ended on July 23, 1855, with all 27 of the men safely returned home. "Behold, God is mine helper: the Lord is with them that uphold my soul…. I will praise Thy name, O Lord; for it is good. For He hath delivered me out of all trouble" (Psa. 54:4, 6-7).

    (To be continued)

    – Adapted from The Life of David Livingstone by Mrs. J. H. Worcester, Jr.