David Livingstone, Pioneer Missionary In Africa (Part 3)
The story thus far: David Livingstone could not feel at ease to settle down at an established mission station in Bechuanaland in southern Africa, for he had on his heart a call from God to open a way for the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to be carried deep into the interior of the "dark continent" where it had never yet been preached. Who were the tribes living there and how could missionaries travel to them? Sometimes his family journeyed with him as he searched for answers to these questions, but after several years he was compelled to send his wife and his children back to his homeland of Scotland as the fever which permeated the interior of Africa in the mid-nineteenth century was too great a peril to their lives. After he bid them a sad farewell at the coast, he traveled 1,000 miles but failed to find a site that would provide a healthful place for their return and dwelling.
Livingstone then turned to a second objective – finding a suitable route for the natives in south central Africa to use in contacting traders on the coast. He agonized over the demoralizing slave trade that provided profit for the natives able to capture the less fortunate and march them by force to traders at the coast, often with tragic loss of life en route. He longed to find and open up channels whereby legitimate commerce could be conducted to replace the slave trade. A grueling journey through wild, unexplored territory to the west coast of southern Africa failed to provide a suitable passageway.
After several months of rest and preaching the Gospel, Livingstone turned to finding a route from south central Africa to the east coast, opening the area to missionaries and to trade. He started out on the Zambesi River, which he had discovered on a previous journey. He is thought to be the first European to lay eyes on a magnificent waterfall on the Zambesi River, taller and wider than Niagara Falls. He named his discovery Victoria Falls after the queen of Britain. As he made his way to the east coast, his story was as the Apostle Paul’s: "…in journeyings often, in perils of waters…in perils by the heathen…in perils in the wilderness..." (2 Cor. 11:26). His trust was fully in the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word to direct his steps and to give wisdom. He yielded himself to the will of God, to live or to die.
Livingstone’s route took him down the Loangwa River, a large tributary of the Zambesi. He was cheered to find at the mouth where it emptied into the Indian Ocean, two healthy ridges which he hoped the mission authorities would feel suitable for a mission station.
By 1856 when he emerged on the eastern coast, he had crossed southern Africa from the west coast to the east coast in four years’ time, "a feat never before accomplished by a European and that amid hardships and dangers to which all but the bravest and most persevering would have inevitably succumbed." He found himself no longer an obscure missionary but a world-renowned discoverer. The Geographical Society Royal awarded him their highest honor.
Through all these explorations, Livingstone had not lost his zeal as a missionary. He constantly preached the Gospel to the various tribes through whose countries he passed. He wrote to his father: "I am a missionary, heart and soul. God had an only Son, and He was a missionary and a physician. A poor, poor imitation of Him I am, or wish to be. In this service I hope to live; in it I wish to die."
All the while his family in Britain and he in Africa were apart, Livingstone kept them committed to the Heavenly Father. In his journal he wrote, "My family is Thine. They are in the best hands." Having now reached the east coast, he felt he could return to his family. There in Britain he was welcomed by his wife and children to a time of great happiness together as a family. However, he was saddened to find that his father had died during his absence.
Livingstone had kept excellent journals, and was asked to write a book. This he did, although he far preferred exploring to writing a book. Though he had much material of interest to scientists and geographers, he felt that "the end of the geographical feat is only the beginning of the enterprise." His desire was to interest men of science and commerce and of all sorts to the welfare of Africa, but he primarily wanted to interest Christian people in taking possession of Africa for Christ. Probably no missionary in Africa had preached to so many blacks, but in most cases he had been a sower of seed and not a reaper of harvests. He had seen some turn from darkness to light but the missionary work in the interior of Africa was yet to be done. He was anxious to return to this, his lifework. But delayed in return by his writing, he was grateful for opportunities to speak and to interest people in the evangelization of Africa.
Livingstone felt led to resign from the London Missionary Society so he would be more free to pursue that to which he had been uniquely called. Perhaps donors to the Society would not feel their gifts were devoted enough to evangelization. He took a position with the government to do more exploration of the eastern coast and a portion of the interior of Africa.
In meetings at which he spoke in Britain, he urged hearers to enter upon missionary work, which he considered a noble and sacred calling. He felt his sacrifice was simply a paying back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay. He looked upon his sufferings as momentary as did the Apostle Paul: "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18).
In fact, Livingstone said, "I never made a sacrifice. Of this we ought not to talk when we remember the great sacrifice which He made who left His Father’s throne on high to give Himself for us; ‘who being the brightness of that Father’s glory, and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the Word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high’ (Heb. 1:3). I beg to direct your attention to Africa; I know that in a few years I shall be cut off in that country which is now open; do not let it be shut again! I go back to Africa to make an open path for commerce and Christianity; do you carry out the work which I have begun. I LEAVE IT WITH YOU!"
His stay in Britain shed light to many on Africa, showing it to be a more productive land than they had thought. He showed as did Moffat before him, that many Africans were "affectionate and the possessors of many good qualities." He brought into the light the ghastly slave trade, and he made effective appeals for the cause of missions, arousing much interest. Then he set his face to return to Africa, accompanied by his wife and his youngest son.
(To be continued)
– Adapted from The Life of David Livingstone by Mrs. J. H. Worcester, Jr.