David Livingstone (1813–1873): “He lived and died for good.” - page 1

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From the Fall 2013 issue of Knowing & Doing:  


David Livingstone (1813 -  1873)
"He lived and died for good."

by David B. Calhoun
Professor Emeritus of Church History Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri


avid Livingstone was born in a cotton mill tenement in Blantyre, Scotland, on March 19, 1813. Now the David Livingstone Centre, the building was about to be demolished during the 1920s when it was saved by thousands of modest donations, many from Scottish Sunday school children. The center’s surrounding park features a fountain with a great marble hemisphere of the world and a dramatic statue of Livingstone being mauled by a lion.1 Karen Carruthers, manager of the David Livingstone Centre, says, “We get a lot of Africans coming here and for them this is genuinely a place of pilgrimage. Quite often they’ll burst into tears or sing.”2
 Two hundred years after his birth, David Livingstone is remembered and honored in Africa. Blantyre, the capital of Malawi, is named for Livingstone’s birthplace. The cities of Livingstone in Zambia and Livingstonia in Malawi have retained the missionary’s name. In 2005 Zambia marked the 150th anniversary of Livingstone’s “discovery” of the great falls—“the smoke that thunders”—which he named Victoria for his queen. Friday Mufuzi, senior keeper of the Livingstone Museum in Zambia, says that unlike the majority of nineteenth-century missionaries who were seen as promoters of colonialism, Livingstone is regarded as “an icon” in Zambia.3 The name Livingstone, he explains, has become part of the very folklore of the country. One of the rituals when a new chief is being installed involves his pretending to swallow a stone, the kencheyo, which is said to be living. “When he ‘swallows’ it,” Mufuzi says, “it transforms him into a chief, so he becomes a ‘living stone.’”4
  At the site in northeast Zambia where Livingstone died and his heart is buried stands a tall stone pillar with several inscriptions, including one added on the centenary of his death: “After 100 years David Livingstone’s spirit and the love of God so animated his friends of all races that they gathered here in Thanksgiving on 1st May 1973, led by Dr Kenneth David Kaunda, President of the Republic of Zambia.” President Kaunda led the singing and dancing and lauded Livingstone as Africa’s “first freedom fighter.”5

The Making of the Missionary

  David Livingstone’s Scottish heritage included a great-grandfather killed fighting on the Jacobite side at the Battle of Culloden, as well as Presbyterian Covenanters. His grandparents had migrated from the Highlands into central Scotland. Young David learned Gaelic from them and sometimes read the Gaelic Bible to his grandmother. David’s father was a door-to-door tea salesman who distributed gospel tracts with his tea. From David’s earliest years, Christian faith and hard work shaped his life. At age nine he could recite from memory all 176 verses of Psalm 119. At age ten he began to work in the Blantyre Mill. After working fourteen hours a day, he attended classes for another two hours, studying Latin, botany, theology, and mathematics.
  The warm fellowship of the Congrgational church where his family worshiped strengthened David’s faith and led to his dedication to foreign missions—“to consecrate my whole life,” he wrote, “to the advancement of the cause of our blessed Redeemer.”6 Intending to serve in China, he pursued both theological and medical studies, so that, like Christ, he could both preach and heal. When the Opium War closed the door to the China, Robert Moffat, a seasoned twenty-year missionary in Africa, challenged Livingstone to “advance to unoccupied ground” in Africa where, Moffat told him, he “had sometimes seen, in the morning sun, the smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary had ever been.”7 Hearing those words, Livingstone found his life’s work.

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