David Livingstone (1813–1873): “He lived and died for good.” - page 2

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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

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  The newly ordained minister and medical doctor was accepted by the London Missionary Society and arrived in South Africa, early in 1841, after a rough three-month voyage by way of Brazil. But his journey had only begun. He then slowly lumbered five-hundred-miles by ox cart from Port Elizabeth to Robert Moffat’s station at Kuruman.
  David Livingstone would spend most of the next thirty-two years in Africa, as a missionary and explorer, covering some forty thousand miles on foot, by ox cart, steamer, or canoe through uncharted territory, suffering great hardship and much sickness, including twenty-seven bouts of malaria by one historian’s count. Running through all the years of his life was  “the thread of devotion to Africa woven in with his concern that the continent should be Christianized.”8   

“The Smoke of a Thousand Villages”

  For a few years Livingstone served in Kuruman where Robert Moffat, a skilled gardener, had created “an oasis in the wilderness” and was working hard to translate the Bible into the Tswana language. David eventually moved north to found a series of mission stations but continued to be drawn farther into the heart of the great unexplored continent. It is sometimes said that Livingstone stopped being a missionary and became an explorer, but the two roles were not opposed in his mind. He claimed his explorations were “missionary journeys” and that he was preparing “God’s highway” for those who followed. “The end of the geographical feat is the beginning of the missionary enterprise,” he said.9
  When he returned to Britain in 1856, Livingstone resigned from the London Missionary Society but returned to Africa the following year, commissioned by the British government as leader of an expedition to explore central and eastern Africa. Ten years later the Royal Geographic Society sponsored his further explorations.
  Livingstone’s missionary strategy was summed up by three c’s—“civilization, commerce, and Christianity.” When he first caught a glimpse of Lake Nyasa, he had a vision of what “twenty or thirty good Christian Scotch families with their minister and elders” could do in this fertile place now stained by the tracks of slave traders.10 He never gave up his dream of white and black people dwelling together in the Christian lands of Africa. Livingstone’s aim was the welfare of the Africans themselves, not the promotion of European colonialism for its own ends.

Mary Moffat

  In 1845 at age thirty, David Livingstone married twenty-three-year-old Mary Moffat, the eldest daughter of missionary Robert.11 He discovered and courted her at Kuruman while recuperating from serious injuries incurred in a lion attack. When Livingstone began his treks, Mary sometimes accompanied him. After all, this was her native-born continent. She crossed the great Kalahari plain twice, an incredible accomplishment in itself—say nothing of the fact that she was pregnant. When she was left behind at their small home in Mabotsa, Mary felt wretched and vulnerable. David too felt the pain of their separation but pressed on, sure that he was following God’s will. David loved Mary deeply, but he did not always treat her with lovingkindness. When he planned a longer and more dangerous journey, he decided to send Mary and their four children to England. It was a difficult time for Mary, who sank into depression, struggled with debt and, according to rumors, drank too much. For a time her mood was bitter and her faith fragile. But she prayed, “Accept me, Lord, as I am, and make me such as thou wouldst have me be.” 12
  After years of separation, Mary returned to Africa, leaving her children behind in England. She and David had three months together before she died of fever on April 27, 1862. She was buried beneath a baobab tree on the banks of the Zambesi in a destitute region of Mozambique. Livingstone wept like a child, and for the first time in his life, he said, he too was “willing to die.”13

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