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His Concern for the Spread of the Gospel
Livingstone was much ahead of his time in sympathizing with the Africans’ struggle to connect Christianity with their culture.38 When Sechele, king of the Bakwena people—sometimes called Livingstone’s only convert—asked about polygamy, Livingstone urged him to seek the counsel of the Bible. The king decided that the Bible did not instruct him to give up all the customs of his people, although it required him to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Livingstone’s life and testimony impressed many Africans, and they became his friends. God alone knows how many became true Christians. Henry Stanley called Livingstone a “truly pious man—a man deeply imbued with real religious instincts. His religion . . . is of the true, practical kind, never losing a chance to manifest itself in a quiet, practical way—never demonstrative or loud.”39
Livingstone ended his famous Cambridge speech in December 1857 with the words, “I go back to Africa to try to open up a path for commerce and Christianity. Do you carry out the work which I have begun.”40 The response was immmediate and impressive. The Universities’ Mission to Central Africa was established and supported by Anglicans at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Dublin, and Durham. A little later, soon after Livingstone’s death, both the Free Church of Scotland and the Church of Scotland began missionary work in Africa.
Livingstone’s example challenged people in the nineteeth century to go as missionaries or to support those who went. James Stewart, who accompanied Livingstone in 1862, recovered his respect for his hero and served at the Lovedale Institution in the Eastern Cape of South Africa until his death in 1905. Mary Slessor’s missionary call to Africa was confirmed by the death of David Livingstone in 1873. Two years later she arrived in Calabar. Young William Henry Sheppard, an African-American born in the South during the era of slavery, went to the Congo in 1890 because Livingstone considered it to be a promising mission field. Peter Cameron Scott, founder of the African Inland Mission, was inspired to return to Africa in 1895, when he read the inscription on Livingstone’s tomb, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring.” Alexander Mackay became an engineer missionary to Uganda in 1876, inspired by Livingstone’s conviction that missions should transform the material as well as the moral and spiritual aspects of African life. The list of missionaries of “the great century” inspired by David Livingstone’s example would no doubt reach into the hundreds.
Tim Jeal judged that “Livingstone appears to have failed in all he most wished to achieve . . . Undoubtedly Livingstone’s greatest sorrow would have been that Africa never became a Christian continent.”41 When Jeal wrote those words in 1973, there were already millions of Christians in Africa. Today there are many more, at least 390 million. Philip Jenkins predicts that “by 2025, Africa and Latin America will vie for the title of the most Christian continent.”42
David Livingstone believed that “the missionary enterprise” included “every effort made for the amelioration of our race, the promotion of all those means by which God in His providence is working, and bringing all his dealing with man to a glorious consummation.”43 These words, supported by a lifetime of devoted labor, sum up Livingstone’s view of God’s world mission and our participation in it. T.J. Thompson has written, “As ‘the real Livingstone,’ faults and all, is rediscovered, his continuing relevance for mission in the twenty-first century will be revealed.”44
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