Wholesome Words Home
Missionary Biographies

David Livingstone: Missionary Explorer

by Clifford G. Howell

Born in Blantyre, Scotland, March 19, 1813.
Died in Africa, May, 1873.

David Livingstone"Death alone will put a stop to my efforts!" was the exclamation of the man who died upon his knees in the heart of Africa, praying for "the open sore of the Lord." Such determination in a life of such self-abnegation as that of David Livingstone can only be understood in the light thrown upon life's duties by the words of the Master, "I do always those things that please Him." Certain it is that our Father in heaven has a well-defined plan for each of His children, and just to the extent that that plan is found and followed does any life attain completeness or true greatness.

The same year that God gave the Judsons a home in Burma, He gave Livingstone to the world. His "poor and pious" parents were Neil and Agnes Livingstone.

At nine David had received a prize for repeating Psalm 119 "with only five hitches." At the same age he had explored the country about his home, begun a collection of curios, and carved his name in Bothwell Castle higher than any other boy had climbed.

His parents were so poor that he was taken from school at ten and put to work in a cotton-mill, where he spent fourteen hours a day, with scant time for meals. Thoughtful of his mother's needs more than his own, his first week's wages were placed in her lap; but enough was spared by her to secure for him a Latin grammar.

He might have reasoned that he had no time for study with so much work; but not so. His time was his life; he would make the most of it. He had one quality, lacking which we would never have heard of him. It was determination; he would not fail. How did he manage? He would place a book upon the spinning-jenny, then study "undisturbed by the roar of machinery." "To this," he says, "I owe the power of completely abstracting my mind, so as to read and write with perfect comfort amidst the play of children and songs of savages." Thus he learned to be a master, not a slave, of circumstances. Of all the books that found their way to that jenny, not a novel was among them. Added to his long day's work was attendance at night-school from eight to ten.

The influence of his parents and two of Dr. Dick's books led him to yield his heart to Jesus. "Now, lad," said a friend, "make religion the everyday business of your life." He read the "Life of Henry Martyn," and the story of Gutzlaff; but it was the latter's "Appeal" in behalf of China that led him to decide to devote not only his earnings but his life to mission work.

After studying theology and medicine at Glasgow, he offered himself to the London Society; but because of failure in his first effort in the pulpit, he was refused. One member only pleaded for him, at last successfully.

In 1840 he received his medical diploma and was ordained. The opium war shut him out of China where he had thought to go; but while waiting he met Dr. Moffat, who said he had seen in Africa "the smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary had ever been. "

"I will go at once to Africa," said Livingstone. He returned, for one night, to his old home. The next morning at the family altar, David read Psalms 121 and 135, then prayed. Father and son walked together to Glasgow, where they parted to meet no more till earth gives up her dead.

December 8, 1840, Livingstone sailed for Cape Town. Making friends with the captain, he learned how to tell the location of the ship in mid-ocean. This was very useful to him later in African jungles.

A pulpit was offered him at Cape Town; but no, his appointment was farther on. He pressed on seven hundred miles, to Kuruman, Dr. Moffat's station, the outmost post. For some months he buried himself with the Backwain tribe of the Bechuanas, and so endeared himself to them that their devotion was wonderful.

One day a young native girl crept into camp and hid under Livingstone's wagon. Soon he heard her sobbing violently. A man with a gun was after her. The doctor hardly knew what to do; but a quick-witted native servant took off her beads and gave them to the man, and he left. In another journey he met the friendly chief Sekomi. "I wish you would change my heart," he said to the doctor. "It is proud, proud and angry, angry always." The missionary offered the effectual remedy. "I lifted up the Testament and was about to tell him of the only way in which the heart can be changed; but he interrupted me by saying, 'Nay, I wish to have it changed by medicine — to drink, and have it changed at once; for it is always very proud and very uneasy, and continually angry with some one.' Then he rose and went away."

Livingstone's medical skill was of great benefit. The people crowded about his wagon for healing, some even believing he could raise the dead; "but for permanent influence all would have been in vain if he had not uniformly observed the rules of justice, good feeling, and good manners. Often he would say that the true road to influence was patient continuance in well-doing."

In 1843 the doctor visited the chief Sechéle, whose child he treated successfully. Some of the questions of this chief were difficult to answer: "Since it is true that all who died unforgiven are lost forever, why did your nation not come to tell us of it before now! My ancestors are all gone, and none of them knew anything of what you tell me. How is this?" Answer, you who can.

On returning to Kuruman in June, the doctor was delighted to find a letter from the directors authorizing him to found a settlement in the regions beyond. He also received one from Mrs. M'Robert, with twelve pounds which he might use according to his great desire, to employ native converts in gospel work. Mebalwe was chosen.

Accompanied by a brother missionary, in August, 1843, the doctor pressed on into the attractive valley at the foot of the mountains called Mabotsa, which means "marriage feast." Here they built a mission home and by means of irrigation made a fine garden. The doctor hoped the directors would approve of their location; if not, he was willing "to go anywhere — provided it be forward."

It was about this station the lion prowled that gained wider notoriety, probably, than any other of its kind. He had just killed nine sheep; and Livingstone went with the natives to encourage them to destroy him. They wounded the lion, but he broke away. As Livingstone passed by his place of concealment, the beast sprang upon him, thrusting him to the ground, and with paw upon his head, began crunching his arm, lacerating the flesh and splintering the bone.

Seeing the loved missionary about to be devoured, Mebalwe took up the fight. "In endeavoring to save my life," wrote the wounded man, "he nearly lost his own; for he was caught and wounded severely." Then the lion sprang upon his third victim, but soon fell dead from his wounds. Little did the kind woman think, who sent the twelve pounds, that she would thus help to save the life of the missionary.

The work on his new house was for some time delayed; but as soon as his arm was well enough, he went on.

Of his efforts for the children, he writes: "I yesterday commenced school for the first time at Mabotsa, and the poor little naked things came with fear and trembling. ...The reason is, the women make us the hobgoblins of their children, telling them 'these white men bite children.'"

In 1844 [Jan. 1845] Livingstone was married to Miss Mary Moffat, and brought her to his new home, over two hundred miles from her parents' mission.

Unpleasantness arose in the new station, the other missionary accusing Livingstone unjustly. Rather than live in an atmosphere of strife, he went forth to build anew.

On to Chonuane, forty miles farther inland, in 1846, these young pioneers pushed their way. Here was the home of the chief Sechéle, for whom Livingstone had been earnestly working and praying. He was a man of much intelligence. He became a firm friend of Livingstone, and finally a convert. He learned the alphabet in one day. Reading and arithmetic quickly followed. The Bible became his friend, the book of Isaiah his delight. "He was a fine man," he would exclaim, "that Isaiah; he knew how to speak!" Little wonder such a man was amazed that Christians had so long delayed in coming with the good tidings.

Not without great difficulties did he espouse the cause of Christ. Under him were chiefs bound to him by wives he had taken. "If he abandons polygamy, he offends the under-chiefs; he shakes the whole tribe to its circumference. Two years and a half he battled with these difficulties. ...At length the hour came. ...He sent home all the wives except his first, and gave to her his heart anew in Christian purity." Then Livingstone received him into Christian fellowship.

Water was so scarce that the missionary persuaded Sechéle and his people to move with him to Kolobeng, still farther north. Here the Livingstones made their third and last home. Droughts had distressed and pursued them. The rivers depended on for irrigation, ran dry; crops failed; leaves dried on the trees; the mercury stood at 134 degrees. Sechéle had been a "rain-maker;" now he would bring rain no more, and Livingstone's "preaching and praying" were blamed for all. "We like you well," they would say to Livingstone, "as if you had been born among us; but we wish you to give up that everlasting preaching and praying. You see we never get rain; whilst those tribes who never preach and pray have plenty." Yet through it all the converted chief stood bravely by the missionary.

There were worse enemies of that noble work than drought. These were the Boers. Of them there were two classes in South Africa, — an honorable class and a class very much lacking in honor. The latter were Livingstone's bitter enemies. They killed native men and women and made slaves of their children. If Livingstone remained at Kolobeng their traffic in human blood would be broken up. They must rid themselves of him. But where our short vision often sees only calamities, God sees great mercies. Livingstone had camped upon but the margin of a vast, unexplored region, with its millions of perishing human beings beyond, who were unsought and unknown, except by the slayers and enslavers of men. That an avenue to these might be opened, and efforts made for their redemption, God moved upon this man, who, under Him, was wise enough and brave enough to bridge the yawning chasm between darkest Africa and civilized nations. The world's festering felon must be opened. God called a fit physician to the task.

Kolobeng was for some years the home of the Livingstones. Every beam was laid by the hands of the missionary. Here several of their children were born, and it was the busy father's lament that he had not more time to spend with them. "I did not play with my little ones while I had them, and they soon sprang up in my absences, and left me conscious that I had none to play with."

Away to the north, 870 miles from Kuruman, lay an object of special interest — the beautiful lake N'gami, upon whose waters the eyes of a white man had never rested. Beyond it lived the great chief Sebituane, the magnate of all that region. Livingstone much desired to see this lake, but much more to visit this great chief, and gain his influence in favor of Christianity. But between him and them lay the heartless desert of Kalahari; and he had no means to fit out an expedition to cross it.

Meanwhile messengers came from a chief who lived near the lake, inviting Livingstone to visit him. How could he go? God has His ways, His means, His men. At the opportune moment, two men, Oswell and Murray, hunters and travelers, lent their aid, with twenty men, as many horses, and about eighty oxen; and the party started on a journey of hundreds of miles across the desert.

Great was Livingstone's joy when he reached the river Zouga, whose waters flow from N'gami. The geography of central Africa had, up to that time, been indeed a desert. The Great Sahara might almost mingle its burning sands with those of the Kalahari so far as the school-men knew; but here he heard of a "country full of rivers." The news took such a hold upon him, "that the actual discovery" of the lake he was seeking, seemed, as he said, "of but little importance." On August 1, 1849, Livingstone and Oswell, leaving the party in the rear, pressed quietly on to the banks of the N'gami, the key to that region; and from that hour a new interest in Africa was kindled and Livingstone was a noted discoverer. However, he was filled with neither pride nor ambition other than to do the will of his Father in heaven.

The missionary had seen the lake, but not Sebituane, who lived two hundred miles farther on; and the lake chief was determined he should not see him. The doctor began to make a raft to cross the Zouga; but Mr. Oswell suggested that they delay the trip till the next season, and he would bring a boat from the cape. Accordingly the party returned.

At Kolobeng was the patient Mary. With her children, surrounded by her dusky neighbors, she had waited, watched, and prayed, for the return of her husband. When one's own hands have everything to do, the romance of hardship is likely to lose some of its halo, unless a high aim is kept in view. The oven in which Mrs. Livingstone baked her bread was a hole scooped in the ground.

The explorer spent the winter with his family, busy with a thousand things, from mending a shoe to ministering to the sick and making a Bible.

The following season Mr. Oswell was delayed in returning from the cape; and Livingstone started again hundreds of miles across the desert to visit Sebituane, this time accompanied by Sechéle, Mebalwe, Mrs. Livingstone, and their three children. Purchasing the good-will of the lake chief by the gift of a rifle, which had been a gift to himself, the explorer was about to set forward, when fever fell upon two of his children, and instead of advancing, he returned home once more. "Without promising anything," he wrote to the directors, "I mean to follow a useful motto in many circumstances, and try again."

The doctor's brother Charles, in America, wrote him, urging him to come to that land of opportunity. This called forth his famous reply: "I am a missionary, heart and soul. God had an only Son, and He was a missionary and a physician. I am a poor, poor imitation of Him, or wish to be. In this service I hope to live; in it I wish to die!"

A successful effort to reach Sebituane was begun in April, 1851. Mrs. Livingstone, the children, and Mr. Oswell were in the company. Notwithstanding the latter's royal efforts to secure water, going in advance and digging wells, the party was at one time, through the carelessness of one of the servants, absolutely without water for four days.

Of his children in that awful time, the distressed father wrote: "The idea of their perishing before our eyes was terrible; ... but not one syllable of upbraiding was uttered by their mother, though the tearful eye told the agony within. In the afternoon of the fifth day, to our inexpressible relief, some of the men returned with a supply of that fluid of which we had never before felt the true value."

On hearing of the missionary's third approach, Sebituane sent forth men to meet him. They joyfully conducted the worn travelers into the presence of their chief, "unquestionably the greatest man in all that country." "As he never allowed a party of strangers to go away without giving every one of them — servants and all — a present, his praises were sounded far and wide. 'He has a heart! He is wise!' were the usual expressions Livingstone heard before he saw him."

One of the highest ambitious of this chief had been to converse with white men. What a kind providence that the one sent to him was a bearer of the gospel of salvation! Sebituane received the missionary with great kindness and felt much honored by his bringing wife and children. When services were held, he was present; and it proved to be the only sermon he ever heard. He fell sick of pneumonia, and grew steadily worse.

"Taking the hand of the dying chief in his, Livingstone knelt by the couch of skins, and endeavored to speak comforting words to tell him of the hope there is after death for all who trust." But one of the native doctors, catching the word "death," forbade the good man to speak of it to the chieftain. Under the circumstances, he thought best to desist. But no company of savage men could prevent a prayer to the missionary's God in behalf of the dying man; and who will say that it was not heard? Was it not for this hour the intrepid travelers had pressed on through desert wastes, scorching sands, burning thirst, and throngs of ferocious beasts?

The last words of the dying chief were after the manner of a kind heart. Of little Robert Livingstone, he said, "Take him to Maunku, and tell her to give him some milk." The words of One in higher authority are, "He that receiveth you receiveth Me. ...And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward."

The strange, sad circumstance served only to bind the heart of Livingstone more firmly to the downtrodden race; and he went forth from the new-made grave to find, if it might be, a healthful place in that benighted land, for a home for himself and loved ones.

The journey opened up to Livingstone another of the master ideas of his life. He saw that the slave-trade flourished because of the very great desire of the natives to obtain guns and other articles of European make; and the conviction fastened upon him that if legitimate lines of traffic were opened up so the people might secure whatever they wished for their ivory and other products, the fearful death-dealing traffic would die. "The welfare of the whole continent, both spiritual and temporal, was concerned" in his plan. It was to find, if there were any, healthful tablelands upon which missionaries could live and labor, and also a road to the sea.

He could not take his wife and children upon such an expedition. What could he do with them? The One who inspired the undertaking had a way. Their stanch and generous friend, Mr. Oswell, offered to take them to England, himself bearing the expense. It was with deep gratitude the offer was accepted from "their best friend in Africa."

Beneficent and wise as we now see his work to have been, his plans were not carried into execution without opposition and accusation even from his brethren. That which should decide the life-work of all the Lord's soldiers, shaped this great man's course. "Providence seems to call me to the regions beyond." "Nothing but a strong conviction that the step will lead to the glory of Christ, would make me orphanize my children. ...So powerfully convinced am I that it is the will of the Lord I should, I will go, no matter who opposes."

We are now well enough acquainted with David Livingstone to know that the secret of the success of his life mission was his commission, his confidence in his Commander, and his unswerving obedience to His commands. And it was from the depths of deep love to humanity that he said, "The end of the geographical feat is only the beginning of the enterprise."

Strange as it may seem, when Livingstone arrived with his family at the Cape, prejudice was so strong against him he could hardly transact business. But what truly unselfish worker for God has not had a taste of the same bitter cup?

April 23, 1852, the brave, self-sacrificing missionaries separated at Cape Town, the wife and children to go to England, the husband and father to return to the fever jungles and savages of the dark land.

When the doctor again reached Kuruman, a letter from Sechéle awaited him, saying: "Friend of my heart's love, and of all the confidence of my heart, I am Sechéle. I am undone by the Boers, who attacked me, though I had no guilt with them. ...They killed sixty of my people, and captured women and children and men. The house of Livingstone they plundered, taking away all his goods."

Not only his goods were stolen, but his valuable journals, kept with so much care, and his books were ruined. The Boers declared he should never cross their country alive; but the threat failed to turn him back. He and a trader went together to visit the Makololo tribes.

They left Kuruman in December, 1852. Skirting the desert they wandered through flooded districts. Some of the men deserted, two of the three remaining died; but the leader, the trader, and the remaining servant pushed on, tramping through swamps where trees, thorns, and sharp-edged reeds offered strong resistance, till "with hands all raw and bloody," and knees through their trousers, they emerged from the swamps, reaching Linyanti in May, 1853.

Pausing here in the land of moral midnight, a thousand miles from the frontiers of civilization, the missionary gazed upon the solemn spectacle of heathen savagery. The darkness and loneliness were indeed depressing; but ever the buoyancy of mighty purposes throbbed in the missionary's heart. "Can the love of Christ," he questioned, "not carry the missionary where the slave-trade carries the trader?" His decision was, "I shall open up a path into the interior or perish."

But how could he, a lone man without means, amid strange savages, accomplish a journey that needed a troop of men with supplies for their sustenance and protection? Again the hand that had led him thus far is seen. Means from Christian lands was not at hand nor forthcoming, but God moved upon the heart of a heathen chief to forward His good purposes toward the dark land. The government of Sebituane had passed to the charge of his son, Sekelétu. This young man treated Livingstone with utmost kindness, finding in him, he declared, "a new father;" and becoming convinced of the value of the explorer's plans, he royally furnished men and means with which the expedition was undertaken.

After nine weeks' vain effort to find a healthful location beyond Linyanti, and a little waiting to regain strength after severe struggles with fever, the doctor prepared for his western march to the sea.

Early in November, 1853, the wonderful journey, plowing a mighty furrow from center to circumference of the great continent, was begun. Twenty-seven picked men, some Makololo and some Barotse, lined up alongside their intrepid leader. "Nearly seven thousand people assembled to see them off, and made the ground fairly tremble with their shouts as the brave and sturdy men went filing by." "May God in His mercy," was Livingstone's parting prayer, "permit me to do something for the cause of Christ in these dark places of the earth."

Never, until the scroll in the right hand of Him that sits upon the throne is unfurled to the gaze of the wondering multitudes of earth, will the world realize what she owes to her patient, toiling, long-suffering heroes of the cross, who, pressing on in loneliness and obscurity, have bravely fought the good fight of faith against fearful odds, and have strewn their rugged path with blessings for all who follow. Who but a Heaven-inspired hero would, with wasted body and empty hands, have undertaken to span the yawning chasm stretching westward or eastward, and pierce the more formidable barrier of heathen ferocity?

The doctor was greatly reduced by fever, from which he suffered thirty-one attacks on this journey. At times his progress was strongly opposed by greedy and unreasonable chiefs. "The most critical moments of peril," says Dr. Blaikie, "demanding the utmost coolness and most dauntless courage, would sometimes occur during the stage of depression after fever. It was then he had to extricate himself from savage warriors, who vowed that he must go back unless he gave them an ox, a gun, or a man. The ox he could ill spare, the gun not at all, and as for giving the last — a man — to make a slave of, he would sooner die." How different was this campaign from that conducted by the so-called great Napoleon, who said, "What are the lives of a million of men to a man like me?"

In striking and pleasing contrast to the selfishness of some of the chiefs, there were some bright examples of generosity and benevolence, notably those of Manenko, a female ruler; a relative of hers, Shinte, a chief who gave the doctor a royal badge of beads and shells as a token of lasting friendship; and Katema, who furnished him liberally with provisions, and whose people were much moved by the story of the cross, and wished their children could be taken to the Makololo country.

Manenko was a very tall young woman, about twenty years of age, who, when her mother suggested that Livingstone visit Shinte instead of going by a route he intended, volunteered to go with him, guiding him through the dark forests and flooded swamps. She also took charge of the baggage, to which Livingstone objected; but, as he said, "when she gave me a kind explanation, and, with her hand on my shoulder, put on a motherly look, saying, 'Now, my little man, just do as the rest have done' (just as she told them), my feelings of annoyance of course vanished."

Those who rule best know when to obey. For days this self-appointed guide and guardian traveled on foot by the traveler's side at such a rate the sick man on ox back could scarcely keep up. So difficult was the way that he would have given up visiting the chief but for her unswerving determination. "There never was such a woman before!" exclaimed the Makololo men; "Manenko is a chief and a soldier!" And truly she was. When far past her own dominion, the tribes refused them food. The tender-hearted girl went and begged food, which she prepared with her own hands for the half-starved men.

On arrival at Kabompo, Shinte's town, a royal welcome was accorded the doctor. The chief became much attached to him, gave him liberal supplies of food, and when he departed, sent guides, whose services were indispensable. Who can fail to see God's hand ordering such providences?

At times, however, the expedition seemed doomed, it being utterly impossible to satisfy some of the greedy chiefs, especially near the coast, where the ban of the slave-trader was worst. At an hour of dire extremity from foes without, the doctor's men themselves became disheartened, and all resolved to return home. "All I can say has no effect," he wrote at the time. "I can only look up to God to influence their minds that the enterprise fail not. ...O almighty God, help, help! and leave not this wretched people to the slave-dealer and Satan!" Such cries to Him who hears even the ravens, were not in vain; and shortly the storm was calmed, and the explorer and his band passed on.

On May 31, 1854, the traveler, worn and sick, arrived at Loanda with his band of Makololos. The mighty task had been accomplished. Nevermore would that vast interior be closed and sealed. The explorer's path would be run by thousands of eager feet. When the news of the great accomplishment reached England, the Royal Geographical Society voted Livingstone a gold medal — their highest honor; and the astronomer royal at the cape wrote him, "You have accomplished more for the happiness of mankind than has been done by all the African travelers hitherto put together."

A great disappointment came in not finding a single letter at Loanda. Whether wife and children were well or even alive, he knew not. This was partly atoned for by the universal kindness of the Europeans, who with one consent showered their blessings upon him. Mr. Gabriel, the only English resident, received him into his home, so sick and wasted that he put him immediately into his own bed. "Never shall I forget the luxurious pleasure I enjoyed in feeling myself again on a good English couch, after six months' sleeping on the ground."

Livingstone's men were profoundly impressed by the marvels they saw at the coast. They looked upon the ocean with awe. Afterward they thus described their feelings: "We marched along with our father, believing that what the ancients had always told us was true, that the world has no end; but all at once, the world said to us, 'I am finished; there is no more of me!'"

Livingstone took his men to the Catholic cathedral, wondering how the pomp and splendor of the services would impress them in contrast with the simple Protestant services such as he conducted. "I overheard them in talking to each other remark that they 'had seen the white men charming their demons;' a phrase identical with one they had used when seeing the Balonda beating drums before their idols."

After all the dangers, starvation, and sickness experienced on the exhausting journey to the coast, Livingstone might quite honorably have accepted some of the pressing invitations to return to England in one of her majesty's cruisers. Was he not in great need of a furlough? Sickness laid him so low that the physicians despaired of his life. But what of his little band of followers, who, after their crisis hour of discouragement had passed, not only declared themselves his, but children of Jesus? He had promised to return with them; and rather than sacrifice his word, he would sacrifice himself.

Then, too, he decided to, prospect further for good mission sites and a better road for commerce. The bold idea was conceived of blazing another path, this time eastward, to the sea.

After dispatching letters, maps, and messages by the ship Forerunner, this man of iron will turned his face once more toward the interior, taking with him liberal donations of supplies, including presents of a horse and uniform for Sekelétu, and other gifts for chiefs along the way.

Unhappily, the Forerunner went down off Madeira; and on learning of it, the patient man paused on his way and went to the great labor of reproducing his lost papers.

Livingstone left Loanda September 24, 1854, and arrived at Linyanti September 11, 1855. "The most joyous demonstration took place when Linyanti was reached. Sekelétu affectionately threw himself upon Livingstone's neck, and the brave Makololos could hardly loose themselves from the embraces of their families."

Sekelétu was much pleased with the expedition that his generosity had made possible. He was proud of his horse, but more so of his uniform, in which on Sunday he attracted "more attention than the sermon." A very remarkable part of the great undertaking was that every one of the twenty-seven returned home in good health. Livingstone led them to hold a day of thanksgiving for God's protection.

Long had the wanderer been lost to his friends and the world. The people of Linyanti had supposed he and his men were dead. Only one brave heart in England had not lost hope — his faithful Mary. She found solace and comfort in the wonderful ninety-first Psalm, and by faith threw its boundless protection around him. For two years, no more tidings from him had reached his home than if the dark continent had opened its mouth and swallowed him up.

When the doctor told his plan to Sekelétu to go to the east coast, the chief willingly furnished over one hundred men for the task. Dr. Blaikie says, "If Livingstone had performed these journeys with some long-pursed society or individual at his back, his feat even then would have been wonderful; but it becomes quite amazing when we think that he went without stores, and owed everything to the influence he acquired with men like Sekelétu and the natives generally." Livingstone attributed it, and rightly, to the good hand of Providence.

A little to the east the explorer came to that greatest natural wonder in Africa, the falls in the Zambezi, 5,400 feet wide, 320 feet deep, which he named, for his queen, Victoria Falls. In this region he also found the healthful location for missions for which he had so long been looking, and strongly recommended it for settlement.

The many eventful journeys and experiences of this remarkable man can not here be portrayed, nor the blessed influences that flowed from them. But the secret key that unlocked barred gateways and moved mountains of difficulty, was the same that has been held by every faithful hand that has helped humanity to travel toward heaven. His own retrospect and prospect, given in "Missionary Travels," shows the convictions of his mind, and reveals the experience needful for the humblest life that would be a success — to be led by the hand of God:

"If the reader remembers the way in which I was led, while teaching the Backwains, to commence exploration, he will, I think, recognize the hand of Providence. Anterior to that, when Mr. Moffat began to give the Bible — the magna charta of all the rights and privileges of modern civilization — to the Bechuanas, Sebituane went north and spread the language into which he was translating the sacred oracles, into a new region larger than France. ...He opened up the way for me — let us hope also, for the Bible. Then, again, while I was laboring at Kolobeng, seeing only a small arc of the cycle of Providence, I could not understand it, and felt inclined to ascribe our successive and prolonged droughts to the wicked one. But when, forced by these and the Boers to become explorer, and open a new country in the north rather than set my face southward, ... the gracious Spirit of God influenced the minds of the heathen to regard me with favor, the divine hand is again perceived. Then I turned away westward, rather than in the opposite direction. ...Had I gone at first in the eastern direction, ... I should have come among the belligerents near Tete when the war was raging at its height, instead of, as it happened, when all was over.

"And again, when enabled to reach Loanda, the resolution to do my duty by going back to Linyanti probably saved me from the fate of my papers in the Forerunner. And then, last of all, this new country is practically opened to the sympathies of Christendom, and I find that Sechéle himself has, though unbidden by man, been teaching his own people. In fact, he has been doing all that I was prevented from doing, and I have been employed in exploring — a work which I had no previous intention of performing.

"I think that I see the operation of the unseen hand in all this, and I humbly hope that it will still guide me to do good in my day and generation in Africa."

After repeated attacks of fever and unnumbered dangers escaped, Livingstone at last reached Quilimane on the east coast, in May, 1856.

Provision was made for his men to remain while he should go to England and return. Narrowly escaping shipwreck, he reached "dear old England" in December, 1856, four and one half years after parting with wife and babies at Cape Town. During this sojourn in England Livingstone wrote his book "Missionary Travels."

Not long was the distinguished traveler left to domestic quietness. The nation, including the queen, rejoiced to welcome its long-lost son. Receptions and public demonstrations without stint were held in his honor. A smaller head or an unrenewed heart would surely have become lifted up.

By bringing to view vast fields for harvest where it had been thought only great deserts existed, Livingstone sought to lead the churches to take possession of the land for the Master. Before the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, who accorded to him the rare honor of fellow, he dared to speak of Him whom he served. To the spinners of cotton, such as he once was, he said, "My great object was to be like Him — to imitate Him as far as He could be imitated." Before graduates at Cambridge he said: "Education has been given us from above for the purpose of bringing to the benighted the knowledge of the Saviour. If you knew the satisfaction of performing such a duty, as well as the gratitude to God which the missionary must always feel in being chosen for so noble, so sacred a calling, you would have no hesitation in embracing it."

In order that Livingstone might go forward with his special work of exploration, he was released by the London Missionary Society, and engaged with the English government to explore the Zambezi and its tributaries.

This time Livingstone was not to go alone. "My wife, who has always been the main spoke in my wheel, will accompany me in this expedition, and will be most useful to me. ...In the country to which I am about to proceed, she knows that at the missionary's station the wife must be the maid of all work within, while the husband must be the Jack of all trades without."

In March, 1858, these trained workers, with their exploring party, set out for Africa. They landed at Cape Town, where her faithful parents, Dr. and Mrs Moffat, were awaiting them. Here, at a grand banquet held in Livingstone's honor, a present of a beautiful silver box containing eight hundred guineas was given him. How marked the contrast to 1852! Then, suspected, scarcely noticed, distrusted; "now, he returns with the queen's gold band round his cap, and with brighter decorations round his name than sovereigns can give, and all Cape Town hasten to honor him. It was a great victory, as it was also a striking illustration of the world's ways."

Mrs. Livingstone fell sick, and went with her parents to Kuruman.

At the mouth of the Zambezi, the ship they had brought was put together. The best outlet to the great river was known only to the dealers in slaves, and was secretly guarded. It would seem that Providence led to its discovery at the very beginning of the expedition.

The party proceeded finally to Tete, where the Makololos who had accompanied him to the coast were stationed when he went to England. A number of these had died of smallpox, and six others had been murdered. Those that survived were "nearly beside themselves with joy at seeing their father once more."

The new steamer, the Ma-Robert, proved unfit for the service desired; and while waiting for a new one, the doctor explored the river Shire, making three trips, and discovering the important Lakes Shirwa and Nyassa.

"The country around Lake Nyassa was densely populated. ...Unlike many of the African tribes, the people of this favored region seemed imbued with a spirit of industry. They cultivated the soil extensively, raised nearly everything it was practicable for them to raise, besides working in iron and cotton, and at basket making. Almost every village had its smelting-house, charcoal-burners, and blacksmiths. The axes, spears, arrow-heads, needles, bracelets, and anklets they turned out, while not of the finest workmanship, were fashioned with much skill. Crockery and pottery of various kinds were also manufactured." Yet "these people had many strange, even barbarous customs. Among others was the habit of wearing the pelele, or lip-ring. ...To Livingstone's oft-repeated question as to why they followed this custom, they invariably replied, 'O, because it is in the fashion!'" "We can hardly realize," as one writer says, "that so familiar a speech applies so far from home, but it does."

Not until May, 1860, was the way clear for the return to Linyanti. On reaching Sekelétu's territory, he was met with the stunning intelligence that the missionaries he had helped to send to Linyanti while he was in England had died of fever, and the mission had been broken up. Sekelétu was stricken of leprosy, and had left his people. Tears came to the doctor's eyes as he gazed upon the leprous chief, while the sad joy of the latter at seeing once more his adopted father was indeed pathetic. Dr. Livingstone and Dr. Kirk treated the malady so successfully that the chief lived till 1864; but his tribe was scattered to the four winds.

In January, 1862, the explorer was again at the mouth of the Zambezi, where he met Mrs. Livingstone. But alas, how little he dreamed that his joy would soon be turned to grief! At Shupanga, where he undertook to put his new brig afloat, the fever laid hold upon Mrs. Livingstone. For six days the unequal contest was waged. On April 27, 1862, the strong enemy prevailed; and Mary Moffat Livingstone, the daughter of missionaries, a missionary's wife, herself a missionary, was laid to rest under the now noted baobab-tree at Shupanga.

"O my Mary, my Mary!" moaned the stricken survivor. "How often we have longed for a quiet home since you and I were cast adrift at Kolobeng!" But no, not here, not now! Hitherto homeless, now alone! Henceforth he must wander, but in closer touch with Him who had not where to lay His head. It is not strange that in the first outburst of grief he should exclaim: "Now for the first time in my life I am willing to die! Take me too, O God!"

Still, following the footprints of Him who would not fail, the grief-torn man again takes up his heavy task. On both sides of the strangled continent the deadly Portuguese octopus was spreading its poisonous arms. So firmly fastened were its fangs, that the Zambezi expedition was compelled to be largely a contest against the ghastly slave traffic. Horrible work was instigated by the Portuguese slave agents. "Villages were set on fire, and the inhabitants, fleeing for their lives, met a fate far more dreadful than death by falling into the hands of the traders. ...The revolting picture that greeted Livingstone's eyes on his ascent into the valley of the Shire is thus drawn by his hand: 'A little more than twelve months before, the valley of the Shire was populous with peaceful and contented tribes; now the country was all but a desert, the very air polluted by the putrid carcasses of the slain, which lay rotting on the plains, and floated in the waters of the river in such numbers as to clog the paddles of the steamer. ...The sight of hundreds of putrid dead bodies and bleached skeletons was not half so painful as the groups of women and children who were seen sitting amidst the ruins of their former dwellings, with their ghastly, famine-stricken faces, and dull, dead eyes.'" Is it any wonder that a man like Livingstone, with the weapons of the Prince of peace, would fight this monster as long as his life should last?

In 1863 the expedition was recalled, and the following year Livingstone returned to England. Two great purposes now throbbed in his bosom: one, to lay bare the terrible traffic in human life; the other, to found a settlement outside Portuguese territory. Later, at the urgent request of Sir Murchison he added the purpose of finding the watersheds of that region and the source of the Nile. The proposal was made that he divorce himself from missionary effort; to which he said, "I would not consent to go simply as a geographer, but as a missionary, and do geography by the way, because I feel I am in the way of duty when trying either to enlighten these poor people, or open their land to lawful commerce."

Bidding his last farewell to his native land August 14, 1865, he once more set foot on soil so familiar, reaching Lake Nyassa August 8, 1866. By this time most of the motley crew he had been able to gather had deserted him, stealing a large part of his supplies. The influence of the slave dealers prevented his securing a boat to cross the lake and he resolved to walk around to the other side. In September he reached Marenga, where all his men but eight deserted him. With this little band Livingstone must press his weary, dangerous way in search of the lakes Bangweolo and Tanganyika.

The deserters, on reaching Zanzibar, started a report that Livingstone had been murdered. This report thrilled with sadness the civilized world. Obituary notices appeared and letters of condolence poured in upon the sorrowful family. But a few of Livingstone's friends refused to believe the story. Mr. E. D. Young was one of these, and he performed the gratifying feat of leading a search party into the region of the supposed murder, and returned in eight months with positive proof that the report was untrue.

Though the doctor had not been murdered, he had half starved. "Woe is me," he wrote to his son Thomas. "The people have nothing to sell but a little millet porridge and mushrooms. ...I have become very thin." The year 1867, during which he caught his first sight of Tanganyika and discovered Lake Moero, closed with severe illness. God moved upon an Arab to minister to him and supply him with nourishing food.

On July 18, 1868, he trod the shores of Lake Bangweolo. New Year's day, 1869, found him under the worst attack of illness he had had. He prayed that he might hold out to Ujiji, where he expected to find medicine, and stores so much needed.

March 14, he reached the longed-for station, but found that most of his goods had been stolen, and there were no letters for him. Three long years without a letter from home! The promoters of the traffic in blood not only endeavored to destroy his communications and goods, but the doctor himself. Had not God raised up a few friends, this brave man must have perished.

Livingstone was leader of an unseen army whose battalions were yet to be enlisted. He must survey the scene of conflict, taste its bitterness, and set a pace for future feet to follow.

After resting for a time at Ujiji, he again set forth into the strange, populous, productive wilderness — productive indeed, but of what? — Slaves, idolaters, and murderers! Reverses, losses, sickness, and desertion beset him, until in June, 1870, he was reduced to three followers, — Susi, Chuma, and Gardner. With these the man whose only fear was the fear of God, set forth to examine the Lualaba River, thinking it might be a feeder of the Nile. Fallen trees and swollen streams made marching a constant struggle, and for the first time Livingstone's feet gave out. Ugly ulcers fastened upon them, and he had to limp back to Bambarra. Confined here for eighty days, he gave much attention to the Book of God, reading it through and through.

Under circumstances in which few would have pressed on, he made his way at length to Nyangwe, on the banks of the Lualaba, March 29, 1871, the farthest westward point reached in his last expedition. But what was his disappointment to find that the Lualaba flowed westward; so after all it might be but the Kongo!

It was, however, on the banks of this stream that an event of such overmastering horror took place that, when heralded in the trumpet tones of this sentinel, it sounded mightily in the death knell of the slave horror of Africa. On the "bright summer morning of July 15, when fifteen hundred people, chiefly women, were engaged peacefully in marketing in the village, a murderous fire was opened on the people, and a massacre ensued of such measureless atrocity that he could describe it only by saying that it gave him the impression of being in hell."

"The remembrance of this awful scene was never effaced from Livingstone's heart. The account of it published in the newspapers at home sent a thrill of horror through the country." The British government at once set to work, and other nations joined in to strike the death-blow to African slavery.

Failing to arrange in that terrible district for men to proceed, Livingstone was obliged to return sick in body and sick at heart, over five hundred miles, to Ujiji. The journey was a wretched one. Though the slavers did not attempt his life, they could persuade the natives to do so. "On the 8th of August, they came upon an ambushment all prepared, but it had been abandoned for some unknown reason. By and by, on the same day, a large spear flew past Livingstone, grazing his neck. ...The hand of God alone saved his life. Farther on, another spear was thrown, which missed him by a foot. On the same day a large tree, to which fire had been applied to fell it, came down within a yard of him. Thus on one day he was delivered three times from impending death."

Finally, on October 23, 1871, a living skeleton, he reached Ujiji, once more expecting to find an abundance of supplies, once more to be grievously disappointed. The man to whom they had been trusted, proving to be a knave, had sold all.

He who was the invisible Leader of this expedition, of which Livingstone was only the executor, had been preparing for this very hour. In October, 1869, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., proprietor of the New York Herald, sitting in a hotel in Europe, sent a telegram to one of his correspondents, Mr. Henry M. Stanley, summoning him to his side.

"Where do you think Livingstone is?" was the proprietor's strange interrogation. Mr. Stanley could not even tell whether Livingstone was alive. "Well, I think he is alive," said Mr. Bennett, "and I am going to send you to find him."

With all the money needed, Stanley was to go; but he was to visit Palestine, Egypt, and India on the way, and hence his delay till the supreme hour of Livingstone's need.

As the latter, in sore distress, had drawn near Ujiji from the west, an almoner of God's bounties was approaching from the east. On a "happy, glorious morning," November 10, 1871, the town of Ujiji was roused to intense excitement. A large caravan was approaching. Let its leader, Mr. Henry Stanley, tell the story:

"We are now about three hundred yards from the village of Ujiji, and the crowds are dense about me. Suddenly I hear a voice on my right say, 'Good morning, sir.' Startled at hearing this greeting in the midst of such a crowd of black people, I turn sharply around in search of the man, and see him at my side, with the blackest of faces, but animated and joyous, ... and I ask, 'Well, who is this?' 'I am Susi, the servant of Dr. Livingstone.'"

Up to this time, Stanley had not known where he would find the lost man. "What!" he exclaimed; is Dr. Livingstone here?" "Yes, sir." "In this village?" "Yes, sir." "Are you sure?" "Sure, sure, sir. Why, I leave him just now."

"'Good morning, sir,' said another voice. 'Halloo!' said I, 'Is this another one? Well, what is your name?' 'My name is Chuma, sir.' 'And is the doctor well?' 'Not very well, sir.'"

Susi darted away to summon the doctor, who came forth slowly from his little hut.

"As I advanced slowly toward him I noticed he was pale, looked wearied, had a gray beard, wore a bluish cap with faded gold band around it. I would have run to him, only I was a coward in the presence of such a mob would have embraced him, only he being an Englishman, I did not know how he would receive me; so I did what cowardice and false pride suggested was the best thing — walked deliberately to him, took off my hat, and said, 'Dr. Livingstone, I presume?'

"'Yes,' said he with a kind smile, lifting his cap and we both grasp hands, and then I say aloud:

'I thank God, doctor, I have been permitted to see you.'

"He answered, 'I feel thankful that I am here to welcome you."'

Scarcely could the visit of an angel have been more welcome to the wearied man. As the two tried travelers sat down and talked together, the joy of the doctor's heart would burst forth in the repeated exclamation; "You have brought me new life! You have brought me new life!"

A friendship sprang up between these men, which in Stanley ripened not only into love for Livingstone, but also for his Redeemer, and hence for mankind, and he too became a friend and liberator of the enslaved race.

Four months they remained together; but parting day came, and the first white face that Livingstone had seen in five years, and the last he ever looked upon, was gone.

Turning from all that would seem to make life worth living, the trained hand of this standard-bearer must once more mark a path into the regions beyond. We draw near the close of this world-drama. Comparatively brief is the last campaign. Aged not with years, but with toil and suffering, the tired, tried traveler journeyed on a little longer. Receiving in August, a band which Stanley sent from the coast, he went forth on the supposed errand of finding the source of the Nile. But sometimes God's good purposes are not fully foreseen even by those He uses best. The doctor however, ere the end came, caught glimpses of a stream whose source is as much higher than the Nile as the heavens are high above the earth.

"No one can estimate," he wrote to his daughter Agnes, "the amount of God-pleasing good that will be done, if, by divine favor, this awful slave-trade, into the midst of which I have come, be abolished. This will be something to have lived for; and the conviction has grown in my mind that it was for this end I have been detained so long." "I have been led, unwittingly, into the slaving field of the Banians and Arabs of central Africa. I have seen the woes inflicted, and I must still work and do all I can to expose and mitigate the evils.

April 29, the last mile of his twenty-nine thousand in Africa was traveled. Borne by his men on a kind of palanquin through flooded marshes, in most excruciating pain, he reached at last Chitambo's village in Ilala, at the southern end of Lake Bangweolo. Here a hut was prepared for him, and the dying pilgrim was laid upon a couch of branches and dried grass. Faithful were the vigils of his devoted Susi and others of his men; but in vain were their endeavors to prolong his life. Dismissing the tired Susi on the last night, for a little rest, he was left with a single watcher, who, ere the morning broke, called Susi in quiet alarm. He and the other men drew near. The dim candle-light revealed the motionless form of their master, not on the couch of grass, as they expected, but beside it, his face bowed upon his clasped hands on his pillow, where he had offered his last prayer for the deliverance of Africa.

How fitting a close to such a life! How fitting, too, was all that which followed! Bereft so suddenly of their veteran leader, and in the midst of barbarous and superstitious strangers, what should his followers do? A council was held, and a decision was reached well worthy of Stanley's or Livingstone's men. They would bear his body the long and dangerous way, a thousand miles, to the sea, that it might be taken to his own people! Over a region through which Stanley, with nearly two hundred men, had to fight his way, this little band, led by Susi and Chuma, resolved to go. Dr. Pierson well records their act of devotion as one of the miracles of modern missions, and places it alongside Mary's alabaster box of perfume — a fragrant offering that speaks volumes in praise of the gospel Livingstone lived in the presence of these men, and in behalf of the race they represent.

The heart that had been so sorely torn by the wretchedness it could not relieve, together with the viscera, was buried beneath a mvula-tree, upon which Wainwright carved the words, "Dr. Livingstone died on May 4, 1873." The body was dried in the sun, carefully wrapped in coarse sail-cloth, and placed in a casket of bark. With solemn reverence the pall-bearers took up their dead, and led out in Livingstone's last march — a funeral march to the sea.

So unreasonable were the superstitions of the tribes with reference to dead bodies, so dangerous the way, that, after a good part of their heavy task was performed, Lieutenant Cameron, whom they met leading an expedition to find Livingstone, advised them to bury him there. But no; they had trained too long under one who would not know defeat. Sickness and death lessened their company, but on they went. At one time they feigned sending the body back for burial; then with that which was dearer than life to them, bound up as a traveler's package, they threaded their sorrowful way onward. At last they placed their strange burden, together with the explorer's valuable journals, maps, and personal belongings, at the feet of the English on the coast. Thence it was borne to London for burial. Jacob Wainwright was allowed to accompany, as a faithful guardian, the body of his master.

The physician who, with Mr. Moffat, identified the body, said that he was "as positive as to the identity of these remains as that there has been among us in modern times one of the greatest of the human race — David Livingstone."

The remains were buried with the highest testimonies of respect, in Westminster Abbey. One of the pall-bearers was his old-time fellow traveler Mr. Oswell; another, his American friend, Mr. Stanley, who now pledged his life to carry on Livingstone's work; a third, Jacob Wainwright, had been pall-bearer over the long, sad trail in Africa. A wreath of flowers, bearing a card upon which was written, "A tribute of respect and admiration from Queen Victoria," was placed upon the casket.

The inscription upon the marble that marks his resting-place closes with his own words: "All I can say in my solitude is, May Heaven's rich blessing come down on every one — American, English, Turk — who will help to heal this open sore of the world."

From The Advanced Guard of Missions by Clifford G. Howell. Mountain View, Calif: Pacific Press Publishing, ©1912.

>> More David Livingstone

about | contact | terms of use | store

©1996-2024 WholesomeWords.org
"...to the glory of God."