(Photo courtesy of hankeringforhistory.com)
Men With A Mission:David Livingstone
By Selma Komisky
“If you have men who will only come if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them. I want men who will come if there is no road at all.”
– David Livingstone
Who is David Livingstone you might ask? He was a physician, missionary, abolitionist and explorer in Africa. Rewind. He was one of six siblings born in the 1800’s from Scotland. Due to his family’s poverty, David had to work long hours in a local cotton mill from the age of 10 through his twenties. He attended school during evenings. His work in the mills inspired Livingstone to have a strong work ethic and this experience left him with respect and empathy for workers and worker-slaves. He was a dedicated Christian.
He achieved university entrance qualifications. His father’s Protestant influence played a key role in influencing the young David, and he grew up with an aspiration to become a missionary himself. In 1836, he began studying medicine and theology in Glasgow and decided to become a missionary doctor. And in 1845, he married Mary Moffat, a daughter of a fellow missionary and they had six children.
Livingstone desired to reach people in the interior of Africa and introduce them to Christianity, as well as liberating them from slavery. It was this that inspired his other explorations. However, once Livingstone reached African soil, he realized how hard it was making converts to Christianity. But he befriended the native people and the natives learned to love his heart. During the 1840’s, he gained only one convert to Christianity.
Livingstone’s goal was to open a “Missionary Road” (“God’s Highway,” he also called it) – 1,500 miles north into the interior of Africa to bring “Christianity and civilization” to unreached peoples. In 1855, Livingstone discovered in one of his explorations a spectacular 30-foot waterfall, the Zambezi falls, which he named Victoria Falls ( named after the queen). This didn’t deter Livingstone to continue on his journey. For two years, he simply disappeared, without a letter or scrap of information. He reported later that he had been so ill, he could not even lift a pen, but he was able to read the Bible straight through four times.
One of his most famous encounters was when Henry Stanley, an explorer and journalist, set out to find Livingstone. And when he did, the news exploded in America, for they had presumed he was dead. Meanwhile, Livingstone had no more supplies and was running out of hope. So it truly was a miracle that, due to this meeting Stanley, was able to gain new supplies and he was able to continue his efforts to find the source of the Nile. He had problems with the London Missionary Society, who felt that his explorations were distracting him from his missionary work. Throughout his life, however, Livingstone always thought of himself as primarily a missionary. .
Livingstone became a great hero of the Victorian era for his epic discoveries of the heart of unexplored Africa. He spent the last six years of his life almost cut off from the outside world, refusing to leave his beloved Africa. In his incredible explorations from 1853-1856, he became the first European to cross the African continent.
He continued on in his journey, but sadly was gravely ill from dysentery and died in 1873. He was found dead in Northern Zambia still in pursuit of his quest to find the Nile’s source in a mud hut, kneeling beside his cot in prayer. His body was taken back to England and buried in Westminster Abbey, where he was celebrated. His tombstone reads, “David Livingstone: missionary, traveler, philanthropist. For 30 years his life was spent in an unwearied effort to evangelize the native races, to explore the undiscovered secrets, and to abolish the slave trade.” Livingstone made the West aware of the continuing evil of African slavery, which led to it being eventually outlawed. Livingstone would pave the way for improvements for the natives and bring Christianity to them.
Livingston’s legacy is important as we talk about adulting because although he had to grew up fast, his circumstances ingrained compassion and sparked a vision to abolish slavery and tell others about God.
To view a copy of Livingstone’s 1871 diary entries visit: