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Christian History Home > 131 Christians > Missionaries > David Livingstone

David Livingstone
Missionary-explorer of Africa
posted 8/08/2008 12:56PM

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David Livingstone

"[I am] serving Christ when shooting a buffalo for my men or taking an observation, [even if some] will consider it not sufficiently or even at all missionary."

With four theatrical words, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"—words journalist Henry Morton Stanley rehearsed in advance—David Livingstone became immortal. Stanley stayed with Livingstone for five months and then went off to England to write his bestseller, How I Found Livingstone. Livingstone, in the meantime, got lost again—in a swamp literally up to his neck. Within a year and a half, he died in a mud hut, kneeling beside his cot in prayer.



British and Foreign Bible Society formed


William Wilberforce succeeds abolishing slave trade


American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions


David Livingstone born


David Livingstone dies


Berlin Congress spurs African independent churches

The whole civilized world wept. They gave him a 21-gun salute and a hero's funeral among the saints in Westminster Abbey. "Brought by faithful hands over land and sea," 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." He was Mother Teresa, Neil Armstrong, and Abraham Lincoln rolled into one.

Highway man

At age 25, after a childhood spent working 14 hours a day in a cotton mill, followed by learning in class and on his own, Livingstone was captivated by an appeal for medical missionaries to China. As he trained, however, the door to China was slammed shut by the Opium War. Within six months, he met Robert Moffat, a veteran missionary of southern Africa, who enchanted him with tales of his remote station, glowing in the morning sun with "the smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary had been before."

For ten years, Livingstone tried to be a conventional missionary in southern Africa. He opened a string of stations in "the regions beyond," where he settled down to station life, teaching school and superintending the garden. After four years of bachelor life, he married his "boss's" daughter, Mary Moffat.

From the beginning, Livingstone showed signs of restlessness. After his only convert decided to return to polygamy, Livingstone felt more called than ever to explore. During his first term in South Africa, Livingstone made some of the most prodigious—and most dangerous—explorations of the nineteenth century. His object was to open a "Missionary Road"—"God's Highway," he also called it—1,500 miles north into the interior to bring "Christianity and civilization" to unreached peoples.

Explorer for Christ

On these early journeys, Livingstone's interpersonal quirks were already apparent. He had the singular inability to get along with other Westerners. He fought with missionaries, fellow explorers, assistants, and (later) his brother Charles. He held grudges for years. He had the temperament of a book-reading loner, emotionally inarticulate except when he exploded with Scottish rage. He held little patience for the attitudes of missionaries with "miserably contracted minds" who had absorbed "the colonial mentality" regarding the natives. When Livingstone spoke out against racial intolerance, white Afrikaners tried to drive him out, burning his station and stealing his animals.

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