Christian History Home > Issue 56 > The Paradox of David Livingstone: A Gallery of Pioneers & Pallbearers
The Paradox of David Livingstone: A Gallery of Pioneers & Pallbearers
Those closest to the remarkable explorer were often remarkable themselves.
Charles returned home (the last expedition member to leave his brother) after contracting dysentery and rejoined his family in America. He eventually reconciled with his brother and returned to England to assist in the publication of Narrative of an Expedition to the Zambezi and its Tributaries. David, through his clout, solicited for Charles an appointment to a consulship on the west coast of Africa. There he died of fever.
Livingstone's only convert
Sechele was an African chief with uncommon understanding of Livingstone. And since Livingstone was uncommonly keen on the ways of the African, it is not surprising that these two forged a fast friendship.
They first met after Livingstone arrived at Kuruman in 1841. "You startle me," said the Bakwena chief upon hearing Livingstone's first instructions in the Christian faith. "These words make all my bones to shake." But Sechele became antagonistic when Livingstone associated with a Bakwena rebel, and he dropped not-so-subtle hints about Livingstone's personal security. When the chief's only child fell ill, Livingstone successfully treated her, and the antagonism melted.
In 1846 Livingstone accepted the chief's invitation to move to his village, Chonuane, roughly 200 miles northeast of Kuruman. Sechele's intelligence impressed Livingstone. "He acquired the alphabet on the first day of my residence at Chonuane," he wrote. "He was by no means an ordinary specimen of the people, for I never went into the town but I was pressed to hear him read some chapter of the Bible. Isaiah was a great favorite with him."
As a drought pressed upon the village, Sechele, "who declared he would cleave to us wherever we went," followed Livingstone's lead and transplanted his village 40 miles west to the banks of the Kolobeng. The chief became increasingly devoted to Christianity and volunteered to construct a school and church.
"I wish to build a house for God," he said, "who is the defense of my town."
As the town built up over many months in the dry, tsetse-infested region, Sechele "continued to profess to his people his full conviction of the truth of Christianity." Livingstone, however, was not willing to allow the converted chief full church membership until he put away his "superfluous wives" and practiced monogamy. It took three hard-fought years, but Sechele relented and sent his other wives back to their families.
He was baptized in September 1848, much to the hot displeasure of his people. Work in the village stopped, women stayed at home, and a large meeting was called to discuss the problem. Sechele responded by telling the villagers, in Livingstone's words, "if they wished to kill him, to do so immediately."
In March of the following year, though, Livingstone entered this in his journal: "Symptoms of pregnancy discovered in Mokokon [one of Sechele's ex-wives]. Enquired of Sechele. Confessed he had been twice with her. … He shews much sorrow for his sin. Cut him off for a season."
He wrote to Moffat that the pain caused by Sechele's backsliding "fell on my soul like drops of aqua fortis on an ulcerated surface." It was also a catalyst for moving on, forsaking the life of a resident missionary for that of an explorer.
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