Robert and Mary Moffat

(1795-1883) (1795-1871)
Pioneer in-laws

Though Livingstone's name is most often attached with the opening of Africa for missions, in many ways, it was Robert and Mary Moffat who provided the scaffold, 50 years in the making, upon which later missionary successes were built.

Born in Ormiston, Scotland, Robert was raised in a Presbyterian home, but the faith didn't take at first. He "ran off to sea" for a time and at 14, became apprenticed to a gardener. At 19 he underwent a spiritual rebirth, and a year later heard a message by a London Missionary Society director. Soon after, he applied to the society and eventually was accepted for service. In 1816 he sailed for Cape Town.

Meanwhile he had taken up with Mary Smith, the daughter of his employer. She too wanted to be a missionary, but her parents forbade her marriage for more than three years before allowing her to travel to South Africa to wed Robert.

Disillusioned with "confused and deplorable and awful" missionaries in the Cape Colony, the Moffats moved in 1825 to the Kuruman mission station, which would later be Livingstone's first home. After several years of vainly attempting to communicate in the rudimentary trading language called Cape Dutch, Robert began what was to be his finest legacy: translating Scripture and spiritual training texts into Tswana.

Even after 29 years of effort, Robert knew his version was imperfect, especially when the natives asked why Paul had demanded to be armed with guns! In addition, there were no Tswana words for many Christian concepts. Moffat translated the word sin into cow dung, and the word for holiness he used usually meant "a nice fat ox or cow."

The paths of Livingstone and the Moffats first crossed in 1840 when Robert ...

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