Acts America

Biographies of Great Christians


David Livingstone - Part 1

David LivingstoneLivingstone traveled 29,000 miles in Africa, added to the known portion of the globe about one million square miles, discovered many famous lakes, the Zambesi and other rivers, was the first white man to see Victoria Falls, and probably the first individual to traverse the entire length of Lake Tanganyika. Had his health not failed he would surely have succeeded in also discovering the source of the Nile. Through all of this, He never lost sight of one of his great objects – bringing Christ to Africa.

Born the second son of poor and pious parents, Neil and Agnes (Hunter) Livingstone, he had three brothers and one sister. The seven were crowded into a two-room house. Livingstone's father, was a very religious man. He was a tea merchant and also a deacon. While he was delivering tea to his customers, he would also distribute religious books. At age ten young David was put into the cotton-weaving mills as a piecer to aid in the earnings of the family. Upon receiving his first payment, he purchased “Rudiments of Latin,” which he used to help himself study that language at evening school. His hours at the factory were long, from 6 am till 6 or 8 pm. He attended evening school from 8 to 10 pm, then studied until midnight or later. Often he placed a book on a portion of the spinning jenny so he could catch a few sentences in passing. By age 17 he was advanced to cotton-spinner and the pay was such that he could put himself through medical school in Glasgow, entering in 1830. By the time he was 22 he had studied Greek, theology and medicine in college courses at Anderson's College and Glasgow University. During this time he was soundly converted at age 20 (1833) while reading the book Dick's Philosophy of the Future State. He continued his studies in London, where he received a medical degree with honors in 1840. During these years of study several things happened. First he applied to the London Missionary Society in 1838 and was provisionally accepted. Then, in 1839, God sent Robert Moffat into his life. Home on furlough, Moffat gave stirring messages that aroused Christian people to the missionary possibilities in Africa. One statement burned in Livingstone's soul and haunted him as he tossed on his bed. Moffat had said:

“I have sometimes seen, in the morning sun, the smoke of a thousand villages, where no missionary has ever been.”

Livingstone decided it was God's will for him to go to Africa. Finally he received his appointment--Kuruman in southern Africa--which Moffat had built and managed. In 1841 he landed at Algoa Bay. Here two qualities of his life manifested themselves immediately--characteristics which were to demonstrate future greatness. One, the ability to cope with the difficulties of travel, whether by ox back, wagon, horse or on foot. And second, a quick understanding and sympathy for the native Africans. Kuruman was 700 miles due north of Cape Town, so after a ten-week journey from Cape Town he arrived at Kuruman July 31, 1841. A few months after his arrival he made a journey with another, covering over 700 miles, winning the confidence of the natives wherever he went by his medical activity. A second trip, alone, was made into the interior February to June, 1842. Returning, he stayed until February, 1843, teaching, preaching, caring for the sick, and building a chapel at an outstation. Then it was off to the interior again in search of a suitable location for another mission site. On this trip he discovered the beautiful valley of Mabotsa in the land of the Bakatia tribe. Upon his return in June 1843 when he finally found a letter authorizing his formation of a settlement in the regions beyond, he went back to Mabotsa in August to open a mission station there. Crowds of sick, suffering folk begged the great white doctor to heal them. At night around the fire he would listen to their stories, then he would tell them about Jesus. The only problem with the area was that it was infested with lions. Livingstone decided to rid the valley of them, for he heard that if one in a troop is killed, the rest leave the area. He took with him Mebalwe, a native teacher--and here happened one of the most famous incidents of his entire life. Livingstone shot a lion. Then, as he began to reload his gun, the wounded lion sprang up on him and shook him as a cat does a rat. His left arm was crushed to the bone. Mebalwe grabbed his gun and seeing the motion of the upraised gun, the lion left Livingstone and sprang upon Mebalwe, biting him through the thigh. Another man coming on with a spear was bitten as well before the lion toppled over dead as a result of the bullet wound. Livingstone's arm was stiff and useless from then on and when he raised it, intense pain shot through his body. The left arm had loss of power the rest of his life. He returned to Kuruman to have his arm treated and to recuperate.

Mary Moffat, Robert's daughter, was now looking prettier every day. The two began to be drawn to one another, and so they made some plans. As soon as his arm healed, he would hasten back to Mabotsa to build a comfortable little stone house. Returning, he was married in March, 1844, with Robert Moffat performing the ceremony. Then came the 200-mile ox-wagon honeymoon. They remained at Mabotsa until 1845. A fellow missionary named Edwards, who had joined them, made life miserable for them, so they moved 40 miles away to Chonuane to work among the Bakwains. Misfortune struck them the second time. The lack of rain brought the threat of famine and a scarcity of water. One evening he announced he was leaving and the next morning everyone was packed and ready to follow David Livingstone. They found a suitable locality at Kologeng and settled down for five years to what would be his last home on earth. By the time they left there he had four children, three of whom were boys. However, things became very parched for lack of rain. Rumors came about a huge waterfall. Livingstone was challenged to find it, believing the banks of a large lake would make an ideal location for a mission state. Not only did mysterious Lake Ngami challenge him, but there was a powerful chief of the Makololo tribe named Sebutuane, still farther north, under whom he hoped to establish a mission station beyond the range of both the Boers and the militant tribe of the Matabele.

On August 1, 1849, the Livingstone party came to the northeast end of Lake Ngami and were the first white people to see the lake. The presence of tsetse flies (bloodsucking African fly; transmits sleeping sickness) and the obstruction of a local chief prevented them from going the additional 200 miles north to meet Sebituane and so they retraced their steps with reluctance. They found the mission station destroyed by the Boers. In the spring of 1850 they were to start out again. As before Livingstone took his wife and children with him, fearful that they might be harassed by the Boers. But, rather than the Boers, the disease malaria struck the party at Lake Ngami, and they had to turn back. Back at Kologeng a baby girl was born to the Livingstones, but she soon took fever and died. They then retreated to Kuruman, where he remained with his family for rest until the spring of 1851. In April of that year they set out again, determined not to return to Kologeng but to a hill region where health conditions surely must be better. Livingstone, his family, and a fellow explorer named Oswell found Chief Sebituane on the Chobe River, which they had discovered by taking a new route. Now came one of life's crucial decisions--the family. Where health was safe, hostile tribes lived. Where friendly people lived, health conditions were bad. He decided to send his wife and children back to England until he could find a suitable location for them. So back to Cape Town they all went, and for the first time in eleven years Livingstone saw civilization. He was 39 and it was a sorrowful parting. He fully intended to join them in two years. The family left for England on April 23, 1852. Frustrated in not being able to find a healthful site for a mission station, he gave attention to a second objective--to find a way going to the sea. Going to Linyant on the River Tshobe, which was the capital of the Makololo territory, he set out upon the trail of many waters, declaring, "I will open a path into the interior or perish." It was in November, 1853, that he started his famous journey through unknown country to the west coast of Africa with 27 Makololo men loaned to him by a friend, Chief Sekeletu. It was a horrible journey, with sickness, hunger, swamps, hostile tribes--six months of hardships--but on May 31, 1854, some 1,500 miles of jungle had been conquered as they arrived at Luanda. Broken in health, Livingstone was invited by ship captains to take passage back to England. However, he had brought men to a place where they could not return by themselves. He was not going to leave them! He would guide them back to their homes. Africa had never known such loyalty. He then took his party on an even longer and more perilous journey back to Sesheke. Contending with wet weather, they could find no dry place to sleep en route. He was nearly blinded as a result of being hit in the eye by a branch in the thick forest, and nearly deaf because of rheumatic fever. Then there were the perils of crocodiles, hippopotamus', javelins of hostile savages. His return was considered a miracle. Two months of rest followed. The boat he considered going back to England in sank--and with it all his maps, journals and letters. He now determined to find a route to the east coast of the continent. Sekeletu gladly furnished him with the means of following down the Zambezi River, giving him some 120 tribesmen. He started east in November of 1855. Only 50 miles en route, he discovered a magnificent waterfall that he named Victoria Falls. His food consisted of bird seed, manioc roots and meal. His bed was a pile of grass. He arrived at Quilimane on the coast in May, 1856, and was given hospitality by the Portuguese before finding a ship to take him back to England. He left his Makololo tribesmen in good hands at Tete.

Before he left, he received a letter from the London Missionary Society, stating they did not like his efforts of diverting from settled missions to exploration. It was a shock to him, since he felt himself just as sincere a missionary as ever. But he accepted a severance of relations after 16 years of service. However, the London Royal Geographical Society was not quite so naive, as they awarded him their gold medal, their highest honor, when he returned home. Why? Because Livingstone had done something no one else had ever done--he had crossed the entire African Continent from west to east. Arriving home for the first time in 16 years, he found himself famous. His father's death while Livingstone was en route home cast a pall on the celebrations. He was forced into a limelight which he disliked. He was asked to give lectures, which was a burden, for he had never been a good public speaker. Neither did he care to write, but he did put together his Missionary Travels at the urging of many. The universities of Cambridge, Oxford and Glasgow all gave him honorary degrees.