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Doctor prescribes freedom in Africa

Christians who made a difference by Rosemary Dawson: David Livingstone (1813–73)

His mission was to reach new people

‘BE generous with your lives,’ Jesus told his followers. ‘By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in Heaven’ (Matthew 5:16 The Message).

In this series we will look at the lives of men and women who took up that challenge and, through their actions, made a difference in other people’s lives.

We start with Victorian missionary and explorer David Livingstone, who was born into an ordinary family in the Scottish mill town of Blantyre in 1813. From the age of ten he worked 14 hours a day in a cotton mill and took lessons at night. In 1836, he began studying medicine and theology to enable him to become a medical missionary in China, but an inspirational meeting with missionary Robert Moffat, who had worked as a missionary in southern Africa, led to a change of direction. In 1841, Livingstone was posted to the edge of the Kalahari Desert.

He was not a conventional missionary. Although now sometimes linked with the colonisation of parts of Africa, Livingstone spoke out against racial intolerance in the continent, and white Afrikaners burnt down his station and stole his animals in response. The Africans, however, loved him because he treated them with respect.

Livingstone became convinced that his mission was to reach new people in the African interior, introducing them to Christianity and freeing them from slavery.

He was also the first European to see the spectacular Mosi-oa-Tunya, which he renamed Victoria Falls, and the first to cross the width of southern Africa.

Explaining the motivation for his work far from home, he quoted the words of Jesus: ‘Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world’ (Matthew 28:20 King James Bible).

Jesus’ promise of his constant presence with his followers is not only for those who are living out-of-the-ordinary lives, such as David Livingstone. It is a promise made to each of us and one that, if we accept, can change our lives and equip us to enrich the lives of others.

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