Missionary Talks

The podcast where missionaries share their lives and work.

Missionary Talks 25: David Livingstone (part 1)

Filed under: Show Notes — David Peach at 10:53 pm on Sunday, May 20, 2007

This episode and the next of Missionary Talks will be a biography of the life of David Livingstone, the great missionary explorer of Africa. After these two episodes have been released, I will make a single file download from which you will be able to hear the whole story in one audio file.

I would like to thank Gordon Scott for providing the voices of Dr. David Livingstone and Robert Moffat for this episode.

There are many places where you can get information about Dr. Livingstone from the web. There are also the full text of his books available for reading on line.

The music is from the CD The Airs of Wales by Cheryl Ann Fulton from the Magnatune label.

Please leave any comments you have about this episode or about the life of Dr. Livingstone in the comments section. Or you can write me an email telling me what you thought of the show.

Following is the transcript from this episode.

David Livingstone was born in Blantyre Scotland on March 19, 1813. Almost 200 years ago.David Livingstone

He was fortunate in that he was taught to read by his father at a young age and became a voracious reader as a child. He inherited his great love of books from his Grandfather on his mother’s side who also lived in Blantyre. His grandfather was blessed with a large personal library from which David was allowed to borrow books.

His favorite subject to read was science, though, at the time, it was thought that science and religion could not mix. One of his greatest detractors from his love of science was his own father, Neil Livingstone. Neil believed, as many did at that time, that as one studied science it would take him further away from God and the Bible.

His father was a tea peddler. He would walk the whole region selling tea from house to house. Though he did not make much money, he enjoyed his job greatly because it gave him daily opportunities to share his faith with those whom he met. He would pray with people over their needs as he traveled throughout the area. He, as well as the whole family, were deeply spiritual. His distrust of science came from lack of education and understanding of how scientific the Bible actually is.

It was not until David was 19 years old that he learned that science and religion were not mutually exclusive. It was at this time that he gave his life to Christ and became a Christian.

Shortly after David’s salvation, he and his father were in church and heard a letter read that was written by a Dr. Charles Gutzlaff. Dr. Gutzlaff was explaining that there was a great need for missionaries in China and his suggestion for the greatest need was missionaries with medical training.

On their way home from church that day David asked his father what he thought of the letter and the need of scientific training. Since Neil was concerned with the need of missionaries and the missionary effort, he commented to David, “If science can open a Chinese man’s heart to God, it must have some merit after all.”

This started David in the direction of becoming a medical missionary to China. He saved as much money as he could over the next three years. It was just enough to be able to attend one session of college at Anderson College in Glasgow.

Since David was mostly self taught in his education, he knew how to be motivated in school. He was a good student even though he came to college with little formal education. His whole focus in college was to go to China as a missionary. Since David studied full time, he was not able to work, his next term in college was paid for by his brother John.

He applied to be a missionary with the London Missionary Society while still a student at Anderson College. One of the questions asked of him on the application was, “What do you see as the most important work of the missionary?”

After pondering the question for quite some time, he replied:

The missionary’s object is to endeavor by every means in his power to make known the gospel by preaching, exhortation, conversation, instruction of the young; improving, so far as is in his power, the temporal condition of those among whom he labors, by introducing the arts and sciences of civilization, and doing everything to commend Christianity to their hearts and consciences. He will be exposed to great trials of his faith and patience from the indifference, distrust, and even direct opposition and scorn of those for whose good he is laboring; he may be tempted to despondency from the little apparent fruit of his exertions, and exposed to all the contaminating influence of heathenism. The hardships and dangers of missionary life, so far as I have had the means of ascertaining their nature and extent, have been the subject of serious reflection, and in dependence on the promised assistance of the Holy Spirit, I have no hesitation in saying that I would willingly submit to them considering my constitution capable of enduring any share of hardship or fatigue.

David was accepted as a provisional missionary with the London Missionary Society. He then graduated from Anderson College in September of 1838.

His internship under Reverend Richard Cecil did not go well for young David. Though he was well versed in Greek and Latin and had large portions of the Bible memorized, he was not a very good public speaker. Reverend Cecil initially recommended to the LMS to not accept David as a missionary. His excuse was David’s inability to deliver a sermon and the fact that his Hebrew grades were not up to par.

The London Missionary Society was not as willing to give up on young Livingstone. They explained to Rev. Cecil that David had no good formal schooling before going to college and that he really was a good student if given enough time. They asked Rev. Cecil to work with David a bit longer with that understanding. A short while later he could recommend David to further training and the London Missionary Society send him to medical school.

All of this training and direction was for David to go to China as a missionary doctor. However, as Dr. Livingstone was preparing to sail for China, England and China become embroiled in the First Opium War. The LMS decided not to send any more missionaries to China during that time.

The missionary society wanted to send him to the West Indies to work with other missionary doctors, but Dr. Livingstone wanted to work in a pioneer ministry. He wanted to minister where no other missionary was working and medically treat people who had no previous contact with European medicine.

Fortunately David had met Robert Moffat, missionary in southern Africa, while Moffat was home telling stories of Africa seeking more prayer and financial support for the ministry. David asked the Rev. Moffat about some of the stories he told. He specifically wanted to know if Moffat really believed that there were people in the interior of Africa as he had mentioned in his stories.

Moffat replied:

I know the popular view is that the center of Africa is a wasteland, but that’s only because no white man has ventured inland. But I can tell you this, some mornings I have got up and looked towards the vast plain to the north and seen the smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary has ever been!

David decided Africa was where he could best be used. The Missionary Society agreed that he should go to Africa under Dr. Moffat.

On December 8, 1840 the Reverend Dr. David Livingstone was on a ship headed to Africa. Capitan Donaldson, Capitan of the George, taught David navigation using the stars and a quadrant.

Four months later, after being stranded at sea by a storm, carried to Brazil by the currants, and the ship refitted for sailing again, 28 year old David and the George arrived in Cape Town.

Livingstone noteDavid was eager to start the journey north where the “smoke of a thousand villages” indicated that there were hundreds of thousands of Africans who needed to hear about the love of Christ.

The end of July of that year, 8 months after he left home, he finally arrived at the mission station where he was assigned in Kuruman. Rev. Moffat had not yet returned to Africa from his trip back to Europe. Basically David, along with the other missionaries, were holding things together waiting for Rev. Moffat. David did not much care for this, and finally convinced Roger Edwards, another missionary at the Kuruman station, to accompany him on a trip further north to look for a suitable spot to build a new mission outpost.

Thus began David Livingstone’s journeys within Africa. He started September 24, 1841 on his famous treks throughout the southern half of the continent.

As a medical doctor, he was interested in treating people’s physical illnesses for the purpose of sharing with them the Gospel. As an explorer, he was concerned about finding easy routes from the coast to the interior of the country so that more missionaries would be able to minister within the “dark continent.”

David Livingstone left the Kuruman mission station with Roger Edwards and two African guides making their way by ox and cart. They traveled for 2 weeks to the north before they caught glimpse of their first village. Once the group knew they were being watched by the locals, they were quickly surrounded by spear wielding natives in leather tunics jumping up and down around the wagon.

Unsure of how to read their behavior, David asked his guide if they were friendly. His guide, Pomare, believed that they would not be harmed. They were led by the local men into the village of cone-shaped huts. Shortly thereafter David and the group met Chief Moseealele of the Bachuana tribe.

The village was called Mabotsa and through time, this became the location of David’s first mission station.

This was also the location where he first encountered Tampan–or as Roger Edwards told him, “African lice.” It is actually a venomous tick. Livingstone awoke in the night covered with Tampan. The treatment was to burn them out of the skin. There was a way to prevent the attacks, but it meant burning the ground beneath the hut or tent and laying a tarp down between the person and the ground. The next morning, David told the chief that he was a doctor and the chief allowed him to set up a medical tent. Because of this, David was allowed to prepare the ground properly and set up his tent, in which he slept for the duration of his stay.

Following that, Dr. Livingstone would insist on preparing a medical tent as soon as he arrived in a village to avoid such problems.

One of the humorous events during his stay was introducing the Bachuanas to his shaving mirror. They seemed to have a very enjoyable time trying to make the funniest face in the mirror.

In all his travels he wrote down exact locations and land features using the skills he learned aboard the George from Capitan Donaldson.

As soon as he arrived back in Kuruman from this first exploring trek, he was starting to plan his next trip.

The second time he was the only white man. He took with him his two previous guides and 2 other men to help with the oxen.

This second trip is when he started to learn the Bantu language. This was the language spoken by the Bachuana and Bakwain tribes. Like missionaries today, he occasionally used the wrong words. Once while preaching against sin, he was actually talking about the evils of cow manure. Not even the great Dr. David Livingstone was exempt from these types of language mistakes.

David had made friends with a Bakwainian Chief. Chief Sechele had listened to David preach many times. Finally the Chief asked David a question he could not answer. He wanted to know why, if it was such an important thing for people to hear the Gospel, that it had taken so long for the white man to tell the Africans?

When Livingstone was 30 years old he had already established the mission station in Mabotsa and was contemplating starting another station farther north. One mid-afternoon he was discussing plans with Mebalwe, a native preacher (or “agent” as they called them), when they heard the news of a lion in the area. They both rushed in and grabbed guns while the villagers grabbed their spears.

When David first saw the lion in the grass he estimated it’s weight at over 400 pounds. The lion escaped the mob and David and Mebalwe retreated back to the mission house. On the path back to the station, they walked within 10 feet of the lion before they realized it was watching them. He was able to shoot the lion in the neck before it attacked. But, it did attack. As quickly as David shot the lion, it had lept onto him and lifted him from the ground by biting into left his arm. The lion continued to hold David in his teeth and put his paw on David’s head to begin dismembering him.

Suddenly another shot rang out. Mebalwe was able to shoot the lion a second time. The lion dropped David and then lept on Mebalwe. The lion took him by the thigh. By this time they were joined by the tribesmen who were then able to spear the lion several times. The lion finally dropped dead.

Livingstone passed out and regained consciousness after he had been moved back to the mission house. He first enquired about Mebalwe’s life and was pleased to find out that no one died trying to save him. He then instructed fellow missionary Roger Edwards on how to check for where the arm was broken and reset the bones in place. He never regained the full use of the left arm after that. In many ways it was useless to him. But, once again, by God’s grace, he lived.

David put little emphasis on the event and had he not been asked to share the story so many times when he finally returned home to Europe the first time, it might not have been well publicised. In a letter to his father, this is all he had to say about the incident.

At last, one of the lions destroyed nine sheep in broad daylight on a hill just opposite our house. All the people immediately ran over to it, and, contrary to my custom, I imprudently went with them, in order to see how they acted, and encourage them to destroy him. They surrounded him several times, but he managed to break through the circle. I then got tired. In coming home I had to come near to the end of the hill. They were then close upon the lion and had wounded him. He rushed out from the bushes which concealed him from view, and bit me on the arm so as to break the bone. It is now nearly well, however, feeling weak only from having been confined in one position so long; and I ought to praise Him who delivered me from so great a danger. I hope I shall never forget his mercy. You need not be sorry for me, for long before this reaches you it will be quite as strong as ever it was. Gratitude is the only feeling we ought to have in remembering the event. Do not mention this to any one. I do not like to be talked about.

During his recovery and thinking about the events, David’s mind turned to the young Mary Moffat, the oldest daughter of Robert Moffat, whom he met in England. David could never think of marrying a European woman and bringing her to Africa. But, Mary had been born and raised in Africa. Though Scottish, she felt more at home among the lions and snakes than she could ever feel at a ladies tea party in Scotland. They were married in January of 1845.

After their marriage they moved to set up another mission station, leaving the one in Mobatsa under the charge of Roger Edwards. The new station had its physical difficulties, but there were some great spiritual strides made among the people. The conversion of Chief Sechele took place during this time.

One of the greatest difficulties that David constantly struggled with did not come from the Africans themselves. Six years before David arrived in Africa the Boers began what was called “The Great Trek” headed north away from the coast. Eventually the Boers and Livingstone became bitter enemies. But for the grace of God, Livingstone could have died at the hands of the Boers on several occasions. Unfortunately many Africans did. David did what he could to stop the Boers and their actions, and was successful for a time, but it did not last all his life.

The Boers were bent on capturing and enslaving the Bakwain tribe where David’s friend Chief Sechele lived. At the time though, David and his family lived among them. David’s biggest threat that he posed to the Boers was that he could write the people of Europe (from which the Boers descended) and tell them of the battle tactics that the Boers employed. This included sending African women and children into the battle first as human shields when they attacked a village. The Boers did not want the civilized world knowing how they carried out their enslavement tactics.

Eventually a drought drove the Livingstones and the Bachwain tribe from the area and they started a settlement in Kolobeng near a river. It was at Kolobeng where David had some of his more fierce encounters with the Boers and from whence the Livingstone expeditions to find a way through the Kalahari Desert took root.

He wanted to lead the Bakwains out of Boer territory. David did not have the money to fund such a trip through the Kalahari. So he wrote a hunter friend of his, Capitan Steele, and asked him to join the adventure. Capitan Steele, was not able to make the trip, but he sent another man to fund the trip for David in exchange for having Dr. Livingstone’s help through the desert. Cotton Oswell was that man. They built a life long relationship through their time together on that exploratory trip as well as other treks in the future.

His expedition, funded by Cotton Oswell, was an eventual success. Even though they had been lead astray by guides of another tribe who purposefully lead the group away from any water. After a month of travelling they were 120 miles into the desert, too far to go back, and dying of thirst.

God sent a local tribeswoman from the desert to cross their path. She was able to lead them to water and save the expedition from impending death. By this time they had already sent their “helpers” away. They were free to go where the bushwoman led them. On July 4th, 1849 they discovered the Zouga river.

Again, David was careful to map everything using his sextant and charts. Less than a month later, and 270 miles further north, they arrived at their goal…Lake Ngami.

Two years later in 1851 David stood on the banks of the Zambezi. The first white man to see such a sight. It was not long before the locals started telling David and Cotton Oswell about “the smoke that thunders” further down the river. “The smoke that thunders” was the native word to describe a huge waterfall on the river.

But due to the failing health of David’s family, who had been traveling with him at the time, he had to put off seeing the waterfall for another trip. The family was starting to become physically worn from the malaria and other diseases that they suffered. The Livingstones then had four children. David made the decision to send his wife and children back to Scotland for a time with the promise that he would join them in 2 years.




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Comment by Hektor

June 22, 2008 @ 9:18 am

Is it true that Livingstone had some axe to grind against the Boers?


Comment by david

June 22, 2008 @ 3:18 pm

Hektor, thanks for your comment. Also, thank you for listening.

From my reading it is obvious that Livingstone had some serious conflicts with the Boers. There was wholesale slaughter of some villages by the Boers. They attacked villages in which Livingstone was living.

While history is sometimes lopsided in favor of the guy who knows how to write, I think Livingstone was justified in his indignation toward the Boers.

Comment by Abajo!

November 22, 2008 @ 8:13 am

Coll but where is the rest of the sory/
And where can I learn about the decendece og David?


Comment by stephanie

March 10, 2009 @ 4:21 pm

gracias me sirvio mucho esto para mi investigacion que la estoy realizando desde ya dias

Comment by Solomon Ugbaja

January 13, 2012 @ 5:02 am

The story of Dr. David Livingstone has challenged me to rise and fulfill that which is written of me no matter how men evaluate me public speaking

Comment by Solomon Ugbaja

January 13, 2012 @ 5:09 am

write on Mary Seallor

Comment by kishore

January 15, 2012 @ 9:07 am

David was a great man,anyone been to Zambia or Zimbabwe is a witness.

Comment by Donna

October 12, 2017 @ 2:43 pm

How about Robert Moffatt? I didn’t realize there had already been a missionary in Africa before Livingston

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