Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we remember the legendary explorer and missionary David Livingstone.

It is the 14th of May 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


By 1871, there were rumors that David Livingstone, the famed Scottish missionary and explorer, had died. There had been no correspondence from him coming out of Africa as he was on his third tour of the country- this time with funding given to him to find the source of the Nile.  

The New York Herald sent a young Welsh reporter, Henry Stanley, to find him. Sometime near the end of the year, Stanley stumbled upon Livingstone’s party and met him with the now-famous line, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” Stanley would go on to write about the adventurer and missionary fanning the flames of fame for the 19th-century man who, in the common imagination, was something like Mother Theresa meets Indiana Jones.

The only problem with that picture of the sometimes cranky Scot was that he was, by many objective measures, a failure. The fruit his story would come to bear would be abundant, but at the time, few knew the real David Livingston.

 David Livingston was born in 1813 in Blantyre, Scotland, just outside of Glasgow. His parents were devout Christians but very poor. His father sold tea door to door and passed out Christian tracts as he went along. David went to work at the age of 10 at the nearby cotton mill. This afforded him a 2-hour daily education wherein he learned Latin and Greek and picked up his affinity for the natural sciences. His father was concerned with the boy's “worldly” interests, but it was a Christian author and astronomer Thomas Dick whose book “The Christian Philosopher, or the Connexion of Science and Philosophy with Religion,” led to Livingstone’s earnest conversion. He had also been hearing about foreign missions and decided that he could become a medical missionary to China- his father would be happy that he was going into ministry, and he would be able to pursue medicine. For the next few years, he studied both medicine and theology, and in 1838, he was ordained, licensed, and welcomed into the fellowship of the London Missionary Society with a view to leaving for China. The following year, the first Opium War broke out, and China was deemed off-limits.

He had heard a missionary on furlough, Robert Moffat, speak of Africa as an exotic and burgeoning mission field. By 1841, Livingstone was in Africa and made his way to Moffat’s place in Kuruman, South Africa. He would marry Mary Moffat’s daughter, Mary, at first out of convenience, but true affection grew, and the two would have six children in their 17 years of marriage. Livingstone was not content with setting up a mission in civilization but instead wanted to explore the African interior. He figured that by exploring and mapping, he could make maps for other missionaries. Furthermore, with proper maps, English commerce could replace the slave trade, which he abhorred. His first trips between 1847 and 1856 were made known to the British public through his letters and reports from his wife and children who came back to England. He was feted upon arrival home, given an audience with Queen Victoria, and published his bestseller “Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa.” But his relationship with the missionary society was strained- in large part due to Livingstone’s constant quarreling with fellow missionaries and guides. A second trip was funded by the crown to traverse the Zambezi and find a cross-continental river for commerce. His wife joined him on this trip and died. He was recalled by the crown only to set out one more time in 1866 to find the source of the Nile. He was unsuccessful; rumors of his death led to the Stanley exploration, and in 1873, he succumbed to disease and died. His body was returned to England to mourning and acclaim, and he was buried in Westminster Cathedral. As a missionary, he made one convert, a chieftain who would return to his tribal religion. As an explorer, he was brave but not that successful. It was his story, however, understood, that would lead to the call to abolish the slave trade in Africa and the growth of African missions, which would flourish in the next decades and century, leading to the Christianization of much of Africa. The initial fruit of his work was limited, but in the long run, he is rightly seen as one of the great fathers of foreign missions in Africa. According to his own calendar, he died on this, the 14th of May in 1873. Born in 1813, David Livingstone was 60 years old.


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary from Psalm 115:

May the Lord cause you to flourish,
    both you and your children.

May you be blessed by the Lord,

    the Maker of heaven and earth.

The highest heavens belong to the Lord,

    but the earth he has given to mankind.

It is not the dead who praise the Lord,

    those who go down to the place of silence;

it is we who extol the Lord,

    both now and forevermore.

Praise the Lord.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 14th of May 2024, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man who would like to introduce you to fine varieties of African coffees at gillespie.coffee- He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man inspired by heroic tales of adventurers to stay home… that stuff sounds dangerous. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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