Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon

George Whitefield and John Wesley are well known as the primary human instruments used of God to spark the great evangelical revival in eighteenth century England and Wales. Far fewer Christians today are familiar with Selina Hastings (1707-1791), the English noblewoman who played a key role in supporting and promoting that same revival.

Selina was the Countess of Huntingdon, having married Theophilus Hastings, the 9th Earl of Huntingdon. Following her Christian conversion through faith in Christ at age thirty-one, she was filled with desire and determination to point others to Jesus as their Savior. Besides personally sharing the Gospel with many of her acquaintances, she supported scores of Christian evangelists in their ministry of traveling about to proclaim the message of salvation. In her lifetime she funded the construction of sixty-four Gospel-preaching chapels in England and Wales, established a college where many evangelists were trained, and supported missionary endeavors in colonial America and Sierra Leone, Africa.

Theophilus and Selina Hastings, 9th Earl and Countess of Huntingdon
Theophilus and Selina Hastings, 9th Earl and Countess of Huntingdon

To follow is an intriguing set of events that unfolded in Selina’s life when she was in her late forties and early fifties. They typify how the Lord used her significantly throughout her life to bring tremendous spiritual good to innumerable people.   

In 1756 Selina’s sixteen-year-old son named Henry became ill with an unidentified disorder that began adversely affecting his eyesight. She took him to London to obtain the best medical advice available. Despite the doctors’ efforts, Henry’s overall health continued to deteriorate, and he was gradually going blind.

In the spring of the following year, Selina brought Henry to Brighthelmstone (later called Brighton) on the southern coast of England. There it was hoped he would gain improved health through sea bathing, which in that day was thought to bring considerable benefit in the case of a number of ailments.

The Baths of Brighton, thought to be therapeutic
The Baths of Brighton, thought to be therapeutic

Shortly after arriving in Brighton, Selina was surprised when a woman she had never before met approached her in the street and exclaimed, “Oh Madam, you are come!”

Taken aback, Selina asked, “What do you know of me?”

“Madam,” the woman answered, “I saw you in a dream three years ago, dressed as you are now.” She went on to relate a dream she could never forget in which she had seen a tall woman dressed just as Selina was presently. She had understood that when that woman came to Brighthelmstone she would be the means of doing much good there.

Soon thereafter, Selina paid the woman a visit and learned that she likely had only a few months to live. The Countess shared the Gospel of salvation with her. The Holy Spirit had prepared the woman’s heart, and she immediately believed in Christ Jesus as her Savior.

Selina also heard of a soldier’s wife who had just given birth to twins and was not expected to live. The countess responded quickly by helping the young woman as much as she was able—physically, materially and spiritually. The dying mother wept as she began to understand her sinful state before God and begged Selina to return to teach her from the Scriptures.

Next door to the young wife’s lodgings was the public bakehouse, where the local residents would bring their dough ready kneaded to bake in the communal oven. Through a crack in the wall between the bakehouse and the soldier’s wife’s apartment, those awaiting their turn to bake their bread could hear snatches of the conversation taking place next door.

Word quickly passed through the neighborhood of the tall stranger from London, reputed to be a peeress, who was teaching about a way of forgiveness for sin. Soon other women asked to be admitted to this bedside Bible class. Before long the small room was filled with eager hearers on the occasions of the countess’s visits.

One day as Selina entered the apartment, she noticed a shadowy figure seated in a far corner, apparently hoping to avoid detection. This individual was Joseph Wall, a local blacksmith known for his foul mouth and immoral lifestyle. He had been urged to come and listen to the countess’s spiritual teaching.

As only women had attended the studies previously, Selina hesitated. She didn’t know whether or not to ask the man to leave, but instead decided to ignore him. She proceeded as usual by praying with the women and urging them to seek God’s mercy and forgiveness while they still had opportunity to do so.

God’s Word pierced the conscience of Joseph Wall, who believed its message. He was dramatically transformed spiritually, and until his death twenty-nine years later he lived a consistent Christian life.

Sadly, Henry died in Brighton in September of 1758 at the age of eighteen. Selina was deeply grieved at his death, having in earlier years been bereaved of her husband and two other of her six children. At the same time, she was strongly consoled by the fact that Henry had shown clear evidence of true Christian faith before dying. He actually died in happiness with the assurance that He would go on living eternally with his Savior in Heaven.

Not many months passed before Selina was able to perceive a further divine purpose in the trials she had experienced in Brighton. The small group of women who initially attended her Bible study at the bedside of the soldier’s wife had now become a society of both women and men whose lives had been transformed by God’s saving grace. Here was a group of infant Christians whom she could support and encourage in their newfound faith.

The next summer she recruited evangelists, including George Whitefield, to come and minister at Brighton. In the years immediately following she used her own funds to purchase land and erect a Gospel-preaching chapel in the seaside town. It was the first of more than sixty such chapels she would have built during the final three decades of her life.

The Countess of Huntingdon's Chapel, Bath, England
The Countess of Huntingdon’s Chapel, Bath, England

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The above account was drawn heavily from Faith Cook’s outstanding biography Selina, Countess of Huntingdon (Banner of Truth Trust, 2001), pages 174-80, 184-85. Mrs. Cook’s account of Selina Hastings is an example of historical Christian biography at its very best. The work is comprehensively researched, substantive, thorough and factual. It is fair and balanced in its interpretations of Selina, her many associates, and their shared and differing convictions. The book is written in an engaging, readable fashion, is spiritually inspiring and edifying, and clearly glorifies the Lord for His extraordinary, sovereign work through His consecrated servants.

Copyright 2024 by Vance E. Christie

David Livingstone portrait by Frederick Havill
David Livingstone portrait by Frederick Havill

If a non-Christian who was somewhat skeptical toward Christians and Christianity were to have a close-up view of us going through months of adversity, what would he or she then have to say about our Christian beliefs, behavior and character?

That’s precisely what we see in Henry Stanley’s extremely positive pen portrait of David Livingstone after the two men spent four challenging months together in inner Africa. For those of us who are Christians, there is a lot for us to consider and relate to our own Christian life and witness as we contemplate Stanley’s favorable portrayal of Livingstone.

Henry Morton Stanley
Henry Morton Stanley

Stanley was the American newspaper journalist who delivered Livingstone from destitution and provided him with hope-reviving support near the end of the renowned missionary-explorer’s career of service in Africa. For a period of four months Stanley was Livingstone’s daily companion, living in close quarters with him, often under trying circumstances. Those difficulties included threatening encounters with suspicious tribesmen, spells of severe illness, a grueling overland journey on foot during the rainy season, and being attacked by a swarm of wild bees.

Following their time together, Stanley recorded a number of observations about Livingstone’s character, temperament and conduct. What makes the newspaperman’s testimony of Livingstone even more compelling is that Stanley himself was probably not a born-again believer at the time. By Stanley’s own admission, he had a fiery temper and was easily offended. He had an obvious wariness toward any type of Christian legalism or hypocrisy. All these factors inclined him to be reserved toward rather than receptive of a missionary doctor and his Christianity. Yet the consistency, genuineness and winsomeness of Livingstone’s Christian lifestyle could not be denied and made a strong positive impression on Stanley.

Meeting of Livingstone and Stanley
Meeting of Livingstone and Stanley

Stanley summarized his high estimation of the Doctor by stating in his book How I Found Livingstone: “My friendly reader, … God grant that if ever you take to traveling in Africa, you will get as noble and true a man for your companion as David Livingstone! For four months and four days I lived with him, in the same house, or in the same boat, or in the same tent, and I never found a fault in him. I am a man of quick temper, and often without sufficient cause, I dare say, have broken ties of friendship. But with Livingstone I never had cause for resentment, but each day’s life with him added to my admiration for him.”

Of Livingstone’s commendable characteristics, even in the face of marked adversity and sacrifice, Stanley revealed: “In Livingstone I have seen many amiable traits. His gentleness never forsakes him. His hopefulness never deserts him. No harassing anxieties, distraction of mind, long separation from home and kindred, can make him complain. He thinks ‘all will come out right at last’; he has such faith in the goodness of Providence. To the stern dictates of duty, alone, has he sacrificed his home and ease, the pleasures, refinements and luxuries of civilized life.”

Stanley also appreciated Livingstone’s considerable sense of humor, which consistently shone through, despite the hardships they experienced: “There is a good-natured abandon about Livingstone which was not lost on me. Whenever he began to laugh, there was a contagion about it that compelled me to imitate him. It was a laugh of the whole man from head to heel. If he told a story, he related it in such a way as to convince one of its truthfulness. His face was so lit up by the sly fun it contained, that I was sure the story was worth relating and worth listening to. Underneath his well-worn exterior lay an endless fund of high spirits and inexhaustible humor; that rugged frame of his enclosed a young and most exuberant soul. Every day I heard innumerable jokes and pleasant anecdotes.”

Livingstone and Stanley exploring upper Lake Tanganyika
Livingstone and Stanley exploring upper Lake Tanganyika

Stanley bore testimony of the nature of Livingstone’s Christianity and the positive impact it had on his character and interpersonal relationships: “His religion is not of the theoretical kind, but it is a constant, earnest, sincere practice. It is neither demonstrative nor loud, but manifests itself in a quiet, practical way, and is always at work. It is not aggressive, which sometimes is troublesome, if not impertinent. In him, religion exhibits its loveliest features. It governs his conduct not only towards his servants, but towards the natives, the bigoted Mohammedans and all who come in contact with him.”

“Without it, Livingstone, with his ardent temperament, his enthusiasm, his high spirit and courage, must have become uncompanionable, and a hard master. Religion has tamed him and made him a Christian gentleman; the crude and willful have been refined and subdued. Religion has made him the most companionable of men and indulgent of masters—a man whose society is pleasurable to a considerable extent.”

In a memorial statement that Stanley composed following Livingstone’s death, he further testified about him: “He preached no sermon by word of mouth while I was in company with him, but each day of my companionship with him witnessed a sermon acted. The Divine instructions given of old on the Sacred Mount [in Matthew 5-7] were closely followed day by day, whether he rested in the jungle camp or bided in the traders’ town or savage hamlet. Lowly of spirit, meek in speech, merciful of heart, pure in mind and peaceful in act; suspected by the Arabs to be an informer, and therefore calumniated [slandered] by his own servants, but ever forgiving; often robbed and thwarted yet bearing no ill will; cursed by the marauders yet physicking their infirmities; most despitefully used yet praying daily for all manner and condition of men!”

“Had my soul been of brass and my heart of spelter, the powers of my head had surely compelled me to recognize, with due honor, the Spirit of Goodness which manifested itself in him. Had there been anything of the Pharisee or the hypocrite in him, or had I but traced a grain of meanness or guile in him, I had surely turned away a sceptic. But my everyday study of him, during health or sickness, deepened my reverence and increased my esteem. He was, in short, consistently noble, upright, pious and manly all the days of my companionship with him.”

“His conversation was serious, his demeanor grave and earnest. Morn and eve he worshiped, and at the end of every march he thanked the Lord for His watchful providence. On Sundays he conducted Divine Service and praised the glory of the Creator, the True God, to his dark followers. His hand was clear of the stain of bloodguiltiness. Profanity was an abomination to him. He was not indolent either in his Master’s service or in the cause to which he was sacrificing himself. His life was an evidence that he served God with all his heart.”

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My February 23, 2024, Perspective on “Dr. Livingstone, I Presume?” provides a summary account of Stanley’s rescuing of Livingstone. A complete record of Stanley’s time with and perspectives on Livingstone are recorded in my recently published biography David Livingstone: Missionary, Explorer, Abolitionist (Christian Focus, 2023).

Copyright 2024 by Vance E. Christie

I’m delighted to announce my next big biography project, a comprehensive work on the life and ministry of William Carey, the eminent pioneer missionary to India. In stating this intended undertaking, I immediately and appropriately add the important qualification, Lord willing!

I am deeply grateful to God and Christian Focus Publications for the splendid opportunity to research and write Carey’s life story. Here are four key reasons I’m looking forward to studying and sharing about this outstanding servant of Christ:

1. William Carey (1761-1834) is commonly designated as “the father of modern missions.” He was not the first person of his generation to go out as a foreign missionary. But he was the primary individual used of God to awaken the broader English-speaking Church of that day to its biblical responsibility to actively send out missionaries to carry the gospel of salvation to the many unreached countries of the world.

Carey was a humble, determined young pastor who played a primary role in leading his ministerial brethren in overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles to establish England’s first-ever Baptist Missionary Society. He volunteered to go to India as that Society’s first missionary, and served there the remainder of his life, for forty years.

Wall hanging depicting Carey's service in India, at Carey Baptist Church, Moulton, England
Wall hanging depicting Carey’s service in India, at Carey Baptist Church, Moulton, England

He eventually became the world’s premier missionary of his day and easily ranks as one of the most influential missionaries in the history of the Christian Church. Partly as a result of Carey’s influence and example (and ultimately because of God’s sovereign work) a missionary movement developed that saw several missionary societies spring up and send out gospel messengers to various parts of the formerly-unevangelized world.

2. Carey and his ministry associates endured innumerable difficulties and discouragements, but also experienced remarkable successes. The record of their overcoming such marked trials and having such tremendous accomplishments, all by God’s grace, is worthy of being remembered and rehearsed. Their trials and triumphs remind contemporary Christians of the truth of Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

Carey and his fellow missionaries sometimes endured seasons of great material need in their service for the Lord. Several of Carey’s family members and colleagues died of various types of sickness and disease. Their ministry efforts were often stringently opposed by British officials who did not want the activities of missionaries to stir up trouble among the Indian people, thus potentially threatening the British East India Company’s ability to turn a handsome profit. The Indians won to Christ faced strong opposition and sometimes even persecution from their fellow countrymen.

The missionaries’ printing press and supplies as well as numerous Scripture translation projects were once destroyed in a cataclysmic fire. On a later occasion some of their houses and lands were devastated by flooding. Carey’s first wife, Dorothy, descended into insanity in the closing years of her life and more than once violently attacked him as he sought to continue his loving care of her. In the latter years of Carey’s ministry, irreconcilable differences arose between the Baptist Missionary Society’s founding missionaries and its second generation of missionaries and board members back in England, leading to an amicable but sorrowful parting of the ways.

But despite all those and other difficulties, Carey and his ministry associates experienced many notable blessings and successes. Thousands of Indians were led to faith in Jesus and baptized. Missionaries and indigenous evangelists established scores of schools that ministered to thousands of students. Eighteen mission stations were founded that stretched from northern India to western Burma.

William Carey with his pundit
William Carey with his Pundit

Carey himself was a brilliant, self-trained linguist. Aided by a number of Indian pundits, he oversaw the translation of God’s Word, in part or in its entirety, into thirty-five Oriental languages. He produced the extensive grammars and dictionaries that enabled Indians and others to systematically study and learn the six chief languages of that country. For three decades he served as the professor of Bengali, Sanskrit and Marathi at Calcutta’s Fort William College, which trained men for responsible positions of civil service. He and his missionary colleagues also established Serampore College where Indians of all classes were educated then went out to serve as preachers, schoolmasters, journalists, lawyers, and in other influential positions. For decades Carey spoke out forcefully against certain troubling customs in India such as widow-burning and infanticide; in the end he lived to see those tragic practices abolished.

3. Carey is a great example of how God can and does use humble, consecrated, faith-filled servants of Christ to accomplish exceptional good. Carey received only an elementary education in the village school where he grew up. Beyond that, his education was almost entirely self-taught. For several years he struggled to provide for the material needs of his family as a hardworking but poorly compensated shoemaker and village schoolteacher. While he was continually encouraged by other Christians to minister first as a lay preacher then as an officially recognized pastor, Carey lacked the formal training of many of his fellow ministers and was originally viewed as having less standing than many of them.

But each step along the way, he continued to faithfully serve in the capacities where the Lord placed him. He carefully followed the leading he received from God’s Word, the Bible—whether that involved putting service of Christ’s kingdom before material gain or acting on the blazing conviction within his heart to do all he could to promote the fulfillment of Christ’s Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).

Carey was also a man of outstanding faith. His ministry motto was: “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.” His example reminds us that God loves to use humble, devoted, faith-filled Christians in significant ways. When God does, it’s clear that He rather than the servants He uses gets the glory for His mighty work and accomplishments through them.

William Carey's motto

4. Like so many once-prominent Christians of the past, Carey is little-known to most modern believers. While some fifty biographies have been written on his life (a clear indication of his greatness), most of those have long been out of print. A few youth biographies on Carey are still in print and provide a partial portrayal of his life. Other helpful works have been published on various aspects of Carey’s ministry. But it has been about thirty years since any sort of more-comprehensive biography has been published on his life and ministry. After three decades, the time seems right for a major new Carey biography to acquaint or reacquaint the present generation of Christians with him.

As I proceed with this project, I’ll plan to provide a progress report now and again to let you know how things are coming. Any prayers for the Lord’s guidance, enablement and blessing in the process are greatly appreciated.

Copyright 2024 by Vance E. Christie

I’m delighted to share that I’ve written a youth biography on David Livingstone which is tentatively scheduled to be published late this coming summer (perhaps August or September). The book is entitled David Livingstone: Africa’s Greatest Explorer. It is being published by CF4K (Christian Focus for Kids), the children’s books publishing arm of Christian Focus Publications (CFP).

This book will be joining scores of others that have previously been published in CF4K’s popular Trailblazers series of Christian biographies for youth. The primary target audience for these biographies is older elementary and middle school students.

I have written and CFP has published a lengthy, comprehensive adult biography on Livingstone because we consider his life and ministry worthy of such thorough treatment. But now we’re pleased to produce and present a short (around 150 pages), youth-level biography to acquaint younger readers with this eminent nineteenth century missionary and explorer in Africa.

In this briefer account of Livingstone, I’ve included many of the positive and important highlights of his life and ministry. Since this work is only one-tenth the length of the comprehensive adult biography, I obviously couldn’t begin to incorporate everything of significance. But I have endeavored to share plenty of representative events that reveal the primary activities, priorities, circumstances and accomplishments of his remarkable life story.

Bearing in mind that I was writing for a younger audience, I’ve included many instances of action and adventure that actually took place throughout Livingstone’s decades of colorful service in Africa. Even here I had to do some picking and choosing, because Livingstone’s storyline is so full of adventures that not all of them could be incorporated.

Statue of David Livingstone Being Attached By a Lion
Statue of David Livingstone Being Attached By a Lion

But beyond action and adventure, I’ve sought to portray numerous other significant and beneficial aspects of Livingstone’s life as well, especially those that would be worthwhile for young people to consider. To name but a few, those include: the challenging circumstances of his boyhood; his Christian conversion and call to be a missionary; God’s protection of and provisions for him through many difficult and dangerous situations; his chief priority throughout his career of helping bring Christianity and the Gospel of salvation to people groups which had never before heard of them; his determination to expose and help bring an end to the destructive slave trade throughout southern Africa; his resolutely enduring all variety of hardships and sacrifices in order to carry out the ministries and service he believed God would have him to undertake.

It’s my definite desire and prayer that through the publication of David Livingstone: Africa’s Greatest Explorer, countless young people will (1) become acquainted with one of the outstanding heroes of Christ’s Church and (2) be encouraged and strengthened in their own Christian faith and service.

In the coming months I’ll share more specifics about the book’s anticipated release as that information becomes available.

Copyright 2024 by Vance E. Christie

Several people have told me that the extent of their knowledge concerning David Livingstone is the well-known catchphrase, “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” Some first saw the phrase used in one or another of a number of cartoon depictions of Livingstone being found in the jungles of Africa. Others first heard it in a classic Sesame Street episode involving Bert and Ernie.

Here’s the true story of how that phrase was first used in an extremely significant turn of events that took place toward the end of Livingstone’s life. It involves another individual who, like Livingstone, came to gain eminence as an explorer in Africa.

Livingstone spent the final seven years of his life (1866-1873) journeying in south-central Africa under the auspices of Britain’s Royal Geographical Society. During that time he explored the vast system of rivers and lakes in that part of the continent. He desired to discover if they might prove to be the then-undetermined headwaters of the Nile River, which was a question of enormous interest to British geographers in that day. However, his highest objectives throughout those years continued to be his desire to promote Christianity and to help bring an end to the slave trade in that portion of Africa.

For five years Livingstone carried out a series of journeys which involved all types of extreme difficulties and dangers. Finally, after getting to within just 100 miles of completing his westernmost exploration of the water system, he was forced by a combination of insurmountable circumstances to backtrack over 300 miles to the town of Ujiji on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika. There he would likely need to wait many months for adequate supplies and reliable carriers to be sent to him from the coast before he could return to continue his westward explorations.

More than once Livingstone had made arrangements for food staples, trading items and dependable carriers to be sent by the British Consul on Zanzibar to him at Ujiji. But on at least one earlier occasion and again now, the supplies which were sent for him never reached Ujiji. Or after arriving there they were consumed by the unreliable individuals who were to preserve them for him there.

So presently, on his first evening back at Ujiji on October 23, 1871, he was distressed to learn that the man who had been placed in charge of his belongings, had sold all of them. 3,000 yards of Livingstone’s cloth and 700 pounds of his beads had been traded away in exchange for food, drink and other goods for the unfaithful steward and his associates.

Livingstone now found himself with almost no food or possessions in Ujiji. Referring to Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37, the Doctor later wrote: ‘I felt, in my destitution, as if I were the man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves. But I could not hope for priest, Levite or Good Samaritan to come by on either side.’ Then, however, he added: ‘But when my spirits were at their lowest ebb, the Good Samaritan was close at hand.’

Late in the morning of November 10, the sound of rifles being fired from the top of the hill some 500 yards east of Ujiji was suddenly heard in the town below. At first the townspeople feared that Ujiji was under attack. But the group of people at the top of the hill carried a flag at the front of their procession, approached the town slowly, and fired their guns only to signal their approach, all of which showed that they were a peaceful caravan and not an attacking war party. Soon hundreds of townspeople ran up the hill to welcome the approaching caravan.

From the verandah of his rented house beside the Ujiji marketplace, Livingstone watched the excitement caused by the caravan. ‘Rejoice, old master,’ men soon called out to him, ‘it is a white man’s caravan. It may belong to a friend of yours.’

At first Livingstone was too surprised to believe that an Englishman was actually approaching. He had not seen a single white person since returning to the African mainland five years earlier.

Minutes later the Muslim Arab leaders in Ujiji gathered at Livingstone’s house and said, ‘Come, arise, friend David. Let us go and meet this white stranger. He may be a relative of yours. If God is pleased, he is sure to be a friend. The praise be to God for His goodness!’

They reached the center of the marketplace just moments before the caravan did. Livingstone afterward recorded of the approach of the procession and its leader: “The American flag at the head of a caravan told of the nationality of the stranger. Bales of goods, baths of tin, huge kettles, cooking pots, tents, etc. made me think, ‘This must be a luxurious traveler, and not one at his wits’ end like me’.”

The caravan’s leader, a young man of thirty years of age, pressed through the dense crowds and slowly walked toward Livingstone and the semicircle of Arabs standing behind him. A hush fell over the large crowd of more than 1,000 people who eagerly desired to see and hear what was about to happen.

The American wore a new flannel suit which he had reserved for this special occasion. The evening before his boots had been polished and his pith helmet freshly chalked in preparation for the meeting. He observed that Livingstone was pale, looked tired and had a gray beard. The Doctor wore a dark blue cap, like what a sea captain would wear, with a faded gold band around it. He had on a red-sleeved waistcoat and a pair of gray tweed pants.

At five feet, five inches tall, the American was three inches shorter than the Doctor. Approaching Livingstone in a deliberate, dignified fashion, he took off his hat, bowed and posed his immortal question: ‘Doctor Livingstone, I presume?’

‘Yes,’ Livingstone replied simply with a kind smile, lifting his cap slightly in respectful greeting to the young man.

‘I thank God, Doctor,’ the American announced aloud, ‘I have been permitted to see you.’

‘I feel most thankful that I am here to welcome you,’ Livingstone responded sincerely.

The American was Henry Morton Stanley, a traveling newspaper correspondent of the New York Herald. Stanley had been sent out by the Herald to find out if Livingstone were still alive and, if so, to assist him in any way he could.

While Livingstone had been in remote inner Africa, there was no reliable mail delivery system. It took many months for letters to be carried to the British Consul at Zanzibar or to friends and family in Britain. There were long periods when Livingstone was not heard from. More than once rumors circulated that he had died. 

Both in Britain and in America there was considerable interest in learning if Livingstone were still living and what new discoveries he was making. The proprietor of the New York Herald, James Gordon Bennett, knew that considerable prestige and financial profit would come to his newspaper if it were the first to discover and publish this information. That is why he sent Stanley out in search of the Doctor.

Bennett gave Stanley an unlimited budget with which to accomplish his assignment. Stanley informed Livingstone that the undertaking was being carried out at an expense of more than 4,000 pounds. That equaled over 20,000 American dollars, an immense sum of money at that time.

Livingstone had been eating only two small, tasteless meals a day before Stanley’s arrival at Ujiji. But now he ate four delicious and nutritious meals each day with the food that Stanley provided for him. ‘You have brought me new life,’ the Doctor kept telling his generous new companion.

Stanley also delivered a whole bag of mail and newspapers which the British Consul at Zanzibar had sent for the Doctor. It was the first news Livingstone had heard from the outside world in over two years, as well as the only personal letters he had received from family and friends during that period.

Stanley had arrived at Zanzibar in January of that year, 1871. There he collected a whopping six tons of equipment and supplies for his upcoming expedition to find Livingstone. He hired 191 people to serve as his carriers, armed guards, and cooks. He also purchased twenty-seven donkeys to carry supplies and two horses for riding.

It took Stanley’s expedition over seven and a half months to traverse more than 800 miles from the coast to Ujiji. That included a three-month delay at another important Arab settlement, Unyanyembe, along the way, because a powerful African chief was blocking the route between there and Ujiji. Advancing from Unyanyembe with a smaller company of fifty-four well-armed men, Stanley skirted around the blocked territory and succeeded in reaching Livingstone at Ujiji.

After spending four months with Livingstone, Stanley returned to Zanzibar where he hired fifty-seven dependable carriers to take an abundance of supplies back to the Doctor and to assist him in carrying out his final explorations. Stanley continued on to Britain then America, where he gained great acclaim as the man who had successfully found and rescued Livingstone. Stanley published a massive 719-page book, How I Found Livingstone, in which he detailed his search for and assistance to the Doctor.

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My recently published book David Livingstone: Missionary, Explorer, Abolitionist (Christian Focus, 2023) provides a comprehensive account of Livingstone’s remarkable life and ministry.

Copyright 2024 by Vance E. Christie

When I was in the seventh or eighth grade I asked for a German Shepherd puppy for Christmas. I think I desired that gift more than any other I ever requested as a boy.

Dad and Mom told me that I could have a dog if I earned enough “puppy points.” Points could be gained by keeping my room clean, helping with other household chores, doing well in school, wearing a tie to church (which my friends and I disliked doing at that age), and generally being an all-around well-behaved kid.

During the few months leading up to that Christmas I was transformed into a model child. My room was always clean. I had never been so eager to help with chores around the house. I worked hard in school. I not only wore a tie to church myself, but convinced my friends to do the same, hoping that through their goodness I might gain additional puppy points. If ever a gift was to be earned through one’s own efforts, I was determined to succeed through mine on that occasion.

I kept asking my parents exactly how many points I needed to accumulate. They good-naturedly gave me indefinite responses like: “Oh, we can’t tell you that. You just keep working at it, and we’ll let you know come Christmas if you earned enough.” 

On Christmas Eve that year my folks presented me with the cutest, cuddliest little German Shepherd puppy I had ever seen. I was overjoyed and greatly relieved to have earned it.

Not until years later did it dawn on me that I had not actually earned that gift. My parents intended to grant my request all along. The puppy points game was just a ruse to keep me from knowing ahead of time what their true intention was.

The Bible teaches that God has the infinitely more important gifts of eternal life and salvation from sin which He desires people to have. Romans 6:23 states, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Ephesians 2:8-9 explains: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

These Scriptures make it clear that salvation and eternal life truly are God’s gifts given by His grace (favor that we don’t deserve). Many people fail to understand that and, like me with my puppy points, try to earn their salvation and their way to Heaven by their own good works.

Rather, to receive God’s gifts, we need to sincerely trust in His Son, Jesus Christ, as our only means of gaining them. When Jesus died on the cross, He received the judgment that our sins deserve, so that those who believe in Him as their Savior may instead have their sins forgiven and gain spiritual and eternal life.

Speaking of Himself and why He would be raised up on the cross, Jesus explained in John 3:14-16: “ … so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Copyright 2023 by Vance E. Christie

The Gospel Coalition 2023 Book Awards have been announced, and David Livingstone: Missionary, Explorer, Abolitionist has received TGC’s Award of Distinction in the category of Missions and the Global Church. Here’s the TGC award citation:

Vance Christie, David Livingstone: Missionary, Explorer, Abolitionist (Christian Focus)

One of the most famous figures in Christian missions history is David Livingstone. This Scottish physician and missionary pioneer took the gospel into the heart of the African interior in the 19th century, documenting its cultural features and discovering natural wonders along the way. His amazing feats made him a hero in Victorian Britain, both in the church and broader society. But in more recent years, his legacy has been questioned and his work criticized.

In this detailed biography, Vance Christie gives a balanced account of Livingstone’s life. Using comprehensive research from numerous original sources, Christie provides a transparent telling of the man and his mission. Readers will no doubt see Livingstone’s flaws, but they also come away with an appreciation of his passion, convictions, accomplishments, and even humor. This in-depth biography is likely to become the standard work on Livingstone for generations to come.

Judges: Elliot Clark, Jenny Manley, Conrad Mbewe, J. D. Payne

The complete list of The Gospel Coalition 2023 Book Awards may be reviewed at:

Copyright 2023 by Vance E. Christie

Christmas gift books

Here in the United States, where Christmas is commercialized to the nth degree, Black Friday shopping has been a major Christmas season marketing feature for years. Starting in the early morning hours on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day (always the fourth Thursday in November in the USA) stores offer incredible doorbuster deals on select items to lure customers to begin their holiday shopping at those retail establishments.

This year many American retailers rolled out their Black Friday advertising and deals at the beginning of November. Some Christian retailers have joined in the early Black Friday marketing push. I cannot fault them for desiring to catch and direct people’s attention to their products, which they consider to be of real spiritual value for their potential patrons. After all, if those Christian retailers start their Christmas promoting too late, the hard reality is that not a few of their could-have-been customers will have already decided to spend their available gift-buying funds on other items.

I am an author of historical Christian biographies. I am not a retailer who makes my living by selling my books. While I definitely believe my books fill a vital niche in the Christian market, the fact is they are not best-sellers or big money-makers. But honestly, I wish my published works were best-sellers, not for the financial gain that would bring to me, but for the tremendous spiritual benefits such reading would bring to many Christians. Among the numerous benefits to be gained by reading the life stories of outstanding men and women of the Christian faith are encouragement, inspiration and instruction to strengthen and vitalize our own spiritual lives and service.

Out of that motivation, I’d like to draw your attention to the biographies I’ve had the privilege of writing, and to invite you to consider them as potential worthwhile gifts for one or more of the people on your Christmas gift-giving list this year. And perhaps you’ll want to include a couple of these books on your own Christmas gift-wish list.

David Livingstone: Missionary, Explorer, Abolitionist – This is my most recent biography, published in July of this year! It provides a comprehensive account of the Scottish missionary doctor who became one of the most prominent and honored people to live in the 1800s. He pioneered vast regions of southcentral and southeastern Africa, rewrote the Western world’s understanding of that portion of the African continent, opened the door for Christianity and legitimate commerce to be brought into those regions, and played a primary role in the slave trade being ended there. The book is available in a beautiful hardback edition and in an unabridged audiobook edition (with This volume will appeal to those who love substantive biography and history reading, and to those who are up to taking a first crack at such substantial reading (or listening).   

Women of Faith and Courage by Vance Christie

Women of Faith and Courage – Women and older girls (and even some men) will appreciate this collection of abbreviated biographies on five prominent Christian ladies: Susanna Wesley, Fanny Crosby, Catherine Booth, Mary Slessor and Corrie ten Boom. Both in their own homes and in the public sphere these women served the Lord, their families and others with tremendous faithfulness and fruitfulness. Women’s reading groups would find this to be a profitable book to read and discuss together.

Timeless Stories by Vance Christie

Timeless Stories, God’s Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians – This book features engaging true stories grouped into eight chapters on key themes of the Christian life: Family, Service, Prayer, Faith, Witness, Forgiveness, Stewardship and Adversity. The stories are drawn from actual incidents in the lives of ten eminent Christians, including Corrie ten Boom, Amy Carmichael, Billy Graham, Dwight Moody, George Muller, Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, George Whitefield and others. Many people enjoy picking up this book and reading a few or several beneficial stories at a time, rather than following a lengthy, sustained narrative of one person’s life. This book is also a treasure trove of illustrations for pastors and Christian teachers, as it includes a total of some 200 anecdotes on the key Christian-living themes already mentioned.

Hudson Taylor by Vance Christie

Hudson Taylor, Gospel Pioneer to China – Taylor’s missionary career was one big adventure from start to finish, and is fascinating to both younger and older readers. His undying concern for those who needed to hear of the Savior and his remarkable faith in God motivated and enabled him to establish the China Inland Mission, through which tens of thousands of Chinese came to faith in Christ. His example quickens our own Christian compassion and faith.

John and Betty Stam by Vance Christie

John and Betty Stam, Missionary Martyrs – The Stams were a young American couple who served the Lord with single-minded consecration and warmth of personal devotion. They ultimately laid down their very lives in doing so when they were martyred by Communist rebels in China. For them honoring Christ by life or by death (Philippians 1:20) was not a mere slogan, but a reality by which they lived and died. Beginning in their own day and continuing to the present time nearly ninety years after their deaths, their examples have inspired untold thousands to serve Jesus with greater commitment. Older teens and young adults processing such issues as marriage and God’s call to vocational ministry will find this biography especially helpful.

David Brainerd by Vance Christie

David Brainerd: A Flame for God – Brainerd was a pioneer missionary to Colonial American Indians. He persevered through marked difficulties and discouragements in his ministry, which was crowned with a remarkable bona fide revival among the Indians to whom he ministered. This book is full of citations from Brainerd’s private spiritual diaries, which reveal the passionate devotional spirit with which he served the Lord.    

Andrew Murray by Vance Christie

Andrew Murray: Christ’s Anointed Minister to South Africa – Murray was South Africa’s premier preacher, devotional writer and church leader in the latter 1800s and early 1900s. While being a man of seemingly constant action and accomplishment, Murray was also a contemplative individual whose preaching and writing were deeply devotional. Through his prolific writing endeavors, he had a worldwide ministry to hundreds of thousands of Christians in his own day, and his books continue to minister to thousands today. Pastors and laymen alike will be inspired by his example of active, progressive service flowing from his intense personal fellowship with the Lord.

Adoniram Judson by Vance Christie

Adoniram Judson: Devoted for Life – Judson was America’s very first foreign missionary and a pioneer missionary to Burma. He and his three successive wives endured staggering hardships in bringing the Gospel to Burma. Judson established healthy Christian congregations there and translated the entire Bible into the Burmese language. He and his wives’ sacrifices and accomplishments continue to bear spiritual fruit in that difficult country to this day.

You can find much more information about these biographies under the “Books” tab at my writing website Just type the title of any of my books plus my name (e.g., ‘david livingstone vance christie’) into your internet search engine to bring up numerous retailers who sell the work, oftentimes at a nice discount off the retail price.

Of course, quality biographies have been written about hundreds of other outstanding Christians of the past and can be readily located on the internet. Here’s a link to a list of top-tier biographies I recommend: “Some Highly Recommended Historical Christian Biographies.”

Lots of worthwhile Christian biographies have also been published for younger children and older youth. See, for instance, Christian Focus Publication’s Trailblazer series (under its CF4Kids imprint) and YWAM’s Christian Heroes Then & Now series.

Copyright 2023 by Vance E. Christie

This is the second of two articles in which I’m chronicling the high level of support and sacrifice which Mary Livingstone gave in aiding her husband David, the renowned nineteenth-century missionary doctor, explorer and slavery abolitionist in southern Africa. Mary’s unflagging support was an essential component in her husband’s outstanding accomplishments and success.

Ultimately, Mary’s support of and sacrifices for her husband were given as service to the Lord Jesus Christ. To follow is a summary of the remainder of her selfless, sacrificial service, not only as the wife of David Livingstone, but also as a faithful servant of her Savior.

In 1851 David and Mary, again accompanied by their young children, succeeded in reaching the powerful Makololo tribe, located some 200 miles north of Lake Ngami and 800 miles from their mission station at Kolobeng. Livingstone related an extremely trying circumstance they faced, and Mary’s response to it, while passing through an extensive arid region along the way:

“The supply of water in the wagons had been wasted by one of our servants, and by the afternoon only a small portion remained for the children. This was a bitterly anxious night. And next morning the less there was of water, the more thirsty the little rogues became. The idea of their perishing before our eyes was terrible. It would almost have been a relief to me to have been reproached with being the entire cause of the catastrophe. But not one syllable of upbraiding was uttered by their mother, though the tearful eye told the agony within.”

The Livingstones had hoped to stay with the Makololo for at least a year and to establish a mission work among them. But they were unable to determine a healthy location where they could do so, as virulent fever existed throughout the region.

As the Livingstones returned toward Kolobeng, Mary gave birth to their fifth child, a son whom they named William Oswell, on September 15. Thankfully, Mary’s delivery was “quick and safe,” and she experienced better health at that time than during any of her earlier confinements.

David Livingstone Family
David Livingstone Family

Livingstone determined to devote two years to living among the Makololo, to identify a salubrious location where a mission station could be established, and to determine if a river route could be found from either the west or east coast of Africa. It was hoped that by such a water route missionaries and supplies could be brought to the interior of the continent with the expenditure of far less time, money and effort than was required in using the existing overland route from the southern coast.

In the meanwhile, Mary would return to Britain with the children, where they could be educated and avoid the dangerous fevers of inland Africa. Owing to a variety of unforeseen circumstances beyond Livingstone’s control, it was actually four and a half years before he was able to fulfill his undertakings in behalf of the Makololo and to return to his wife and children in Britain. Those were extremely difficult years for Mary.

She experienced the heartache and loneliness of being separated from her husband whom she loved devotedly. She was prone to anxiety and apprehension. Though Livingstone wrote her and the children regularly, it took many months for his letters to make their way from the interior of Africa to Britain, if they ever were successfully delivered. When Mary didn’t hear from him for long stretches at a time, she experienced deep anxiety that sorely tested her faith. Sometimes Livingstone’s letters brought deeply concerning news, as when he wrote to inform her that Boers (Dutchmen who had emigrated from Cape Colony and opposed his ministry to African tribes beyond the Colony’s northern border) had ransacked their home at Kolobeng and destroyed their possessions valued at nearly 300 pounds.

The London Missionary Society, with which the Livingstones served, supported Mary and the children at a seemingly adequate rate of thirty pounds per quarter. But expenses for travel to Scotland and England, modest lodgings and furnishings, clothes, food and other necessities soon left her financially straitened.

Livingstone’s parents were willing to have Mary’s two older sons live with them in Scotland and to provide for their education there. But Livingstone had made it clear that he desired his children to live and be educated in England, where he thought the climate would be less severe and healthier for them.

Perhaps also out of her own desire to keep her young family from being separated, Mary chose to settle with all her children in England. Happily, a series of friends of her parents helped watch out for her and the children. They were especially cared for by the Braithwaites, a Quaker family at Kendal in the scenic Lake District of northwest England. The Braithwaites opened their own home to Mary and her children. They provided them with food, clothing and medical care, also enrolled the children in the local Quaker school.

Livingstone was reunited with his wife and children in Britain from December 1856 to March 1858. Due to the exceptional missionary exertions and remarkable geographical explorations and discoveries that the Doctor had carried out in his opening sixteen years of service in Africa, he was welcomed back to Britain as a national hero by Christians and secularists alike. He was lauded not only by common people, but also by Government officials, members of the nobility, high-ranking churchmen, and prominent people in various fields of scientific endeavor. A number of public receptions were held in his honor.

At some of those gatherings Mary was also highly praised for her active support of her husband and her selfless enduring of difficult trials in order to help advance civilization and the interests of Christianity in Africa. The Royal Geographical Society (RGS) held a farewell banquet in Livingstone’s honor shortly before he returned to Africa as the newly appointed head of the Zambesi Expedition. The hall was crowded with dignitaries representing a broad spectrum of vocations. When RGS President Sir Roderick Murchison spoke in praise of Mary, a gentleman in the audience called for three hearty cheers for Mrs. Livingstone. The whole assembly stood to salute her with sustained cheering and waving of handkerchiefs.

The Zambesi Expedition had as its stated objectives to explore the Zambesi River and its tributaries with the intention of introducing Christianity, commerce and civilization into that region of Africa for its spiritual and economic benefit. As Livingstone and Mary prepared to return to Africa, they decided to leave their three oldest children (then ages twelve, ten and nearly nine) in Britain to continue their education there. Oswell, their youngest child at seven years of age, would accompany them back to Africa. While the couple’s decision to leave their older children in Britain was quite common practice for missionaries in that day, the final parting with Robert, Agnes and Thomas was excruciating.

Mary Livingstone with son William Oswell
Mary Livingstone with son William Oswell

While en route back to Africa the Livingstones discovered that Mary was pregnant. Rather than accompanying Livingstone to the Zambesi’s fever-ridden delta region at the coast of the Indian Ocean, it was decided that Mary would instead proceed to her parents’ mission station at Kuruman, to deliver her new baby there. Of their unanticipated and undesired separation from each other at the Cape, Livingstone recorded: “It was a bitter parting with my wife, like tearing the heart out of one.”

Mary gave birth to their sixth child and third daughter, naming her Anna Mary, in November 1858. Credible reports had been received that the Boers were planning an attack on Kuruman, and it was uncertain when and where Mary would be able to rejoin Livingstone. So she decided instead to return to Britain with her youngest son and infant daughter, for their protection. This she did in the opening months of 1859.

Upon reaching Britain, Mary settled with her children in Glasgow. Because of Livingstone’s increased income as a Government consul, her pecuniary circumstances were more comfortable than they had been during her previous stay in Britain. Besides caring for her toddler daughter, she had concerns about the health and education of her other children. Robert, then fifteen years of age, was especially worrisome to her, as he was struggling in school and beginning to be adversely affected through his poor choice of friends.

In July 1861 Mary made the heart-wrenching decision to leave her children in Britain and to rejoin her husband in Africa. During the voyage she wrote: “I must not complain. I am as comfortable as I can be … but I long to hear of my darling children. It is with the utmost difficulty that I keep up heart. … My dear baby, how my heart yearns for her. I miss her much.”

Livingstone and Mary were reunited on February 1, 1862, at one of the mouths of the Zambesi on the coast. The Zambesi Expedition made its way upriver to the scenic settlement of Shupanga, arriving there on February 26. The Livingstones set up a tent as their temporary residence under the mango trees on the bank of the river. Work was carried out nearby, assembling the sections of a new iron steamship that had recently arrived from Britain and was to be used in the ongoing expedition.

The Doctor and Mary were delighted to be back together again and greatly enjoyed each other’s company. Livingstone related: “In our interaction in private there was more than would be thought by some a decorous amount of merriment and play. I said to her …, ‘We old bodies ought now to be more sober and not play so much.’ ‘O no,’ she said, ‘you must just be as playful as you have always been. I would not like you to be so grave as some folks I have seen.’ … She was always young and playful.”

But not a few concerns troubled Mary’s mind at that time as well. She was concerned and even despondent over their son Robert in his unsettled state back in Britain. In addition, as Livingstone later revealed: “She had a strong presentiment of death being near. She said that she would never have a house in this country. Taking it be despondency alone I only joked, and now my heart smites me that I did not talk seriously on that and many other things besides.”

Malicious and totally unfounded rumors about Mary had begun in Britain and at the Cape, then followed her to the Zambesi: that Livingstone stayed away from her for such long periods because she was unpleasant to live with; that she had developed a serious drinking problem; that her interaction with James Stewart (a Scottish Free Church missionary ten years her junior, who had acted as her escort throughout the voyage to Africa) had been imprudent and too familiar according to the conservative standards of the era. Livingstone, to whatever degree he was aware of such cruel slander, put no stock in any of it, and always maintained a positive, harmonious relationship with his wife.

Mary also started experiencing intermittent fever not long after her arrival at the Zambesi. At first her recurring fevers raised little concern, as many individuals in the Zambesi expedition experienced them, and usually they could be treated simply enough with medicine. But on April 26 she spiked a fever that was accompanied by “obstinate vomiting,” which prevented treatment using oral medications.

Mary Livingstone's Grave Shupanga
Mary Livingstone’s Grave Shupanga

Despite the diligent treatments of Livingstone and another skilled medical doctor on the expedition, Mary’s condition steadily declined. She died at sunset the following day, a Sunday. Her forty-first birthday had occurred just fifteen days earlier. Sadly, she had only been reunited with her husband for not quite three months.

In the months that followed Livingstone often wrote in his journal and in more than a score of his letters to family and friends of Mary’s passing. He recorded many words of praise for Mary’s selfless love and support of him and their children, as well as for her service of the African people.

To site but one example, in the book that Livingstone later wrote about the Zambesi Expedition, he paid tribute to Mary by stating of her: “Those who are not aware how this brave, good English wife made a delightful home at Kolobeng, a thousand miles inland from the Cape, and as a Christian lady exercised most beneficial influence over the rude tribes of the interior, may wonder that she should have braved the dangers and toils of this downtrodden land. She knew them all and, in the disinterested and dutiful attempt to renew her labors, was called to her [heavenly] rest instead.”

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An account of Mary’s girlhood and early years of missionary service with David Livingstone is recorded in my October 3, 2023, Perspective on “Mary Livingstone, Praiseworthy Missionary Wife and Mother.” A much-fuller record of Mary Livingstone’s steadfast service of Christ Jesus, her unfailing support of her husband’s remarkable ministries, and the significant sacrifices she made as a result is included in my comprehensive new biography David Livingstone: Missionary, Explorer, Abolitionist.

Copyright 2023 by Vance E. Christie

David and Mary Livingstone with their young children
David and Mary Livingstone with their young children

Many men who have great accomplishments in life are able to do so in part due to the strong support of their wives. Often such support involves wives making marked personal sacrifices in order for their husbands to achieve what they do.

Mary Livingstone (wife of the renowned missionary doctor, explorer and slavery abolitionist in Africa, David Livingstone) is an outstanding example of such unflinching support and sacrifice in behalf of her husband. As such she is worthy of high praise and not a small degree of compassionate empathy.

To follow is the first of two articles I intend to write to highlight the vital role that Mary played in Livingstone’s outstanding accomplishments and successes. Taking the time to ponder what it would have been like for Mary to give this deep level of support and sacrifice certainly increases our admiration and appreciation for her.

Mary was born on April 12, 1821, while her parents Robert and Mary Moffat, missionaries serving with the London Missionary Society (LMS), were temporarily stationed in Griqua Town, north of the Cape Colony border in southern Africa. When Mary was three years old her parents established the LMS’s northernmost mission station at Kuruman, 120 miles north of Griqua Town and 500 miles north of Africa’s southern coast.

Kuruman Mission Station
Kuruman Mission Station

Mary was the responsible firstborn of the ten children eventually born to her parents. Mary and her sister Ann, at the ages of nine and seven, were placed in a Wesleyan boarding school in Grahamstown, eastern Cape Colony. The sisters were there for five years, receiving a traditional education. Early in 1836 they were sent to Cape Town for further education. Mary received informal teacher training in hopes that she would eventually become an infant (early elementary) school teacher in Kuruman.

She accompanied her parents and siblings when the Moffat family returned to England in 1839. There Robert saw his Sechuana translation of the New Testament and Psalms through the press and was the featured speaker at numerous missionary meetings throughout Britain.

When the Moffats, including Mary (then age twenty-two), were returning to Kuruman late in 1843, David Livingstone traveled more than 150 miles on horseback to meet along the way, and to offer them whatever assistance he could in completing their journey. (Kuruman had been Livingstone’s home base throughout his first two years of missionary service and journeys in Africa.) During the remainder of the trip back to Kuruman, David and Mary would have had the opportunity to observe and interact with each other.

Early the following year Livingstone settled at Mabotsa, 220 miles north of Kuruman, to establish a new mission station there. On February 7 he was attacked and seriously injured by a lion, the bite of which splintered his left humerus just below the shoulder socket. That July Livingstone visited Kuruman for three weeks. During the course of the visit, as he himself put it, he screwed up his courage and proposed marriage to Mary under one of the Kuruman almond trees. She promptly accepted his proposal.

Mary possessed many positive characteristics that had attracted Livingstone and led him to conclude she would be an excellent partner with whom to share life and ministry. She had become the teacher of Kuruman’s elementary school. She spoke the Sechuana language “like a native,” and the African children were fond of her. She was familiar with and willing to bear the demands and sacrifices of missionary life. As a competent, conscientious homemaker, she cooked, cleaned, sewed clothes, and made soap and candles.

Mary was characterized by solid common sense and was a practical, matter-of-fact individual rather than a romantic. She was good-tempered and amiable. Her appearance and dress were neat and well-kept though not striking or ornate. Though not generally considered a beauty by others, Mary’s welcoming smile and warm disposition were always very pleasant and appealing to Livingstone.

Livingstone returned to Mabotsa to continue establishing the new mission work there. He also built what was considered a sizable house to which to bring his bride after their marriage. Of that dwelling he wrote Mary in charming fashion: “If you wonder why I have built such a large house for only two people, you must be content with the explanation that it is necessary on account of greater heat [than at Kuruman]. And that we have nothing to put into it is no matter, for I shall think it furnished when you are here.”

David and Mary were wed in the church at Kuruman on January 2, 1845. He was thirty-one years old and she was twenty-three. As a wedding gift Mary presented him with a polyglot Bible containing the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament. She inscribed the gift, “To David Livingstone from his affectionate Mary.”

The newlywed couple returned to Mabotsa that March, and Mary started teaching the elementary school there. Unfortunately, they were immediately blindsided by a completely-unforeseen conflict that Livingstone found himself embroiled in, involving an older missionary colleague who envied and resented Livingstone and who wished to superintend the Mabotsa mission station on his own. As a result, the Livingstones soon decided to start a new mission work among a different tribe, the Bakwains, at Chonuane, forty miles north of Mabotsa.

While Livingstone built a home and started a school at Chonuane, Mary continued to reside and teach the children’s school at Mabotsa. Livingstone returned intermittently to minister in Mabotsa as well. Despite the unanticipated upheaval the newlyweds were experiencing in their lives, Livingstone revealed of their interpersonal relationship, “We are happy and contented in each other.”

Mary gave birth to their first child, a son whom they named Robert, in January of the following year, 1846. Two months later the young missionary family moved together to Chonuane.

Fifteen months after that (June 1847) Mary bore their first daughter, named Agnes. The following month the Livingstones and the Bakwains to whom they had been ministering at Chonuane were forced to begin relocating again, due to prolonged drought and the town’s water supply drying up. The tribe and their faithful missionaries established a new settlement forty miles further north at Kolobeng.

Mary remained in Chonuane for a time while her husband built a temporary hut for them at Kolobeng. During their separation Livingstone reported in his understated fashion: “Mary feels her situation among the ruins [at Chonuane] a little dreary, and no wonder, for she writes me yesterday that the lions are resuming possession and walk round our house at night.”

Mary and the children joined Livingstone at Kolobeng the end of September. Two or three months later she started teaching both an elementary school and a sewing school. In July of the next year, 1848, the Livingstones were able to move into a larger permanent home which the Doctor had constructed for them.

Of their new home and old hut he stated: “What a mercy to be in one [a house] again. A year in a little hut through which the wind blew our candles into glorious icicles by night, and in which crowds of flies continually settled on the eyes of our poor little brats by day, makes us value our present castle.”

Livingstone and Mary’s third child, a son named Thomas, was born at Kolobeng in March of the following year, 1849. Just five or six weeks later Mary and the children set out by ox-drawn wagon for Kuruman, 300 miles to the south. The purpose of their visit was to rest and gain an improvement in their diet, as vegetables had become completely lacking at Kolobeng in the drought which had continued unabated throughout that region.

In addition, for several months some Boers (Dutch farmers who years earlier emigrated north of Cape Colony to get out from under British rule there) had become increasingly threatening toward Livingstone and the African tribes to which he was seeking to minister. The Boers desired to subjugate the tribes in that region and did not want missionaries spreading their influence there.

Livingstone was then making plans to visit tribes several hundred miles north of Kuruman—at Lake Ngami and beyond—so would be away from Kolobeng for a period of time. He thought it appropriate to send his wife and children to Kuruman so they would be out of harm’s way should a conflict with the Boers take place at Kolobeng during his absence. He accompanied his family toward Kuruman for four days before returning to Kolobeng. Mary and the children were escorted the remainder of the way by an African family from Kuruman.

After visiting at Kuruman that May through July, Mary and her children returned to Kolobeng to welcome Livingstone back home at the anticipated time of his arrival. But his 1,200-mile roundtrip to Lake Ngami took considerably longer than expected. As his return delayed, Mary and all the children fell ill. Word of this was sent to the Doctor who was then en route back home. By the time he hastened the remaining distance back to Kolobeng, arriving on October 10, he was relieved to find all his family members recovered from their sickness. His wife and children, after leaving Kuruman at the beginning of August, had been waiting nearly two months in Kolobeng by the time he was finally able to return.

In April of the following year, 1850, Livingstone again journeyed to Lake Ngami, this time taking his family with him. A few days before reaching Ngami, the Livingstones received news that a group of Englishmen who had come to the lake in search of ivory were all laid low by fever. Hurrying on to the lake, the Livingstones were grieved to learn as they neared their destination that an enterprising young artist had died of fever before their arrival. The Doctor afterward related concerning the results of his own and Mary’s ministries in this situation: “But by the aid of medicines and such comforts as could be made by the only English lady who ever visited the lake, the others happily recovered.”

David Livingstone with his family at Lake Ngami
David Livingstone with his family at Lake Ngami

When Livingstone took his family to see the broad south side of Lake Ngami, the children played gleefully in the water. The following day, however, their daughter Agnes, son Thomas and several of the Africans who were accompanying them on the journey came down with fever. Besides remittent fever, other symptoms produced in various individuals by the marsh fever included vomiting, diarrhea, headache, muscle pain and rapid decline of strength. “God was gracious to us and spared us all,” Livingstone afterward reported of his own party.

During the opening week of August, just seven days after the Livingstones arrived back at Kolobeng, Mary gave birth to their fourth child and second daughter, named Elizabeth. Two weeks after the delivery Mary developed a noticeable paralysis on the right side of her face. She could not wink her right eye or smile with that side of her lips. Though the paralysis eventually cleared up, it did so only gradually and with occasional relapses.

A deadly epidemic which caused inflammation of the lungs was then prevailing at Kolobeng. Sadly, one of the many to die from the sickness was the Livingstones’ infant daughter.

Livingstone described his and Mary’s thoughts in witnessing Baby Elizabeth’s death and burial: “Have just returned from burying our youngest child. Never conceived before how fast a little stranger can twine round the affections. She was just six weeks old when called away to the King in His beauty. She is home now, yet it was like tearing out one’s bowels to see her in the embrace of the King of Terrors. … Yesterday evening her beautifully formed countenance began to set in death. The pulse at the wrist vanished several times, then returned quite strong. Then at one o’clock she opened her beautiful eyes and screamed with a great effort to make her lungs work, and instantly expired. That scream went to our hearts, and will probably not be forgotten in Eternity. Wish we were all as safe as she is now.”

To be continued …

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A much-fuller record of Mary Livingstone’s steadfast service of Christ Jesus, her unfailing support of her husband’s remarkable ministries, and the significant sacrifices she made as a result is included in my comprehensive new biography David Livingstone: Missionary, Explorer, Abolitionist.

Copyright 2023 by Vance E. Christie