"Let Marble Crumble This Is Living Stone!"

PIONEER medical missionary David Livingstone came to the end of his African safaris one hundred years ago, on May 1, 1873. He died alone, on his knees, in a temporary shelter near the shore of Lake Bangweulu in Northern Zambia. . .

-Ministerial secretary of the Trans-Africa Division at the time this article was written

PIONEER medical missionary David Livingstone came to the end of his African safaris one hundred years ago, on May 1, 1873. He died alone, on his knees, in a temporary shelter near the shore of Lake Bangweulu in Northern Zambia.

Livingstone was a Scot, born in the village of Blantyre, which is by the Clyde River not far from Glasgow. Suitable centennial celebrations and memorials were held at Blantyre for the hundredth anniversary of the passing of the town's most illustrious son, the "missionary come of weaver kin."

But Livingstone's real memorial lives and grows in the advance of Christianity and commerce and civilization that has changed the pattern of life for millions in the African territories through which he trudged. His travels were a one-man march against the unimaginable sufferings of the African people from disease, ignorance, poverty, tribalism, and slavery.

Raised in a deeply religious home in an atmosphere of poverty, thrift, and industry, David began work in the Monteith cotton mill at Blantyre at the age of ten years. Life was hard. A day's work was from six in the morning until eight at night with two breaks for meals. After that, there were evening classes provided by the kindly management between eight and ten in which David eagerly continued his studies. By strenuous efforts he qualified at the age of twenty-three to undertake a college curriculum.

Medical Missionary Concept

In this materialistic age, the reaction of David's father to his announcement that he would study medicine sounds not merely unique, but incredible. The devout man, of whom his son could write, "To my father I owe a debt of gratitude for setting be fore me from infancy a consistently pious example," objected to the suggestion of a medical career on the grounds that the boy might use the profession for personal gain!

But the parental frown changed to an encouraging nod of approval when the father learned that it was under the influence of the writings of a missionary doctor who had served in China that David had settled for a theological-medical training. He hoped to serve the needy millions of China too. The Opium War and no doubt a guiding providence barred the door to China and the young "Licentiate of the Royal Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons (Glasgow)" turned his footsteps toward Africa and destiny.

For Seventh-day Adventists there is a familiar ring about the Livingstone concept of missionary work. We sense a close affinity between his basic outlook and our own philosophy.

Livingstone may well be considered one of the first medical missionaries in the world, for although Luke the apostle was the earliest, his example was not followed until the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. When Livingstone first reached Kuruman in 1841, only a handful of medical missionaries had sallied forth to the South Sea Is lands and China. Livingstone was the first to enter Central Africa, and the second to work in Southern Africa where he was preceded by Doctor Vanderkamp, who practiced in Bethelsdorp from 1798. The year that Livingstone arrived in Africa the Church Missionary Society sent a medical man to West Africa, but he did, not remain long, and whilst there, his main concern was for the health of the missionaries themselves. Livingstone's example stimulated other missionaries to qualify in medicine and come out to Africa to preach and to treat the diseases of the local inhabitants. 1

But the prime emphasis was not on medicine. This was the means to the end. The healing of the body would open doors to the gospel. The healing of the soul was the thing that mattered.

It was not only the practice of medicine and the treatment of disease that Livingstone sought. His medicine was only part of a larger outlook his belief that the curing of the body was linked with the healing of the soul. The spiritual and physical well-being of a person were complementary to each other. 2

Livingstone stressed the value of medicine in his missionary work. "English medicines were eagerly asked for and accepted by all; and we always found medical knowledge an important aid in convincing people that we were really anxious for their welfare." 3

The Doctor lived in the dawn of scientific medical practice. He cupped, and bled and applied leeches. By today's standards he was seriously handicapped be cause of the limited knowledge of disease and its causes. Tropical diseases especially were hardly known in Europe and the part played in insects in the trans mission of germs was not yet perceived. Blackwater fever was confused with yellow fever. The first literature on the subject did not appear until about 1890.

It was obvious to Livingstone that if his dream of European involvement in tropical Africa was to materialize, some answer to the malaria menace had to be found. He gave the matter his most careful attention. The nearest approach to the truth about the transmission of the fever in his discussions of the subject was his statement, "Myriads of mosquitoes showed, as they probably always do, the presence of malaria."

On the surface it looks like a near miss. But the Doctor had not really seen the connection. He observed that in the lowlands both mosquitoes and fever were plentiful. And he noticed that in the highlands mosquitoes were scarce or even absent, and malaria was also less of a problem. But he did not see the correlation between the observed facts. He was dead before the truth on the matter was established.

Nothing escaped Livingstone's notice. He was a careful and a scientific observer. And he recorded in his diaries with minute detail the interesting things he found. A later traveler in Africa said, "I have not yet discovered a phenomenon in Africa which had not already been noted by Livingstone."4

The Doctor developed his own specialized treatment for fever, and the "Livingstone Pill," which was mainly quinine. He also recommended daily doses of quinine as a preventive measure. Hardened to the difficulties of Africa and moved by a sense of mission, Livingstone minimized the threats and problems of the hostile environment. In spite of his assurance that the malaria could be controlled by his methods, the Universities Mission to Nyassaland lost five men in quick time and retreated to the island of Zanzibar. Livingstone grumbled that the move was as if St. Augustine had established himself on one of the Channel Islands and hoped for the conversion of England.

One estimate of Livingstone the medical missionary says:

Livingstone's success with the Africans and their trust in him was largely due to his doctoring, and it is very doubtful whether his preaching played much part in his winning their esteem. He was the first European to appear among them with the reputation of healer and medicine man, and there are many references to the crowds of Africans in search of medical aid who besieged the villages he visited. . . . He gained the friendship of the Bakwena chief, Sechele, after curing one of his children. 5

Exploration for Christianity

The dominant impression on the student of Livingstone's years in Africa is the picture of a man constantly on the march. His first book, 80,000 copies of which quickly sold out, was called, Missionary Travels. The title could very well cover his complete career in Africa. How to reconcile this constant marching, marching, marching, with the calling of a medical missionary is an enigma worth investigating.

The London Missionary Society, who were his sponsors, found some difficulty in tracing the connection between his constant travels and the objectives of the Society in Africa. If indeed Livingstone was required to fill in a report sheet, we can be sure that there was no mileage column on it. The tangibles to the London office consisted of mission stations established, churches built, pagan souls converted, baptized, added to the church, or at least, efforts with these ends in view. If they hoped for a hospital to be established it would be neither surprising nor unreasonable. But the Doctor traveled.

They were not entirely clear on the program. In a letter that resulted in his hasty resignation from the Society, Livingstone's activities were described as "only remotely connected with the spreading of the gospel." The Doctor returned to Africa as a British Consul, supported by government and public funds, and no longer in the em ploy of the missionary society. But authorities are clear that the misunderstanding was quickly resolved. To the end of his life, Livingstone remained on good terms with his first sponsors.

The general impression gained from a superficial look at Livingstone's activities is summed up in the words, "He became less of a missionary as he became more of an explorer." But the idea was vigorously rejected by Livingstone. The mainspring of the man's life was his role as a missionary.

I am a missionary heart and soul. God had an only Son and he was a missionary and a physician. A poor imitation of him I am, or rather wish to be. In this service I hope to live, in it I wish to die. 6

But he was human. And he makes no attempt to hide the fact that in his pioneering he "felt the pleasure of looking on lands which had never been seen by Europeans before." But it was not travel and adventure for its own sake. "Now that I am on the point of starting another expedition into Africa, I feel quite exhilarated. When one travels with the specific object of ameliorating the condition of the natives, every act becomes ennobled." 7

So the marching through Africa was not an aim nor an end in it self. It was all included in his deep conviction that the Lord had called him to open up the way into the center of the continent for "Christianity and commerce," so that the people might be trans formed by the gospel. And, given a legitimate commerce, the stronger tribes would no longer be tempted to prey on their weaker neighbors and sell them to the slavers. He believed there could be no permanent uplift of the people without commerce. Along with the gospel it would automatically cut off the slave traffic at its source.

The Open Sore

Livingstone's final journey in Africa took him west of Ujiji to the Lualaba River which is now known as the Zaire. The excesses of the slave traffic made it impossible for him to secure the help he needed, and he was obliged to turn back after waiting weary weeks at Nyangwe. There, he was the help less witness of a massacre in the market place where hundreds of Africans were trading. When the Arab slavers opened fire large numbers took to the river and more were drowned than shot. In his diary Livingstone wrote: "Finished a letter for the New York Herald, trying to enlist American zeal to stop the East Coast slave trade. I pray a blessing on it from the All-Gracious."

The letter ended with the words, "All I can add in my loneliness is, may heaven's rich blessing come down on everyone, American, English, or Turk, who will help to heal the open sore of the world."

The epithet "open sore of the world" was apt and telling. It appealed to the imagination of the Christian world and struck fire in the hearts of many on both sides of the Atlantic. Sir John Kirk, the British Consul on Zanzibar, brought sufficient pressure to bear on the Sultan to influence him to sign the agreement that closed the island's slave market forever.

The leaders of the Universities Mission who had retreated to Zanzibar because of the heavy losses of men through fever in the Nyassa country, seized the opportunity. They purchased the slave market site immediately. Bishop Steere designed and built there a fine cathedral. It was a remarkable structure with an unsupported roof. Made of cement and ground-up coral it has survived to the present. The crucifix at the left-hand side of the chancel is made from the wood of the mvula tree that shaded the place where Livingstone died. The Moslems of Zanzibar must have hated this symbol of a faith they considered heretical, and which had motivated the men who took away their lucrative traffic in slaves. But the Bishop was never interrupted in his work. To this day, men still worship the Christ who made all men free on the site where so many were sold into servitude.

Livingstone wrote, "If my disclosures regarding the terrible Ujijian slavery should lead to the suppression of the East Coast slave-trade, I shall regard that as a greater matter by far than the discovery of all the Nile sources' together." He had his wish.


Livingstone's impact on the course of history in Africa was immense, perhaps greater than any other individual in the nineteenth century. It did not stem, however, from the personal contacts which he made with African groups and individuals while in their territories, but from the impact his character and way of life made in Europe. He became a popular hero, and explorer par excellence who brought the knowledge of hitherto unknown region and peoples to an ever increasing circle of individuals. The circumstances of Livingstone's death and his burial in Westminster Abbey confirmed the impact and brought even more people into contact with Africa; On most Africans he met, Livingstone could have little personal impact. He doubtless appeared a gentle man, perhaps even a holy man, who met Africans with friendliness, then puzzled, or even bored them with his incessant talk of religion, rivers and lakes. . . . We will continue to remember Livingstone because of the life; he led, stemming from his inner vision of divine purpose, as an individual advancing to complete tasks he had set for himself, no matter what the cost.8

And now, after a hundred years, there's a cross that casts its shadow over the forest glade where the heart that burned out for Africa found repose. There's a cathedral, where the spirits of free men rise, to "sit in heavenly places in Christ" on the very ground where the human spirit, in chains, groveled in slavery's degradation and despair. And across the sea in the historic Abbey there's a permanent memorial where the medical missionary rests among the heroic and the honored of his race.

And back in Africa, there is some Christianity and some commerce. There is progress, and there are problems. There is human need, opportunity still for self-giving in service, and there is challenge aplenty. There are frustrations but fulfillment too. Marble indeed may crumble. But the spirit of David Livingstone will endure and, emulated, will achieve.


1. Michael Celfand, Livingstone the Doctor, p. 1.

2. _____, ibid., p. B.

3. ———, ibid., pp. 5, 6.

4. Debanham, The Way to llala, p. 97.

5. Celfand, op. cit., p. 6.

6. Schapera, Family Letters, vol. 2, p. 74.

7. Waller, Last Journals, vol. 2, p. 228.

8. Rotberg, Africa and Its Explorers, p. 59.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus
-Ministerial secretary of the Trans-Africa Division at the time this article was written

July 1973

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

So You're Up For Ordination!

WHAT is the significance of ministerial ordination in the Seventh-day Adventist Church? Is it the church's recognition of a divine call to "preach the word" (2 Tim. 4:2), or is it simply a recognition of faithful service? Should a man who is not a full-time preacher be ordained to preach? Should we ordain institutional workers, teachers, doctors, departmental men, and conference officers whose primary work is not preaching?

The Dating of the Book of Daniel Part 1

THE Seventh-day Adventist doctrinal structure is at several points similar to a spider's web suspended from a single vital strand. For example, our doctrinal distinctiveness lies in eschatology, and our traditional positions here are dependent upon the validity of the year-day principle and the sixth-century dating of Daniel. Concerning the former I have previously written in The Ministry, 1 and it is the purpose of the present article to consider the latter. . .

A Song in the Night

WE HAD finished two evangelistic campaigns in the Honduras Mission and were driving hard to reach the ferry that would take us back to our home territory of Newfoundland. . .

Why I Don't Keep a Notebook

UNTIL twelve years ago my wife and I kept in notebooks the quotations, notes, thoughts, and ideas that we wanted to save. Since then we have discovered a method of filing that has proved to be superior. We file valuable bits of information on 4- by 6-inch slips of paper or cards. . .

Another Look at Armageddon

SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISTS have spent a great deal of time studying, discussing, and puzzling over the question of Armageddon. The more adventurous continue to probe the subject even though it be with the greatest respect, caution, and reservation. In harmony with this posture, we humbly offer the following exposition. . .

Darwin's Error

IN A letter to Joseph Hooker on January 11, 1844, Charles Darwin wrote: "I was so struck with the distribution of the Galapagos organisms . . . that I determined to collect blindly every sort of fact, which could bear any way on what are species. ... At last gleams of light have come, and I am almost convinced, quite contrary to the opinion I started with, that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable. . ."

The Great Need of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is not only to sanctify but to convict. No one can repent of his sins until he is convicted of his guilt. How necessary, then, it is that we should have the Holy Spirit with us as we labor to reach fallen souls. Our human abilities will be exercised in vain unless they are united with this heavenly agency. . .

Adventist Health Evangelism Today

HEALTH has been emphasized as a cardinal feature of Adventist theology for more than one hundred years. The first health message of the church was given by Inspiration in 1848. By 1893 our founders' interest led to the development of the International Medical Missionary and Benevolent Association. . .

Inasmuch--A Parable

AND it came to pass in those days that there dwelt in a certain land ten honest and goodly men, filled with learning from the schools of the prophets. And as their forefathers had done in generations past, they went forth from the schools of the prophets to proclaim with much zeal the day of the Lord and to do good works. . .

Thoughts After 50

THE Five-Day Plan to Stop Smoking is a work of healing. Ask any physician about his cigarette-smoking patients with coronary heart disease, emphysema, Buerger's disease, or peptic ulcer, and he will tell you how necessary it is for them to stop smoking if they are to arrest their disease, avert serious complications, and initiate healing. . .

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - RevivalandReformation 300x250

Recent issues

See All