This is the fifth in our series on Scotland’s involvement in the Great Century of Christian Missions. Today, we’re looking at two more missionaries who played a part in the movement.
Born in East Lothian in 1795, Robert Moffat was one of the most influential missionaries in Africa. One historian claimed that he was “undeniably the greatest missionary which that (London Missionary) Society sent to South Africa – the greatest in natural ability, in patient devotion to duty, and in deep, transparent piety.1
Moffat, like John Paton, grew up in a devout Christian home. His mother read stories of famous missionaries to the Moffat children in the evenings and seeds were planted in the soil of a future missionary’s heart. Moffat abandoned his formal education at the age of 13 and started working in the trades, learning a variety of skills and the value of hard work that would benefit his work in Africa. At the age of 22, he arrived in South Africa. He was gifted in befriending tribal leaders who were feared by others.
Moffat’s boldness allowed him to act as a peacemaker between warring tribes and establish himself as a worthy and trusted friend amongst opposing leaders. He made five separate trips to visit with Moselekatse, a powerful Moshete leader who commanded thousands of warriors. Feared by both Africans and foreigners, the chief ultimately allowed Moffat’s son to build a mission station amongst the Moshete people.2 Moffat’s trust in the Lord and fearlessness of man was rewarded.
Modern missions strategy encourages the learning of language prior to the proclamation of the gospel to ensure it is communicated in a way that can be understood in the “heart-language” of the hearers.3 At first, Moffat attempted to communicate the gospel without knowing the local language. He was not trained in linguistics, and the task proved to be difficult. After several years of frustration, he immersed himself in a short period of language study that became crucial as the Scot worked tirelessly to translate the Scriptures into the language of the Sechuana people over a period of twenty-nine years.4
The genius of the Scots as inventors has been well documented, and Moffatt proved to be no different with his invention of the modern “mission station.”5 The mission station in Kuruman became a center for missionary work that served as a standard for many missionary ventures to follow. The Kuruman station held a school, a medical clinic, a printing press which was used for the printing of the Scriptures and other materials, an orphanage, a farm, and housing for the workers.6
Perhaps Moffat’s greatest indirect influence on missions history is through his relationship with David Livingstone, who ultimately become his son-in-law. On his first trip back to the United Kingdom from South Africa, Livingstone asked Moffat if he too could be useful in Africa. Moffat encouraged him to do so, particularly in an area where Christ had not yet been named. “In the north I have seen in the morning sun, the smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary has ever been.”7 Moffat’s daughter, Mary, married Livingstone, and Livingstone later did much to inspire the Western world to consider the missionary task in the nineteenth century. Again, Scottish missionaries inspired other Scots to follow in their stead, and the world was profoundly impacted.
David Livingstone was born in 1813 in Blantyre, a mill town. His father was a Sunday school teacher and evangelist who enjoyed reading books on theology and missions. Like other Scottish children in the nineteenth century, this stoked Livingstone’s interest in missions and ultimately led to his future work in Africa. At the age of ten, Livingstone began to work at the local cotton mill and learned the value of enduring through hard labor, which likewise equipped him to deal with the extreme difficulties that awaited him later in life.
Unlike Moffat, Livingstone placed a priority on education and pursued both a medical and theological education.8 He arrived in Africa in 1841 to join Moffat’s work and eventually left the Kuraman mission station to further explore the interior of Africa. Fifteen years later, he returned to the United Kingdom and spoke of the injustice of slavery, his missions work, and his ‘discovery’ of Victoria Falls. Livingstone’s speeches inspired a new generation of missions societies to be found and he returned to Africa in 1858 as an employee of the British government.
Livingstone lived another fifteen years and his legacy as a missionary is still debated. He did not establish any churches, missionary stations, or produce Christian literature for the local churches in Africa. His death in 1873 resulted in another wave of missionary mobilization. “The death of David Livingstone had a tremendous psychological impact on the English-speaking world. Missionary fervor reached a high pitch as zealous young men and women volunteered for overseas duty, no matter what the cost.”9
- Iain H. Murray, A Scottish Christian Heritage (Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth, 2006), 244.
- Ruth A. Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 154.
- John Mark Terry and J.D. Payne, Developing a Strategy for Missions (Encountering Mission): A Biblical, Historical, and Cultural Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing, 2013), 167.
- Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, 153-154.
- Arthur Herman, How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It (New York, NY: Broadway Books, 2001).
- Terry and Payne, Developing a Strategy for Missions, 88.
- John Mark Terry and Robert L. Gallagher, Encountering the History of Mission: From the Early Church to Today (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 253.
- Tucker, From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, 156.
- Ibid., 163.