A Medical Missionary – Dealing with Injustice

‘I am sending him… no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.
 (Philemon 12, 16)
Livingstone's motivation started with Christian conviction and a vocation to spread the gospel for the good of the world, adding medicine as its handmaiden. Moffat urged him to go beyond the horizon. Exploration became a way of life for him. He discovered the wonders of a continent rich with resources with people with whom he shared that gospel. As he moved further north he came across the scourge of exploitation of those self-same people taken into bondage and transported across the Atlantic to the slave markets of the so-called civilised world, hungry for cheap labour. It was his firm conviction that the best way to break that trade was the Christianisation of the continent and to open it to agricultural development, commerce and trade.
Though vigorously opposed to slavery, he himself needed helpers. He had his bearers. But the relationship with them seems to have been one of mutual respect and loyalty. When he died, they carried his body across the continent. They accompanied him back to Britain, being housed in makeshift huts in a field at Wemyss Bay, near Livingstone's birthplace, Blantyre, Scotland.
Born in South Africa I was not unaware of the evil of racism, discrimination and exploitation, but also of the dangers of simply accepting the status quo. It took twelve years in central Africa for my eyes to be opened even more widely, to families who had a background history of slavery. Lingering feelings of unworthiness were often compounded by the stigma of leprosy. It was there I embarked on socio-economic projects alongside health programmes. But more importantly I learned to develop deep and enriching relationships with people of other nationalities and races.
I love Paul's short letter to Philemon in which he refers to Onesimus as 'better than a slave, a dear brother.' What a beautiful relationship for us to aim for!
The inscription on Livingstone tomb in Westminster Abbey reads:
For 30 years his life was spent in an unwearied effort
to evangelize the native races,
to explore the undiscovered secrets,
to abolish the desolating slave trade,
of Central Africa,
where with his last words he wrote,
"All I can add in my solitude, is,
may heaven's rich blessing come down on every one,
American, English, or Turk,
who will help to heal this open sore of the world."
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

July 2022