A Medical Missionary - Facing the End

‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’
(Mark 9:2)
'It is the word of a gentleman of the most strict and sacred honour, so there's an end of it!' he says to himself as he places his finger for the thousandth time on the text on which he stakes his life. ‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.’ He is surrounded by hostile and infuriated savages. During the sixteen years that he has spent in Africa, he has never before seemed in such imminent peril. Death stares him in the face. He thinks sadly of his life-work scarcely begun. For the first time in his experience he is tempted to steal away under cover of the darkness and to seek safety in flight. He prays! 'Leave me not, forsake me not!' he cries. 'Should such a man as I flee?' he  asks himself. 'Nay, verily, I shall take observations for latitude and longitude tonight, though they may be the last. I feel quite calm now, thank God!'
The incident would be repeated time and again. That’s F.W. Boreham, writing in 1920 in a style that seems uncomfortably out of date today about David Livingstone.  As is often the case,, the challenge to ‘Go into all the world’ was accompanied by a promise. ‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.’  He had adopted the text as his own. It sits there in the subconscious. It comes into its own when the pressure builds up. We feel alone. He did, even though there were others, admittedly different, around.  'Is this genuine?' one might ask, or is it just a platitude to keep me going?
The medical missionary of the 21st century might not be exposed to the difficulties Livingstone faced, but weariness and burnout still occur; disappointments can lead to despair; unfulfilled hopes and unrealized goals may lead to depression. Questions around faith do arise.  I have known of some former TLM colleagues who have, over time, chosen no longer to believe.  The overwhelming burden of working in the world of suffering took its toll. Intellect replaced faith. Agnosticism became atheism.
In my practice as a palliative care physician in later years I often found believers approached the end with great uncertainty. 'Is it really genuine?' was probably in their mind too. Is it truly a living faith or self-deception? 'He said he would be here,' I would tell them, 'Just imagine him here.’  That seemed to help.
I wonder what was ultimately in Livingstone’s mind as the end finally came. Did he hold fast and say once again: ‘It is the word of a gentleman of the most strict and sacred honour.’ Or did he say with the father who wanted his epileptic son to be healed by Jesus: ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.’?

July 2022