DAVID LIVINGSTONE
Written by Kevin L. Howard   
Personal Life

David Livingstone, one of five children, was born on March 19, 1813 in Blantyre, Scotland.  Around age 10, he went to work at a weaving mill as a cotton spinner.  He grew up in a Christian family.

 

Around age 20, he read Thomas Dick's The Philosophy of a Future State and The Philosophy of Religion.  They stirred him.  Either Livingstone trusted Christ at that time or he was already a Christian and these books moved him deeply.  He soon sensed that God wanted him involved in medical missions.  In 1839 the London Missionary Society accepted him.

 

Livingstone wanted to go to China but the war in Asia prevented him.  After being inspired by Robert Moffat, a missionary to Africa, Livingstone set his focus on Africa.  He graduated with his medical degree in 1840 and sailed for Africa on December 8 of that year.  He landed in Cape Town on the southern tip of Africa on March 15, 1841.

 

On January 2, 1845, he married Mary, the eldest daughter of Robert Moffat.  David and Mary had four children.  Because of hardships, on April 23, 1852, Mary and the children returned home to Britain.  Livingstone was left as the lone white man blazing a trail through the African jungle. 

 

After moving farther north into Africa, Livingstone ventured west to the Atlantic from 1853 to 1854.  Then from 1854 to 1856, he moved eastward to the coast.  On December 9, 1856, he returned home for the first time.  During his stay in Britain, he published Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, and became independent from the London Missionary Society.

 

He sailed again on March 10, 1858, but this time as a British Consul with financial support for his endeavors.  During the following years, he found Lake Nyasa and explored the Shire and Zambezi valleys.  His wife had returned to Africa with him, but grew ill and died in Shupanga (on the Zambezi River) on April 27, 1862.  Due to lack of success with the explorations, the British government recalled the expedition in 1863.  But Livingstone continued despite failures.  Eventually, he returned to Britain on July 23, 1864. 

 

In 1865 he sailed to Africa for his last time, never to see the British Isles again.  Eventually, he turned his expedition northward.  Rumor spread that Livingstone had died, so a journalist went to find out.  In October of 1871, Henry Stanley, the famous reporter from the New York Herald, found Livingstone.  Stanley traveled with him about two hundred miles and then begged Livingstone to leave with him.  Even though Livingstone's health was declining, he insisted on staying.  Around May 1, 1873, Livingstone died at night while kneeling by his bed. 

 

His African friends wanted his body buried in an important place like England, so they embalmed him.  His entrails, therefore, were removed and buried by a tree in the village of Ilala of Chitambo (Zambia).  His friends carried his body for about nine months over 1,500 miles to the British officials on the coast.  Finally, on April 18, 1874, almost a year after his death, his body was buried at Westminster Abbey in England.

 

Method of Ministry

He was probably not the preacher-type missionary, even though he did such work.  He was more of the encounter-type missionary who shared his faith as he met people during his expeditions. 


He considered all of his activity missionary work, whether that meant doing a scientific study, or dressing a wound, or killing his food, or sharing the gospel.  He sought the good of the African people in whatever he did. 

 

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

 

His pursuit in missions was coupled with a desire to explore.  Eventually, he wed his concern for missions with a passion to rid Africa of slave trading.  He sought to pioneer a trail that would open up a new route for commerce, commerce which would displace slave trading.

 

Missionaries are often risk takers and Livingstone epitomized this trait.  Bravery characterized him as much as any quality.  His valor showed in his relentless pursuit to explore the unknown so that Christ might be made known.

 

Persistence constantly churned within his soul.  Even when his explorations seemed like failures and his crew quarreled, he held to his goal-to move forward.

 

Contributions

Unfortunately, he gave more priority to exploration and furthering the gospel than he did to his family.  Although he sometimes misplaced his priorities, he maintained an unstoppable determination to push ahead.

 

He was a brave missionary-doctor who penetrated many unreached areas of Africa.  Maybe more so than his missionary zeal, history remembers him for his interest in exploring new worlds and in abolishing the slave trade along the East African coast.  He also did more than any other person to influence Westerners with a positive mindset toward Africa.  And whatever historians say about his many explorations, God used Livingstone to open up Africa to the gospel like it had not been previously.  Modern day Christians owe a great debt to Livingstone and his helpers for the inroads the gospel has made in Africa. 

 

He was the great explorer of Africa who blazed a trail for the gospel, who died on his knees, and who left his heart in the land he loved.  Most people would consider his life exciting, to say the least.  Few missionaries faced as much agony and victory as did Livingstone.  He survived a mauling by a lion, trudged through unknown jungles, swam through reptile-infested swamps, faced storms, savage humans, disease and fever, yet his curiosity and divine assignment prodded him forward.  He endured much loneliness and was bereaved by his wife's death.  And he never found the source of the Nile that he spent years looking for. 

 

Yet shortly after his death, the slave market in Zanzibar closed and the Western world had a new perspective on Africa.  He was hailed with many honors and published two books.  And a new pathway for commerce had been opened, but most importantly, the gospel had significantly penetrated Africa.

 

Materials Used

 

Encyclopedia Britannica; Robert Latham, Trail Maker; James Macnair, Livingstone's Travels; W. F. McDowell, "David Livingstone," The Picket Line of Missions; Basil Miller, David Livingstone: Explorer-Missionary; and, Ten Boys who became Famous Missionaries; Cecil Northcott, Livingstone in Africa; and, David Livingstone: His Triumph, Decline and Fall; Author not given, David Livingstone: Heroes of the Cross.