David Livingstone’s obedience to God’s leading took him from his native Scotland in 1840 to
Bechuanaland (present-day Botswana) in southern Africa. His heart burned to press into the interior of the
great continent where lived multitudes who had no knowledge of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ.
With great joy he received permission from the home board under which he served to leave the established
mission station to open a new station farther inland. There his wife, the former Mary Moffat, daughter of
missionary Robert Moffat, and their children proceeded to live amid many privations at a station opened at
Kolobeng among the Bakwains.
The first fruit of Livingstone’s missionary labors in the interior area among the Bakwains was the
conversion of Sechele, an African chief. The two men developed a warm relationship. As soon as opportunity
presented itself, Sechele learned to read, and he loved to read the Bible. Like Livingstone, he was very
desirous that his people should become converts to Christianity. Sechele was very disappointed that
whereas the Africans normally followed the lead of their chiefs in whatever pursuits they took up, good or
bad, in the matter of Christianity they were slow to follow him. School and church attendance was small, but
the Christians were still treated with kindness.
Later, the chief Sechele himself became a missionary to his own people and had considerable influence
over them and could preach well. Dr. Moffat said some years afterward, that this was the “most prosperous,
extensive, and influential” of all their stations in Bechuana country. Wherever Livingstone preached to the
Africans, Dr. Moffat said, his preaching was “simple, scriptural, interesting, very direct, and well suited to the
capacity of the people.”
Livingstone was not so concerned to have numbers of converts, as he was to have genuine converts who
lived a pure Christian life. Seeing how difficult the field was and how the people were suspicious of his having
some ulterior, sinister object in view, he would have been in despair had he not known the Holy Spirit was
faithful to work. He determined that even as Christ persevered when He was contradicted, so would he. He
asked the family back in Scotland to pray that he would not grow weary in well-doing.
One serious obstacle to the spread of the Gospel in this field of labor was an extended drought. Since this
had not occurred before Christianity came, the Africans naturally suspected its coming contributed to the
drought. As one influential among them said, “We like you as well as if you had been born among us; you are
the only white man we can become familiar with; but we wish you to give up…preaching and praying; we
cannot become familiar with that at all. You see we never get rain, while these tribes who never pray as we
do obtain abundance.”
Seeing that this village would have to be abandoned by the people because of the river drying up,
Livingstone made several journeys of 400 or 500 miles to find a new location. Although his thought had been
to remain with the Bakwains, he learned of the Makololo, a large tribe who were said to be desirous of having
a missionary. After several tries, he met the Makololo chief Sebituane. This man was very friendly to
Livingstone and promised to find a good place for a station, but alas, he died after a short illness and
Livingstone with sad heart returned to Kolobeng. But his journeys were not in vain. He discovered Lake
N’gami and the river Zambesi at this time, the latter destined to be a great highway into the interior in later
The vision that burned continuously in his heart was urged upon the directors of the mission: a vigorous
pushing forward of the work into the interior, the employment of the natives in the work, and the
establishment of a training school to enable the natives to become qualified for the work. This call of God to
the interior meant that his family would need to return to England for the present, as the fever in the interior
where he would search for a new location, was too perilous to the lives of the family. So with a heavy heart,
he sent his family to Britain, hoping to follow in two years. Then he prepared for a journey of 1,000 miles,
hoping to find a healthful site for a station to which he could welcome the return of his family.
From the coast and the sad farewell to his family, Livingstone returned alone to his station of Kolobeng.
There he was further saddened to see that a group of the Boers, who opposed the expansion of Christianity
into this area, had burned his house and had killed some of the Bakwains, who had already moved to
another site due to the drought. With ties with the Bakwains now severed, Livingstone proceeded to Makololo
country for a nine-week tour.
The tour exposed Livingstone to men in utter darkness without yet a ray of
Gospel light to change their individual lives and the society in which they lived. He was more determined than
ever that a way must be found whereby the redemptive Gospel of Jesus Christ could travel to the interior of
Africa. He diligently taught the Gospel wherever he went, but the natives were slow to receive it. He wrote in
his journal that “no evidence of success in the way of conversion cheered our paths.” But by faith in the
faithfulness of the omnipotent God, he continued on, preaching twice every Sunday, sometimes to as many
as 1,000 people. He realized he was a pioneer sowing the seed from which later missionaries would see a
After weeks of journeying, disappointed by not finding a suitable, healthful site for his family, Livingstone
gave himself to a second objective – finding a shorter route to the ocean from the interior. He was appalled
by the slave trade that was infiltrating this area. It was profitable to the natives to capture and sell their fellow
human beings to a life of slavery. Someone needed to introduce other profitable means of legitimate
commerce and find a way to transport products to the coast in order to supplant the slave trade. For the next
seven months Livingstone led a team of 27 Africans to seek for a way to the west coast through unexplored
jungles for a convenient route.
Endeavoring to keep himself as well as the Africans who accompanied him
encouraged in this effort, he endured “incredible hardships, sickness, hunger, constant wading through
swollen streams, tedious delays and harassing exaction of hostile tribes.” At last when he reached a
Portuguese settlement on the west coast, he was as “a skeleton clothed in tatters, and he was soon
prostrated by a long and distressing illness.”
But the Portuguese traders kindly received and refreshed him.
Being at the coast, it was a great temptation to return to his family in England, but he had promised the
team of 27 Africans with him that he would return them safely home, and he knew this would be impossible
without his personal leadership.
So he faced the same hardships and succeeded in returning them safely
home. The Africans had high regard for his careful treatment of them, and once when he was thrown into the
river off the ox he was riding, about twenty of the men made an immediate rush for his rescue and were very
joyful at his safety.
Although he could not say he had found a practicable highway to the coast, a day of
thanksgiving was observed when the journey ended on July 23, 1855, with all 27 of the men safely returned
home. “Behold, God is mine helper: the Lord is with them that uphold my soul…. I will praise Thy name, O
Lord; for it is good. For He hath delivered me out of all trouble” (Psa. 54:4, 6-7).
(To be continued)
– Adapted from The Life of David Livingstone by Mrs. J. H. Worcester, Jr