Thursday, January 3, 2013

David Livingstone, Mission and Empire

Ian Murray's book, The Puritan Hope, references David Livingstone's (1813-73) passion for Christ and his missionary zeal. I first read it thirty years ago. At the time I knew nothing about Livingstone except that Stanley found in the heart of Africa and identified him with the greeting, "Dr. Livingstone I presume?" Nevertheless, I determined to someday find a good bio and read it.

Book on Livingstone
I just found and read David Livingstone, Mission and Empire by Andrew Ross. I highly recommend this book to any and all interested in missions, exploration, and or the continent of Africa.

I was surprised by how lately Africa was explored and how recently influenced by Western Culture. Livingstone died in 1872. His greatest work of exploration occurred before and during the American Civil War. Prior to that time and even two decades later, the interior of Africa was still almost completely unknown to the Western World.

In addition, I was surprised by Livingstone the man. Usually portrayed as an explorer and cartographer, Livingstone didn't see himself that way. He was a missionary. He was on a mission from God to explore and open central Africa to the hordes of missionaries that he hoped and trusted would eventually follow. His was a deep and fervent piety. For example, the author mentions that in one particular year Livingstone read the Bible four times. He preached the gospel to most of the villages he entered. In 1852, at the age of 39, in the midst of great trial and hardship, he made this  journal entry.

"O Jesus, fill me with thy love now. and I beseech thee, accept me, and use me a little for thy glory. I will place no value on anything I have or may possess, except in relation to the kingdom of Christ. If anything will advance the interests of that kingdom, it shall be given away or kept, only as by giving or keeping of it I shall most promote the glory of Him to who I owe all my hopes in time and eternity."

His relationships were complicated. Livingstone had an unusual and authentic rapport with African people who deeply loved and admired him. On the other hand he was alternately loved and rejected by the British people. In addition, his family always played second fiddle to his ambitions.

This is an important biography about a complicated man. The book had two drawbacks. First, it lacked excellent and effective maps. In a bio of a major African explorer this is no small slight.

Second, the author spent little time describing the geography through which Livingstone travelled. All in all I still recommend this book to any interested in the history of 19th century missions or the history of Africa.

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