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    Following Jesus With David Livingstone

    January 30, 2017 by Phil Delsaut
    Filed Under:
    WOJ General

    ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume?’ - the memorable words uttered by New York Herald reporter, Henry Morton Stanley, on finding David Livingstone on Nov 10, 1871, after six months of searching the interior of south central Africa.  No one had heard from or about Livingstone in five years.

    Pastor Lou and I never imagined that 145 years later, we too, would find ourselves marking the footsteps of the ‘greatest missionary to Africa’. Earlier this year, our World Partners International (WPI) partners in Malawi and Zambia invited us to deliver the Way of Jesus Training to their leaders. Only after our arrival in December did we discover that we were walking in the footsteps of the great missionary-explorer, Dr. David Livingstone (1813-1873).

    At every turn we found another reminder of Livingstone’s impact on this part of Africa. Prophetically, he wrote:

    ‘’I see few results; future missionaries will see conversions following every sermon. May they not forget the pioneers who worked in the thick gloom with few rays to cheer, except such as flow from faith in the precious promises of God's Word.”

    A little more than a century later, on Dec 30, 1991, the newly installed president declared Zambia to be a Christian nation.  This controversial declaration, problematic in a number of ways, nevertheless indicates the signal impact of Livingstone and other missionary pioneers.

    One of the most celebrated people of Scotland in his day, Dr. David Livingstone was the first European to see the great falls on the Zambezi River known locally as ‘the Smoke that Thunders’ and to name them ‘Victoria Falls’ in honour of Queen Victoria.  Livingstone was the intrepid opponent of the Portuguese and Arab slave traders who ravaged the people of south central Africa: “Cannot the love of Christ carry the missionary where the slave-trade carries the trader? I shall open up a path to the interior or perish.” He was known for the respect and compassion he showed to the people he met as he explored the interior of south central Africa.  He was untiring in his efforts to end the bad news of slavery, sickness and ignorance, and to bring the Good News of Jesus as much by demonstration as by proclamation.

    Livingstone’s scientific and geographic notations were a great contribution to the western knowledge of this unknown part of Africa. His name is attached to museums and exhibits and there are statues and monuments in his honour throughout the region. The capital of Malawi, Blantyre, recalls the Scottish birthplace of the great man, and “Livingstone” is the name of the Zambian city near Victoria Falls. Britannica online writes:

     “In his 30 years of travel and Christian missionary work in southern, central, and eastern Africa—often in places where no European had previously ventured—Livingstone may well have influenced Western attitudes toward Africa more than any other individual before him. His discoveries—geographic, technical, medical, and social—provided a complex body of knowledge that is still being explored. … Livingstone believed wholeheartedly in the African’s ability to advance into the modern world.”

    The prejudices of the Britannica writers prevent them from understanding and noting how deeply indebted ‘the West’ is to its biblical roots and to Jesus, Whose life, ethos and influence are the very fountainhead of what is now unthinkingly attributed to ‘humanitarianism.’Livingstone lived in a time when the linkage between following Christ and enlightened knowledge were more clearly understood. It was love for Christ and love for others that motivated Livingstone in ALL his endeavours.Upon his death, his body was shipped home for burial in Scotland, but fittingly his heart (and entrails) was buried in his beloved Africa.

    As my understanding grew of the place of David Livingstone in the workings of God in this region, I reflected on the Way of Jesus as it relates to his life.  Would it be useful or illustrative to look for an alignment between the seven markers of the Way of Jesus and the life of this great man? There are some great David Livingstone quotations online and it was interesting to see the core alignment with the Way of Jesus centering statements.

    His Life: Saying 1: ‘I have begun following Jesus and am depending on the Spirit of Jesus in my journey.’

    Saying 1 is about identity and purpose and power for living through the Living Christ.  David Livingstone was known for his great devotion to Jesus: We see all three ideas as foundational to Livingstone’s self-understanding. He prayed, “Send me anywhere, only go with me. Lay any burden on me, only sustain me. Sever any ties but the tie that binds me to Your service and to Your heart.’

    His Mission: Saying 2: ‘I am being sent by Jesus to bless others and to invite them to follow Him.’

    Livingstone, perhaps paradoxically, found himself at odds with the London Missionary Society, who did not think him ‘missionary’ enough.  But Livingstone had an ‘all-of-life’ understanding of what it means to follow Jesus: "[I am] serving Christ when shooting a buffalo for my men or taking an observation, [even if some] will consider it not sufficiently or even at all missionary."  The history of missions has been the history of Gospel DEMONSTRATION as much as proclamation.  Wherever the Gospel was carried, for the larger part, it came with advances in medicine, education, literacy, and justice.  Livingstone sought to eradicate the slave trade, ‘an immense evil’, and to improve the lot of those whom he met.

    His Character: Saying 3: ‘I am learning to be like Jesus in my attitudes, behaviours and character.’

    That Livingstone desired to be like Jesus is clear from his prayer request:

    Remember us in your prayers that we grow not weary in well doing. It is hard to work for years with pure motives, and all the time be looked upon by most of those to whom our lives are devoted as having some sinister object in view. Disinterested labor - benevolence - is so out of their line of thought, that many look upon us as having some ulterior object in view; but He who died for us, and Whom we ought to copy, did more for us than we can do for any one else. He endured the contradiction of sinners. We should have grace to follow in His steps.”

    His aspiration and intent was to be like Jesus:

    "I am a missionary, heart and soul. God had an only Son, and He was a missionary and a physician. I am a poor, poor imitation of Him, or wish to be. In this service I hope to live; in it I wish to die!"

    A Wikipedia articles writes that Livingstone was ‘said to be secretive, self-righteous, and moody, and could not tolerate criticism.’  It is beyond my ken to say whether these things be true or false, but surely it is true that Livingstone understood that he too, was ‘learning to be like Jesus’ in his attitudes, behaviours and character, that he too, was a sinner in need of grace as much as any.

    His Love: Saying 4: ‘I am learning to love God and others.’

    We see this reflected in these quotes from Livingstone:

    "Cannot the love of Christ carry the missionary where the slave-trade carries the trader? I shall open up a path to the interior or perish."
    "People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay?"

    His Teachings: Saying 5: ‘I am learning the teachings of Jesus.’

    Livingston testified: “All that I am I owe to Jesus Christ, revealed to me in His divine Book.” 

    The ‘divine Book’ is the ‘teachings’ of Jesus.  In His Divine eternality, all things were created by Him and for Him.  During the days of His Incarnation, He set His seal on Scripture as the very Word of God – ‘His divine Book’

    His Disciplers: Saying 6: ‘I am helping someone and someone is helping me to be a reproducing follower of Jesus.’

    It is oft repeated that Livingstone had but one ‘convert’—the chief Sechele of the Bakwene, in what is now Botswana.  Yet the influence of Livingstone’s life was far more extensive.  Discipling is really about ‘people making’ and this is far richer and broader than indoctrination in a particular set of beliefs.  This is not to devalue the importance of beliefs, but rather to understand that the things we really believe guide and inform our actions and shape our character. The analogy to the impact that parents have on their children is not amiss.  Very often what we call ‘Christian conversion’ amounts to little more than assent to a given set of doctrines and kept safely away from the ‘command centre’ of one’s life. In terms of life changing influence, there can be no question that Livingstone’s legacy of discipling others is far richer than the one ‘convert.’  But, let’s focus on that one for a moment.  Chief Sechele was instrumental in seeing thousands of his fellow Africans come to Christ. Sechele continued to struggle with polygamy and superstitious rainmaking rituals, but the life of Jesus was at work in him.  Livingstone had taught him to read and given him a Bible in his native Tswana.  It was ten years after Livingstone’s departure that Western missionaries came, and they found a thriving church numbering in the thousands - a tangible witness to the power of the discipling principle: I am helping someone and someone is helping me to be a reproducing follower of Jesus.

    His Community: Saying 7: ‘I am participating in a community of followers of Jesus on mission to the world.’

    Livingstone wrote:

          “The best remedy for a sick church is to put it on a missionary diet.”

    In EMCC we say that we are ‘following Jesus on mission together.’ The church is not the church unless it is on the mission with Jesus.  We are His agents of blessing and reconciliation to world desperate to experience the love of Christ.  The missionary ideal is about living ‘like Jesus, for Jesus and in the power of the Spirit of Jesus.’  A life so lived is a life of blessing and invitation and inevitably creates community.   Though we who are followers of Jesus imperfectly model His life in our attitudes, behaviours and character, the reality of the presence of Christ in most cases still manages to seep through and to bring new life and new hope to others.  We who follow Jesus cannot boast of our goodness or our own ability but rather depend on Him, Who alone is Good, and Who alone is able. We invite others to find in Him what we have found – He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

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