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Posted on Jun 22, 2012

A Genuine Missionary Team

You likely know the popular phrase “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” Those were the words spoken by H.M. Stanley who went looking for Dr. Livingstone, because he had gone missing for 6 years.

You might even know that Dr. Livingstone was a Scottish missionary working in Africa in the mid-1800s.

But do you know the history behind this legendary man – and the woman who supported him – that led to this famous question?

David & Mary Livingston were a genuine missionary team.

As a value, Genuine means not fake; sincerely felt or expressed. There was nothing fake about this couple. And the stories that came from Livingstone’s mission trips generated such interest it inspired future generations to continue the Christian missionary work in Africa, pave the way for commerce, and initiate the path towards modern civilization.

Missionary work is not for everyone. For a rare few, it is a calling that cannot be ignored.

Mary (Moffat) Livingstone

Mary Moffat was born into a missionary family in 1821, in South Africa. Her Scottish-born parents had joined the London Missionary Society (LMS) and worked for 50 years to spread the Gospel in South Africa.

At the age of 18, Mary joined her parents for a few years back in Britain – and hated it. Her life was to be a missionary in Africa.

Not surprisingly, it was in South Africa that Mary met David Livingston. They married in 1845.

Mary was completely devoted to their missionary work and accompanied her husband on his two journeys north to Lake Ngami across the Kalahari Desert in 1849 and 1850. We get a sense of her amazing resilience when we consider that two of her six children were born during these ox-wagon ventures – delivered by her husband.

Then, for the sake of the children’s education, Mary agreed to spend four years in Britain (1852 – 1856), caring for them as a single mother. With no word about her husband’s whereabouts, not knowing if he was even alive, she endured four long, hard years of prolonged separation, remaining faithful and hopeful for his return.

When Livingstone finally did surface and returned to England – 16 years after he first left – he received a hero’s welcome. Mary stood by his side, as he was flooded with honor.

She then insisted on returning with her husband to Africa for his next trip in 1858, known as the official Zambesi Expedition, this time supported and sponsored by the British government. But she became pregnant again and had to leave the expedition to stay with her parents in South Africa.

Mary ended up going back to Scotland for a brief period and then returning to South Africa. Unfortunately, she became very ill from malaria and died in 1862 (age 42).

Livingstone mourned over the loss of his wife with the words “For the first time in my life I want to die.”

Dr. David Livingston

Becoming one of the most popular national heroes of the late 19th century, the story of Dr. David Livingston is an inspiration to all missionaries and explorers. His story is also one of rags to riches, scientific investigator, anti-slave crusader, and of course, a protestant missionary martyr.

Born in Scotland, Livingstone started out poor. By age 10 he was working in a cotton mill. But he had many positive influences around him, encouraging him to read books and continue his schooling (while working) and eventually finishing medical school. By age 26 he had decided to become a medical missionary and wanted to go to China.

Livingstone joined the London Missionary Society (LMS) and there met fellow missionary Robert Moffat – whose daughter he would later marry. Moffat convinced him to forget China and instead come to Africa. So in 1840 Dr. Livingstone sailed for South Africa via Cape Town.

His heart for the native people was genuine. Early on Livingstone recognized the power of a noble, honest and open heart was a much better way to connect with local tribes.

Interestingly, other expeditions traveled with dozens of soldiers, rifles, and many hired porters to carry supplies. In complete contrast, Livingstone generally travelled light, with just a few servants and porters, and bartering for supplies along the way.

Everywhere Livingstone went he preached the Christian Gospel. But he did not force it on unwilling ears. He took time to understand the ways of local chiefs and successfully negotiated passage through their territory, often being received hospitably.

Not every expedition was successful. Livingstone lived the true life of a missionary, enduring incredible hardships – physically, emotionally, and mentally.

On numerous occasions he suffered dysentery, malaria, cholera, sleeping sickness, and very painful tropical ulcers on his feet. He also witnessed the horrors of slavery in many different forms, including the massacre of 400 slaves. When he tried to navigate the Ruvuma River he failed, because the paddle wheels on his boat kept breaking from all of the dead bodies thrown into the river by slave traders.

But he never quit.

It is estimated that altogether, Livingstone travelled around 30,000 miles (50,000 km) through the Africa bush. His motto was “Christianity, Commerce, and Civilization” – and in that order. This is what he sought to bring to the tribes in the interior of Africa. And he succeeded.

Even after Mary’s death, Livingstone continued his African expeditions. And in 1873, that is where he died, in the area of Chief Chitambo’s village at Ilala southeast of Lake Bangweulu in present-day Zambia.

Maybe the best way to summarize the life of a genuine missionary couple is from one of Livingstone’s most famous quotes:
I am prepared to go anywhere, provided it be forward.


What can couples learn today from David & Mary Livingstone?

How can the value of being genuine help you in your marriage?


Today’s value was selected from the “Fairness-Respect” category, based on the e-book Developing Your Differentiating Value.




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