I continue to read through a biography of the mission work of Dr. David Livingstone. The book, entitled The Daring Heart of David Livingstone, is written by Jay Milbrandt.
Here is an excerpt (pg.82-84) I spent much time thinking about…
“They came to rest in mid-July at a small village. Not long after arriving, the group learned that a large slave caravan would soon pass through on its way to Tette – the first direct contact with the slave trade for the Universities’ Mission. They anticipated the interaction with apprehension and curiosity.
“‘Shall we interfere?’ asked a member of the Universities’ Mission. Discussion led to a decision, with Livingstone’s team coalescing: they would impede the caravan, if possible.
“Minutes later, 84 men, women, and children rounded a hill – hands bound and necks locked in taming sticks. The slavers proudly drove their catch, marching triumphantly with their muskets in parade position. The sound of horns rose up from the procession, announcing their arrival to the village.
“Then the slavers saw the European men (in Livingstone’s group). Their proud ranks broke in all directions, fleeing into the forest with cowardly fear. In their scattered departure, they disregarded the slaves, who now stood before the expedition, bound and abandoned.
“The 84 began kneeling to the ground, then vigorously clapped their hands as a show of thanks. The expedition rushed forward with knives to slash the ropes binding the women and children. The taming sticks proved more difficult. They found a saw and, one by one, cut each man to freedom.
“‘An act of God’, the Universities’ Mission leaders declared, when they finally paused to offer an explanation. Livingstone felt otherwise – the slavers had feared their fierce Makolo guards. But with 84 lives newly under their care, they had little time to debate the source of liberation.
“An expedition member immediately gave instructions: take the meal you are carrying and cook breakfast for yourselves and the children.
“Their suspicious disbelief required coaxing, but jubilant enthusiasm quickly overwhelmed hesitation. The newly freed men and women turned their former taming sticks into a hearty fire and began preparing a meal.
“As food and freedom set in, the victims began to tell of the tragedies they had witnessed. The day before, the slavers had shot 2 women after they attempted to untie themselves. Another woman could not carry her load, so a slaver ‘had her infant’s brains knocked out’. They murdered another man with an axe simply because he fell down in fatigue.
“Soon, a young boy approached Livingstone and the men.
“‘The others tied and starved us, you cut the ropes and tell us to eat; what sort of people are you?’ the boy asked Livingstone. ‘Where did you come from?’
“‘[We are] English,’ Livingstone always liked to say, ‘and the English neither bought, sold, not held black people as slaves, but wished to put a stop to the slave-trade altogether.’
“Although he spoke of ending slavery, Livingstone had largely avoided personally liberating slaves in the past. Always on the move, he had no resources for aftercare. The slaves often needed medical attention, transport, and, most importantly, protection. Freed slaves left to their own devices would shortly be recaptured in the nearest village and sold back to the same slave raiders.
“With the Universities’ Mission present, the equation changed. The Universities’ Mission had resources to care for victims, and they wanted a project to begin their permanent settlement. The expedition gave those liberated a choice: freely go where they pleased or stay to join the Universities’ Mission’s Christian community. All chose to stay. The mission instantly had a membership.”
Tragic. Yet, God was able to work it toward a better ending.
But, re-read that passage. This time, don’t think of these as slaves to slave-traders but as lost people enslaved to Satan. This time, imagine the church in place of this expedition crew. And, this time, see a picture of how the church grows.
When the church acts as the church should, those in our community ask the same question as was asked by this young boy: “What sort of people are you?”