Back to Especially for Women
Missionary to Calabar, West Africa 1876
Mary Slessor had every reason, except one, to be afraid.
Her God was with her in Calabar, West Africa, in 1876 as He had been during her dreary upbringing in Scotland. Surrounded by warring tribes that were governed by witchcraft and barbaric rites, Mary Slessor nonetheless went where few dared to bring hope and light to the once Dark Continent.
...like David Livingstone, with whom she shared an abhorrence of slavery...
Armed with a relentless Christian faith and abetted by her contagious sense of humor and medical and language skills, Slessor was successful in opening up Africa to healthy trade and to the Christian message. And like David Livingstone, with whom she shared an abhorrence of slavery, she was committed to breathing her last while charting new territory for the Lord.
"...the rest was left with God."
In Mary Slessor's own words, "Every day's duties were done as every day brought them, but the rest was left with God."
Mary Slessor was Born in Aberdeen in 1848, at Mutton Brae. Her father was a souter (shoemaker) who earned little and spent much of his wages on drink. The family lived in a slum, long since cleared away, and were always underfed. Of the six children few reached adulthood and Mary was the only one to survive into old age.
Her mother, a strong believer in the Christian faith, had hoped that her eldest son, Robert, might become a missionary but he died prematurely at the age of sixteen. At that same time Mary's father was sacked from the shoe factory and the family headed south to Dundee in hope of a new life. Though only ten years old and still at school, Mary found a part time job in a local jute mill.
When she left school she continued to work at the mill, long, grulling, twelve hour shifts, six days a week and it was during this time that Mary read and studied the books that helped her decide her destiny. She learned that in 1848 a mission had been set up at Calabar on the Nigerian coast, at the very centre of the African slave trade. What fascinated her most of all was that the mission had been established by a Dr Ferguson who first went to Nigeria as surgeon aboard a slave ship.
When Dr Ferguson's ship was wrecked on the Nigerian coast the crew almost starved to death before they were found by local tribesmen. White-men, especially slave traders, were understandably unpopular in such regions and the crew were convinced that they would be killed. But, contrary to the sailors' presumptions, the men were fed and nursed back to health before the tribal chief helped them find a passage home.
Her plans to go to Calabar were held up for several years after her father died and Mary found herself responsible for her younger sisters and ailing mother. She was 26 years old when she finally left for Nigeria, sailing on the "Ethiopia" of the African Steamship Line, to start a new life at the Calabar Christian Mission.
The tribes of that region she found to have traditions that were cruel beyond belief. For instance, they slaughtered the slaves and wives of important men when they died and also killed twins at birth believing that one of the children was evil! She had not been there long when she witnessed a slave being fed to a crocodile in hope that the sacrifice would bring a good season's fishing. These were things were typical of the many barbaric traditions that Mary was determined to eradicate.
Through the years Mary made much progress in her work and eventually won the trust all around her. By the time of her death in 1915 she had achieved many of her goals. Twins were no longer seen as evil and slaves were no longer fed to crocodiles as acts of sacrifice. After suffering arthritis for many years, Mary died at Duke Town. At her burial hundreds wept and moaned as the great little woman was laid to rest.