Mary Slessor is a true heroine and her impact was felt throughout south-eastern Nigeria. Many think all her work was focused on Calabar but that’s far from the truth. Although stationed in Calabar she moved to different areas and as a result killing of infant twins was wiped out all over the south eastern Nigeria. In fact I only recently learned that a friend’s mum and her twin brother from Abba in Anambra State were hidden for months to escape death until Mary’s influence came to bear.
One striking thing about Mary was that she preached the Gospel in an endearing way – she didn’t try to force her culture and religion on the people; rather she learnt their culture. She didn’t feel superior to them and went about her daily work the same way they did – she wore no shoes, ate the same way they did (with their hands), and this red-haired lass from Scotland had absolutely no airs. She truly was a disciple of Christ and acted in the way I believe He would have. No one knows how many converts she won in her lifetime, but her impact affected generations and I have no doubt that even after her death many have come to the saving knowledge of Jesus through her work and legacy.
Recently, I saw the picture above of Mary Slessor with some of her adopted children, and it reminded me of all the amazing things I had learnt from her life over the years. Indeed, one of my favourite books as a child was a short story about her exploits. She has been dead for many, many years but she is celebrated in Nigeria, Scotland and beyond and her impact still lives on!
Let’s read some of her quotes and learn some lessons from her life!
These were the words that Mary used to comfort herself when she first arrived in Calabar and saw that she had quite a task ahead of her. She must have been overwhelmed but she was sure of her calling and who had sent her. When we are afraid, like Mary we need to remember whose we are, and when we are fulfilling our purpose we should just go ahead.
In her ministry, Mary spent a lot of her time nursing the sick and she soon gained a reputation for being able to restore people to full health. One day, she was summoned to the town of Ekenge as a big Chief was dying and heads would roll if he passed – apart from those who would be killed for being “behind his sickness”, his wives would also be killed to “accompany their husband to the great beyond”. Despite being discouraged by those around her about the streams being deep due to heavy rains, Mary couldn’t say no to this request and went off on an eight-hour trek through ravaging streams and the deep forest to reach Ekenge. By the time she got there, she was drenched and had developed a fever. However, she attended to the Chief before looking after herself, and in a few days he was up and about, restored to good health.
Did I mention how fearless this woman was? She had wanted to be a missionary after hearing about her fellow Scot Livingstone, and once she got the chance, she applied to be one. At that time, women didn’t go on solo trips to Africa but she didn’t care, and even when she suffered ill health she still trudged on. While to some she was a “mere woman”, she knew that God had sent her on a mission, and she was determined to fulfil destiny!
Worthy of note was her mission to stop an impeding war between two villages. Knowing that many lives would be lost, she decided to go and mediate. As she drew closer, she was warned by a Chief not to proceed, as the people she was going to encounter were warriors who would never listen to a woman. Her response? “When you think of the woman’s power you forget the power of the woman’s God. I shall go on.” And on she went . Everyone thought she was mad, but she proceeded into the night, and at dawn a tired Mary met the warriors about to assault a village. She approached them and prevailed on them to put them weapons down. As she spoke, an old Chief came to her and agreed that they would allow her to broker peace between them and the village they were about to attack. As she looked closely at the old Chief, she remembered that he was the Chief from Ekenge whom she had risked her life to save many years ago. He remembered her (they weren’t too many redheads in that part of the woods!) and that undoubtedly softened his heart and made him harken to her plea. Many lives were saved that day by a little lady with a big God. To be honest, I have a feeling she was scared stiff but emboldened by her passion and faith and she did it afraid!
“My life is one long daily, hourly record of answered prayer. For physical health, for mental overstrain, for guidance given marvellously, for errors and dangers averted, for enmity to the Gospel subdued, for food provided at the exact hour needed, for everything that goes to make up life and my poor service. I can testify, with a full and often wonder-stricken awe, that I believe God answers prayer.”
Mary lived a life of faith. Shunning the relative comfort of the missionary building, she lived among the locals. She ate their food, walked around barefoot like they did and quickly learned their language. Was it easy? Definitely not, but her faith in God helped her maintain focus. She was homesick many times and missed her family in Scotland, but even when she went home to visit, she was eager to return to those she served. Indeed when her beloved mother and sister died, while she was thrown into mourning she also felt she could do more work as they had often begged her not to go “up-country” i.e. to more interior lands. Mary told herself, “Heaven is now nearer to me than Britain, and no one will be anxious about me if I go up-country,” and she spent the rest of her years doing even more work to abolish cruel customs and save lives.
“Nobody, I just mix it and stir it like porridge. Then I turn it out; smooth it with a stick and say: ‘Lord, here’s the cement. If it be thy will, please set it.’ And he aye does.”
The above was Mary’s response when asked how she learnt how to mix cement. She truly believed that she could do all things through Christ. She swam through crocodile-infested swamps and earned the respect of all those she came across. Sometimes we may feel reluctant to try something new but unlike Mary Slessor we have Google, YouTube, Pinterest and more to turn to. There is so much you can do, just believe in yourself, do a little research, pray and give it a go!
“I owe a debt of gratitude to my sainted mother”
Mary’s father was alcoholic and left the family living in constant penury. Mary had a rough childhood, but her mother’s faith in God stirred up her own faith and helped her to become one of the greatest missionaries to West Africa. The lesson here is that a godly mother’s influence on her young cannot be over-emphasised. When you talk to great men and woman all over the world, there is one common thread: they owe a lot to their mothers. As mums, we need to remember that the children we raise depend so much on us for inspiration, strength, direction and more. God willing we shall not fail.
Nneka, Iyaniwura…. truly there is none like a mother.
Language breaks barriers:
One of the tools Mary used to gain acceptance amongst “her people” was learning their language. Many missionaries had come before, but none had gained as much love, acceptance and respect as the amazing Mary Slessor. She wisely knew that speaking their language would enable her to reach the hearts of the people she loved and lived among. This is a trait of a true leader, you are comfortable amongst your people and they are comfortable around you. So well accepted and respected was Mary that she was made the first female Magistrate in the British Empire when Southern Nigeria became a British Protectorate. She was a skilful diplomatic emissary between the British and the Natives who fondly called her “Eka Kpupru Owo” (Mother to all) and even today nothing breaks barriers like hearing someone else speak in your own tongue.
There is so much more to learn from the life of this Amazon, what story do you have to share? What have you learnt from the story of her life?