His name was Robert Moffat, (1795-1883) and I "discovered" him while researching an article on Africa. When we think of the so-called "dark continent" the name of David Livingstone often comes to the fore, as it did with me. But it was Moffat who captured my attention in the end.
He came from humble Scottish roots and would always look back at the teaching he received at his mother's knee as pivotal in his spiritual growth. As a lad he took to the sea—something which caused his mother great anxiety. She was much relieved when Robbie took on the safer, and dryer, profession of a gardener. It would be in this context that he discovered his calling to missions, and met his bride-to-be, Mary.
Mary's parents were willing to give their consent to the marriage, but they were not happy with allowing their daughter to go off to South Africa. So Moffat, along with several companions, took that first voyage alone at the age of twenty-one, under the auspices of the London Missionary Society.
Travel in Africa was dangerous business. Moffat, stranded in the desert without water on one such trip, despaired that he would ever see a fruitful, spiritual garden in the midst of his chosen wilderness. But he was not a man to be easily discouraged. In 1817, to the great concern of his friends and colleagues, Moffat headed to the kraal (village) of an tribal leader by the name of Africaner. This man was feared throughout the region for his cruelty. He was well-known as a murderer and thief. But God gave Moffat favour in this man's eyes, and Africaner became one of Moffat's first converts.
Mary's parents finally relented, and allowed her to make the journey to South Africa to marry Robert. By this time, Moffat's vision was directed to a tribal group called the Bechuanas. Among these people, Robert and Mary would minister for many long and difficult years. Before the first tribesmen came to Christ, small inroads in character and conduct occurred. The Bechuanas gave up calling on their rainmaker one year, at Moffat's insistence. That was a time of terrible drought and the Bechuanas eventually came to Moffat's house and threatened him at spear point with death if he didn't leave the area immediately. Mary, with their first child in her arms, watched from the house. Her husband undid his vest, exposing his chest to the armed warriors, and basically told them to take their best shot. Stunned by his bravery, the warriors walked away declaring that this man must have many lives if he was so willing to give up one of them to their spears.
It was twelve years before the first fruit of Moffat's labour was seen among the Bechuanas. When it came, it came in abundance. Robert Moffat dedicated much of his time to language learning and the translation of the Scriptures so that these people could hear and read the Word of God in their own language.
The Moffats returned to England only once in over sixty years of ministry. On that journey, Robert persuaded David Livingstone to go to Africa as a missionary, instead of to China. Livingstone would later marry Mary, the child that Mary Moffat had held in her arms as her husband faced the Bechuana ire on that significant day in their missionary journey.
As I read the story of Robert Moffat, a small part of which I have shared here, I was impacted by the courage and faith of those early missionaries. I fuss at the small sacrifices I make to serve God overseas, only to be shamed when I realize what others before me have endured for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
Has the mold been broken from which the Robert Moffats of the world were made? I hope not. We desperately need humble and faithful servants like him today more than ever.