On This Day, 140 Years Ago

Mary Slessor with her adopted children

Mary Slessor’s childhood was marred by a drinking father. Every Saturday his paycheck turned into alcohol, leaving the family destitute for another week. By age 11 Mary was putting in 12-hour shifts in the mills, six in the morning till six at night. She hid her earnings form her father, incurring his wrath but keeping the family fed. In her spare time, Mary taught herself to read and found she could prop books on her loom and read while working. There, Mary learned of Calabar (Nigeria(, an “unhealthy, mysterious … land ruled by witchcraft and secret societies.” She was convinced she should go there as a missionary.

For several years Mary worked in mission halls near her home in the slums of Dundee, Scotland. She learned to face down gangs, to pray down blessings, and to break down hardened hearts. Her work finally led to her being appointed missionary to Calabar, and on August 5, 1876, she sailed for West Africa aboard the S.S. Ethiopia. 

In the years that followed, she single-handedly tamed and transformed three pagan areas by preaching the gospel, teaching the children, defending the abused, and rescuing the mistreated. She was feisty. She didn’t mind living in mud huts and sleeping amid sweating bodies. She was a combination circuit preacher, village teacher, nurse, nanny, and negotiator. She diverted tribal wars and rescued women and children by the hundreds. Often babies filled her home by the dozens.

… For 40 years, she pioneered the gospel in areas that had proved the graveyard of other missionaries. – Robert J. Morgan


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