In the Footsteps of Livingstone

First Published in African Safari Magazine, 1996

People go to Africa for all kinds of reasons. Mine was a primarily a spiritual quest.

Like that early pioneer, I too had been strangely compelled and drawn by the hand of providence to explore, in my own way, the "dark continent". My safari began at that place where David Livingstone discovered the most beautiful natural wonder in Africa - Victoria Falls.

Much has been said about this much admired pioneer. And there is much to admire. Explorer, medical doctor, geographer, zoologist, writer, linguist, and emancipator of slaves. But it was his motivation as a Christian missionary that led him to explore the perilous interior of Africa. From his conversion at the age of twenty he was devoted to spreading the gospel. Even before he had thoughts of becoming a missionary, he made a resolution to 'give to the cause of missions all that he could earn beyond what was required for his substinence'. As I examined his life and travels, I couldn't help but compare it with my own. Livingstone travelled 46,000 kilometres within Africa - mostly on foot - during which he endured the elements, African fever, dysentery, dangers from animals and hostile natives, and countless tribulations that would have caused lesser men to crumble. As for me, I was not even a seasoned traveller. I covered the 9000 kilometres from Perth to Harare in the comfort of a Qantas 747 and then I flew direct to Victoria  Falls where the natives (now friendly) carried my bags and guided me to my luxury accommodation on the Zambesi River. Three days at Victoria Falls was a gentle introduction to African life and culture - and the A'Zambezi River Lodge was an ideal place for me to unwind and gather my thoughts. As I relaxed in the pool in the evening, listened to live African music, and  watched shooting stars across the African sky, I pondered how comfortable my journey was compared to that early pioneer.

I began my own exploration with "the flight of angels", a helicopter ride which took me right over the falls. The views were breathtaking and the photo opportunities unparalleled. The next day, looking like a tourist complete with cameras, I walked for hours around the falls taking in the awesome spectacle. But as beautiful as the falls may look on film, nothing can compare with actually being there, hearing the unceasing pounding of water crashing on the rocks and being drenched by the continuous clouds of spray and mist. When the sunlight shines through the mist it unveils vivid rainbows of such brilliance that it is easy to momentarily forget about everything and lose oneself in wonderment.

On Sunday I was interested to see what kind of churches had resulted from the missionary activity in Africa. I was hoping to experience worship African-style, so I planned to go to the local Assemblies of God church. My efforts to find it, however, were hampered by the fact the school hall where the church usually meets was being used as polling station for the election. Benson, the young taxi driver, was very helpful, and after driving here and there for an hour I discovered that he too was a devout Christian and he was about to attend church himself. I decided to go with him. We ended up at another school complex where his church, along with five other churches, occupy the various classrooms every Sunday morning. I was surprised to find in one place such a broad spectrum of religious traditions. But it was refreshing to hear some genuine African music and singing and to see people enjoying worship in the way that only Africans know how.

I came away with the conviction that people who want to do some good in Africa need to tread carefully. Not all mission organisations have been helpful or culturally appropriate. Some have done more to promote western cultural values and sectarianism (along with aid dependency) amongst Africans than they have to lift them into enlightened spirituality. Such people could learn a lesson from Livingstone. His faith and missionary activity was holistic. He saw every facet of life - science, medicine, commerce, religion, etc, as being connected and useful in the service of God. The religion he promoted was not sectarianism, but that which was rooted in his love for his Lord and all men, regardless of their colour. He laboured tirelessly in preaching, as well as in his practice of medicine, exploration and his study of science. He hoped that all these might lead to the enlightenment and elevation of all men. He was also a pioneer in calling for the abolition of the slave trade and denounced it with a vehemence uncharacteristic of one usually so composed.

During my trip I spent time with many Africans from remote villages in Uganda to as far north as Ethiopia and Eritrea. Most that I met were friendly and receptive to the gospel. I witnessed some extraordinary miracles take place in the churches as a result of their simple faith. For missionaries it is certainly a different picture today than it was when Livingstone first ventured into Africa. Many believe that results are now being reaped there, largely due to those first seeds sown by him - and the fact that he died in the same manner in which he lived - on his knees before God in prayer.

 by Allan Weatherall, 1996

Thursday, April 25, 1996   login to post comments | printer friendly version | 7958 reads