1848 - 1915
The white Ma of Africaby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
When Mary Slessor was born on December 2nd, 1848, her parents didn’t know they were raising what would become Africa’s miracle. As a child, Mary lived in Gilcomston (close to Aberdeen), Scotland for the first eleven-years of her life. Once she became eleven, in 1859, her family moved to Dundee, Scotland. The reason for the move was due to Mary’s father, who ran a shoemaking business that did not go well. Mr. Slessor, as a result, became an alcoholic, and an abusive drunk. The Slessor family hoped that the move to Dundee would encourage Mr. Slessor to find a stable job, and to stop drinking. Unfortunately this did not happen as Mr. Slessor was indeed sober for about a total of one month before reversing back to his old self. Little did Mary know, but through her father’s cruelness, she was being taught to be strong and brave. Over the course of time, because of her father’s lack of financial support, Mary was forced to get a job at a cotton mill. The cotton mill required Mary to work many tedious hours to earn money for her family’s survival. Sadly for the Slessor family, out of the seven children Mrs. Slessor had, only 4 survived childhood. The rest died (with the exception of Mary) before reaching 30. Mr. Slessor also passed away from pneumonia, leaving his family with mixed emotions of sorrow and relief. This left the Slessor family without any male support, and Mrs. Slessor’s dreams of having a missionary in the family were temporarily shattered. Fortunately, God was slowly planting a love and a desire in young Mary to fulfill her mother’s dream.
At the age of 27 years old, in 1873, Mary came to the realization that there had to be more to life than working in a cotton mill. After Mary received the news that her long time hero, David Livingstone had died, she was determined to “Go forward” like him. Which were David Livingstone’s famous words referring to his willingness to go wherever God called him. Approximately a year later, after months of training and signing papers, 28-year-old Mary Slessor was on her way to Calabar. The trip was rigorous and Mary fell ill several times, but she made it to Calabar in good spirits. Although her spirits remained hopeful, the new missionary came to the realization that witnessing to the people of Calabar was not going to be an easy job. After personally visiting some of the tribal people she soon learned how real the fear of evil spirits was among the people.
After spending 3 years at a missionary compound in Calabar, Mary longed to go into the interior of Africa, “Where no other white person has settled”. Instead of this happening, a missionary’s worst nightmare came upon Mary, malaria. God obviously still had plans for Mary for she survived the deadly disease. But to her horror she was sent home to recuperate. Finally, after 16 months of recovering, Mary was sent back to Calabar. To her delight she was not sent back to the missionary compound, but 3 miles further in-land to Old town. She would finally be able to make her own rules and work solo. It took some time for the people of Old Town to get use to Mary’s fire red hair and her blue eyes, but soon they were calling her the “white ma”. Babies started to appear at Mary’s doorstep because human life was not valued among the tribal people, and if she didn’t care for the babies they would be left to die. Mary took on the responsibility immediately, but soon she needed more help. Lots of help. The local girls provided that helped as quickly as possible. Mary even adopted a baby for just herself. She got the baby from another village that was just about to kill twins (the people believed twins were a curse to their village), when Mary snatched the twins from the killers and brought them back to her orphanage. The twins were a boy and a girl that thrived until the twins’ family tricked a helper girl into allowing them to “borrow the boy. The family killed the boy, leaving Mary devastated. The girl, however, lived and became Mary’s “daughter”. The girl was named Janie.
Mary’s health affected her work in Africa once again and again she had to be sent home. This time though, she did not leave alone. Janie went with her mother on the trip home to Scotland and kept her company on the lonely trip. Upon arriving in Scotland, Janie became the center of attention since many people there had never seen a black baby. Although Mary enjoyed her time in Scotland, she was anxious to return to her home in Africa. Which she did 3 years later. She did not return to Old town though, Mary went on to live in 2 more tribes. Although she did not stay in one place for long, she often went to neighboring tribes to assist the people there too.
The 39 years Mary spent with the people of different regions of Calabar were filled with excitement, disappointment, horror, and joy. Even though she was only 5 feet tall, she stood up to many warriors, chiefs, witch doctors, and murderers. Her adventures varied from healing hundreds of people (including chiefs), rescuing prisoners and/or slaves and wives from being murdered, saving and caring for countless children and babies, witnessing to the most frightening tribes, settling many disputes among tribes and neighbors, assisting chiefs in decisions for their tribe, and sometimes just looking a tribal person in the face and telling them about the love of God. Mary Slessor died, at age 67, January 13th, 1915, of a jungle disease. Her daughter Janie and all her other “children” were there to comfort her. Like Paul (2 Tim. 4:6-8), her life had been poured out for the sake of the gospel. Even if she didn’t know, or wouldn’t admit to it, she truly was Africa’s miracle.
Harrison, Eugene Myers. "Mary Slessor 1848-1915 The White Queen of Calabar" World History. 04 Oct. 2003. http://www.wholesomewords.org/index.html
Benge, Janet & Geoff "Christian Heroes: Then & Now: Mary Slessor 'Forward into Calabar'" Published by: Youth With A Mission Publishing 1999