It isn’t often that one can write a brief expose that not only endorses heartfelt missions but marital commitment and patience as well. I get that chance this week in briefly sharing with you the story of Robert Moffat and Mary Smith, and it is a beautiful story to tell.
Moffat was born in 1795 and grew to be a strong, athletic and handsome man. He was led to the Lord at an early age and felt compelled to spend his life in missions. As a late teen he was hired to work in a nursery by a Mr. James Smith, even though Smith had misgivings. Those misgivings had nothing to do with Robert’s work ethic, rather, he feared that his daughter would fall for the handsome young man and be compelled to enter the mission field. His fears were well founded. Mary did indeed meet Robert and found they had two things in common: a love for the Lord and a heart for missions. A bond between them formed quickly and Robert wasted no time proposing marriage, which Mary quickly accepted. One problem remained; would Mary’s father consent? Sadly, the answer was a resounding “no.” Mr. Smith would not allow his daughter to be taken into the wilds of Africa, where Robert and Mary had determined to go. No pleading on Robert’s part could persuade Mary’s father, and Robert would not consent to give up his call to missions. So, with a broken heart, he said goodbye to Mary and left for Africa.
He arrived in Africa in a deep depression caused by his loneliness, but over the next three years grew fond of his new home and his growing mission work there. Back in England, Mary continued to plead with her father to allow her to be married and go where her heart longed to be, but to no avail. She sent a letter off to Robert telling him that she must give up all hope of joining with him in his work. However, the winds were changing. A few more months passed before Mary’s father and mother took her aside and with much sorrow “calmly resigned [her] into the hands of the Lord.” Overjoyed, Mary packed her belongings and set sail for Africa. There she and Robert were wed before a small gathering of friends and African converts, and there she remained, serving side by side with Robert in missions for fifty-three years.
Over time, Robert and Mary settled among the Batswana people in Kuruman. They became the parents of ten children, two of whom died in infancy. Some years later they returned briefly to England to raise funds and plead for more missionaries to come to Africa. While there, Robert met a young man who also had a heart for missions. Robert told him, “I have seen the smoke rise from a thousand villages where the gospel of Christ has not yet been proclaimed.” The young man was not only a Christian, but a bold adventurer, and Robert’s phrase stuck in his head. Soon he too would head for Africa and would marry Robert and Mary’s daughter. His name was David Livingston, and he would become arguably the most famous missionary since the founding of the early church. In an effort to destroy the African slave trade by introducing the dual forces of Christianity and legitimate trade opportunities, Livingston labored the rest of his life for the gospel, becoming an explorer and adventurer in the process. He mapped the interior of Africa for future missionaries, became the first European to set eyes on Victoria Falls, and initiated the great hunt for the source of the river Nile. His and his wife’s work, in many ways, became the legacy of Robert and Mary Moffat.
We all have our part to play in the unfolding drama of salvation history when we turn our lives over to Christ. Robert and Mary demonstrated faithfulness to God and the gospel in two profound ways. First, they followed their hearts to Africa and labored to see men and women bound in spiritual darkness set free. Second, they lived out their love for one another and in so doing demonstrated visibly Christ’s love for - and relationship with - his church. They should be honored by those of us who follow after them in the faith, as they will undoubtedly be honored in heaven when we meet them there.
God moves in mysterious ways. Oftentimes our disappointments turn into our greatest joys. As the poet William Cowper said: “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace. Behind a frowning providence, he hides a smiling face.”
Grace and peace,