When I was very young and attending Sunday School, the sessions which I found particularly interesting were those when we were told about missionaries and the work that they did ‘in darkest Africa’! Looking at the Lectionary for today I saw a name which I remember from those days – Mary Slessor.
Mary was a most remarkable woman; born into a poor family in Aberdeen in 1848, from the age of eleven she was working in a linen mill for twelve hours a day, six days a week. She came to faith as a teenager and worked among the deprived youth of Dundee. However she was already developing an interest in overseas mission work, and in the limited spare time afforded her, she studied in order to equip herself for mission work.
She was 28 when she joined the Scots United Presbyterian mission at Calabar on the Niger Delta in West Africa. She became fluent in the local languages and, unusually at that time, lived with the people, rather than in the mission compound. During her life time she earned the respect of both local leaders and the British colonial administration, often called upon to arbitrate in tribal disputes and in 1892 was appointed as the British vice-consul – an unusual role foe a missionary and a unique one for a woman.
Although she was not an Anglican, Mary Slessor is remembered each year on this day in the Anglican lectionary, acknowledging a woman who overcame huge obstacles to pursue her desire to bring the knowledge of God’s all-encompassing love to those who did not know him. Her example of humility, living among those she wished to serve, learning their various languages and adapting to their culture is one which reflects the Son of God who came ‘not to be served, but to serve’. Those of us who live comfortable, privileged lives have a lot to learn from Mary Slessor.
Brother, sister, let me serve you,
let me be as Christ to you;
pray that I may have the grace to
let you be my servant too.
I will hold the Christlight for you
in the night-time of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you,
speak the peace you long to hear.