The Story of Mary Slessor of Calabar
by A.J. BUELTMANN
1. A Drunkard's Home 2. A Brave Girl 3. In Africa 4. On Her Own 5. Into the Jungle 6. A Brave Nurse 7. Witchcraft 8. The Poison Test 9. Victories for Mary 10. A Disappointment 11. Clouds and Sunshine 12. Among the Cannibals 13. Blessings Unnumbered 14. Journey's End
A Drunkard's Home
"On the west coast of Africa is the country of Nigeria. The chief city is Calabar," said Mother Slessor. "It is a dark country because the light of the Gospel is not shining brightly there. Black people live there. Many of these are cannibals who eat other people."
"They're bad people, aren't they, Mother?" asked little Susan.
"Yes, they are bad, because no one has told them about Jesus, the Saviour from sin, or showed them what is right and what is wrong."
"Don't they have any missionaries out there, Mother?" asked blue-eyed Mary.
"Yes, there are a few and they are doing wonderful things for Jesus, but there are still thousands and thousands of people who have never heard a missionary. They need many, many more missionaries."
"When I get to be a big man, I'm going to be a missionary," said Robert, "and preach to the black people of Calabar and Nigeria."
"I want to be a missionary; too," cried Mary, tossing her red hair about.
"Girls can't be preachers," said Robert.
"I want to preach to the black people," said Mary, the tears racing down her cheeks.
"When I'm a missionary," said Robert, "I'll take you into the pulpit with me."
This made Mary happy and she was much happier when Mother Slessor said, "Perhaps you can be a teacher and teach the little black children of Calabar. Now, children, I want to be sure you know your memory verse for Sunday school tomorrow. Let's all say it together." And Mother Slessor and her six children joined in saying:
Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.
As they finished reciting the memory verse they heard a hoarse voice singing:
Gin a body-hic, meet a body-hic, Coming-hic, through the rye-hic.
"It's your father, children. Off to bed with you quickly now. Oh, I do hope Robert has brought some money home with him so that we can buy some food for tomorrow."
"Where'sh the shteps? Somebody alwaysh moving the shteps," said the father, Robert Slessor, as he staggered drunkenly to the door.
Mother Slessor took hold of him and led him to a chair.
"Hello, dear," he said thickly. "Howsh my, besht gurl? There ish no shoemaker's got a prettier wife-hic-than I have. Yesh shir, we drank a li'l toash to you, my dear."
"Oh, Robert," said Mother Slessor to her husband, "I do hope you brought home some of your paycheck. We need it badly for food. We don't have any money in the house. All the food we have is what I kept back from the children's supper so you could eat."
"Shure, I brought money home," said Father Slessor. "All I did wash buy my friendsh a few drinksh."
Mother Slessor's face brightened. At least they would be able to buy food. Her husband reached his hand into one pocket and brought it out empty. Then into another pocket and again brought it out empty. Finally trying several other pockets, he held out his hand with a small coin in it.
"Shee, there ya' are, I brought money home. There'sh a thrippence for ye."
"Oh, Robert!" said Mother Slessor in dismay as the tears filled her eyes. "Oh, Robert!"
Then because she was used to these things, Mother Slessor heaved a sigh and said quietly, "Come and eat supper, Robert."
The father staggered over to the table where Mrs. Slessor had placed the plate of food which the children had saved out of their own small helpings, that he might have something to eat.
"Who wants shupper?" said Father Slessor, and he threw the precious food into the fire. He staggered to his bed and fell into drunken sleep. With a deep sigh Mother Slessor put out the light and she, too, retired for the night. Early the next morning she was up, preparing breakfast. Carefully she scraped every bit of oatmeal out of the container and boiled it for breakfast.
"Come, children, it's time to get up. Sunday school this morning," called Mrs. Slessor. Up jumped the six little Slessors. The older ones helped the smaller ones get dressed. When they had eaten the little oatmeal that Mrs. Slessor had for breakfast, they lined up for inspection.
"John," declared Mrs. Slessor, "you did not wash behind your ears. Go with Mary and let her scrub the dirt away. Now I'll put a bit of perfume on your hankies, and here's a peppermint for each of you. There, off we go to Sunday school and church."
Father Slessor snored in his drunken sleep, while the family went off to hear God's Word and to sing His praises. When they returned, Father Slessor was awake. He was sitting on the side of the bed and holding his head. He had "morning after" sickness.
"Come, Robert," said Mrs. Slessor, "and sit up to the table. Good Elder McDougal has given us a bit of meat and some bread, so we can eat this day."
Father Slessor groaned, but sat up to the table and ate dinner with his family. It wasn't much of a dinner. It would have been even less were it not for the kindness and charity of friends, because Father Slessor had spent all their money for drink.
After dinner the children did the dishes and ran out to play. When they were alone, Father Slessor hung his head and said,
"Oh, my dear, what can I say? I am so ashamed. I did so want to bring my wages home that we might have food for the children. And well—before I knew it, my wages were spent."
"Robert," said Mrs. Slessor, "you have said again and again that 'tis your friends who lead you astray. Would it not be well to move away to some other town where you can find new friends who will not drink and who will not tempt you to drink?"
"Aye, my dear, that no doubt would be the best. But where shall we go?"
"I have heard that there is plenty of work in Dundee, with the mills and all. Let's sell our things here and move to Dundee."
"Aye, let us do that. 'Tis certain it won't be worse than here for you and the children."
"Very well, then. I shall tell the children and we shall move before the week is out."
When Mother Slessor went outside to call the children, she found Mary seated on the steps with her stick dolls about her.
"Well, Mary dear, what are you doing?"
"I am the teacher and these are the black children of Calabar. I am teaching them about Jesus. I am telling them that He saved them from their sins."
Mother Slessor hugged her little teacher and told her about the move they planned to make. Then the other children were called and told, too. There was much excitement, especially when the furniture was sold and the Slessors with their remaining possessions took the train to Dundee.
It did not take long to find a place and get settled. Mother Slessor at once looked for a church they might attend. She found the Wishart Church, named for the famous preacher, George Wishart, who in 1544 had preached near the place where the church was built. Shortly afterward he was killed for preaching about Jesus.
But Father Slessor did not do better in the new home. He could not overcome the drink habit, and probably did not try very hard to overcome it. In the meantime a new baby came to the Slessor home. They called the baby Janie. How happy her brothers and sisters were to welcome Janie! Mother Slessor was not altogether happy because she knew there was another mouth to feed. Father Slessor promised to give up drinking, but that did not mean anything, because he never kept those promises.
The money they got from selling their furniture in Aberdeen slowly melted away. Sickness came to the Slessor home. Robert Junior, who was going to be a missionary to Calabar, became sick and died. Two other of the children also died, and only Mary, Susan, John, and Janie were left. But even that did not make Father Slessor give up his drinking. The Slessors had less and less money to buy food. At last Mrs. Slessor went to work in one of the factories. Mary had to take care of the home. But the wages Mrs. Slessor received were very small. Somehow they had to find ways of getting more money. When she was eleven years old Mary went to work in the factory, too. Would she ever get a chance to be a missionary or must she give up that dream?
"Mary, Mary," called Mrs. Slessor, "it's five o'clock. Time to get up and go to work."
"Ho, hum," said Mary, "I'm still tired, but I'll get right up. I don't want to be late!"
At six o'clock in the morning Mary was at work. She had to tend to the shuttles on the weaving machines. The weaving sheds where Mary worked were damp and dark. All morning long she heard the whirring of the belts and the clacking of the looms. In the afternoon she went to school. By the time she was fourteen years old she was an expert weaver. She now began to work full time.
The hours were long. Twelve hours every day for six days a week the fourteen-year-old girl worked in the factory. And the pay was very small. But it was a joy when she received her pay on Saturday night. Mary hurried home.
"Mother, Mother," she called happily as she hurried into the house, "here is the money I earned this week."
"Oh, Mary, that is so good of you," said Mother Slessor. She wiped tears from her eyes with the end of her apron. She felt sad that Mary had to work in a factory. She thought of her own childhood in a happy home where there was always plenty to eat and plenty of money to buy things that were needed. She quickly hid Mary's wages in the same place where she hid her own wages, so that her husband would not find the money and spend it for drink.
Mary did not lose courage by the long hours in the factory. She remembered that David Livingstone, the great missionary, had worked in a weaving factory, too.
"If I want to be a missionary, I must study," said Mary. "When can I find time?" Again Mary remembered something David Livingstone did when he was a boy. He would take books to work and read them when the weaving shuttles were working right and did not have to have someone attend to them. Mary did the same thing. She read many books from the Sunday school library. She read books like Milton's Paradise Lost. But most of all she read the Bible.
Conditions at home grew worse. Mary's drunken father became meaner and meaner. Saturday nights were the worst. Mary and her mother would sit waiting, after the younger children had been put to bed, for the father to stumble home. One night he was so mean to Mary, she had to run out of the house to get away from him. The whole family was unhappy because of Mr. Slessor's sinful habit. Finally, one morning he did not waken from the drunken sleep. In the night his soul fled to face the Judge in Heaven. The death of the father was really a great blessing to the family, for he had brought them only sorrow and trouble.
Now the family felt free. The load they had borne was lifted. Mary at once began to take a more active part in church work.
"If I want to be a missionary, I better have some practice. I know what I can do, I'll ask the Sunday school superintendent for a class to teach." She did, and was given a class of girls. She enjoyed teaching the girls very much. She called them her "lovable lassies."
But Mary was not satisfied. She wanted to get more practice.
On her way home from the factory Mary passed through the slums of the city. Mary herself did not live in a fine house; in fact, it was a very poor one. But in the slums the children lived in small, dark apartments. The streets on which they played were narrow and dirty. The children here did not know about the Saviour. They grew up rough and tough, cursing, swearing, stealing, and doing many mean things. Mary's heart ached for these children of the slums. She wanted to teach them that Jesus could make them happy. She talked with many people about it.
At last her church opened a mission in the worst part of the slums. Mary went to the superintendent.
"I want to teach a class in our mission," said Mary. "I am sure you can use me better there than you can here."
"But Mary," said the superintendent, "you are doing a fine job here in the church; why do you want to go to the mission?"
"There are many who will gladly teach a class here at the church, but not so many who are willing to teach at the mission. I am willing. I will teach there if you will give me a class. Please do."
"But Mary, those children are tough and mean. You couldn't handle them. You could not make them behave. You are hardly more than a child yourself."
"Oh, please let me try," said Mary, "I do so want to tell those boys and girls about my Saviour. Please let me try. Then if I don't make good, you can get someone else in my place."
"Very well," said the superintendent, "I will give you a class, but I warn you those children are tough and mean and hard to handle."
A Brave Girl
"Quit pestering us to come to church. If you don't let us alone, we'll hurt you," shouted Duncan, the leader of a group of tough boys in the slums.
Mary prayed God to make her brave and then said, "I will not stop trying to get you to come to church. I will not stop trying to tell you about Jesus, the Saviour. Do whatever you like."
These boys had often tried to interrupt and break up the services, but Mary went out into the streets and tried to persuade and coax the young people to come and hear the Word of God.
"All right then," said Duncan. "Here goes." He took a piece of lead from his pocket and tied it to a long string. He began to swing it around his head. Each time he whirled the lead, it came closer to Mary's face. Mary did not move. The gang watched. They held their breath as it came closer and closer to her blue eyes. Mary did not blink. Finally, it grazed her forehead. Still Mary did not move. Duncan dropped the piece of lead to the ground.
"We can't scare her, boys," he said. "She's game."
"There is Someone who is far braver than I am. He's the One who makes me brave. Won't you come to the services and hear about Him?" asked Mary.
"All right, Spunky, I will," said Duncan. "And the rest of the fellows will, too. Come on, boys, we're going to the church tonight and no funny business."
This was not the only time that Mary had to face the tough boys and girls of the slums. But she had a Friend who was closer to her than even her dear mother. He made her strong and brave and true. Mary loved her Saviour, and was ready to do whatever He might want her to do.
Her class grew larger all the time. She visited the members in their slum homes. She fitted herself into the family. If the baby needed tending, she tended to it. If someone was sick, she helped to nurse the sick person. Always she told the family about Christ and His power to save. The people of the slums came to love this home missionary and many of them were won to Christ through her work.
The years went by. Did Mary still remember she wanted to be a missionary in Calabar? Yes, she remembered, but now she had all she could do to support her family. Since Robert, the would-be missionary, had died, Mother Slessor hoped that her youngest son John would be a missionary. But God had other plans. John became sick. He was sent to New Zealand for his health, but died when he arrived in that country. Was there to be no missionary from the Slessor family?
Whenever missionaries came to the Wishart Church or to Dundee, Mother Slessor, Mary, Susan and Janie would go to hear them. At home they would read the stories of missionaries and their work. They read missionary magazines. They read about the missionaries in China, Africa, Japan, India, and even Calabar.
One day William Anderson, a missionary to the West Coast of Africa, came to the little church. He told of the great need for missionaries in Africa. He told of the bad things which the people did who did not know Jesus.
Sitting in church, listening to the missionary, Mary saw in her mind a picture of Africa. It was not a beautiful picture. She saw captured Negroes being taken to other lands as slaves. She saw alligators and crocodiles swimming in the muddy waters, ever ready to eat black children who would come too close to the river. She saw cannibal chiefs at their terrible feasts and fearful battles with spears and arrows. She saw villages where trembling prisoners dipped their hands in boiling oil to test their guilt; where wives were killed to go with their dead chief into the spiritland. But these things did not frighten the Scottish girl who was afraid to cross a field if a cow was in it. She longed to go to Africa.
"Why don't I become a missionary?" Mary asked herself as she worked the looms in the factory. "Can I leave my home? Does Mother still need my help? Susan and Janie are working now. They could get along without me. But will I be brave enough? There are tropical jungles, and black men who eat people. There are wild animals, sicknesses, and death. God can make me brave to face all of these things."
Mary prayed, "O God, if it is Your will, let me go as a missionary to Calabar. Let me be a teacher to teach these black people the story of salvation. You have commanded us, Your disciples, to carry the Gospel to the farthest parts of the earth. Use me, O Lord, to help carry it to Calabar. Hear me, for the sake of Jesus, my Saviour."
It was 1874. The news flashed around the world: "Livingstone is dead." The great missionary had died on his knees in Africa. Everywhere people were talking of this great man who had given his life to tell the people of Africa about the Saviour. Mary made up her mind! She must go to Calabar! But what would her mother say? And if her mother agreed, would her church send her out to that field? Mary went to her mother.
"I want to offer myself as a missionary," said Mary Slessor to her mother. "Are you willing?"
"My child, I'll willingly let you go. You'll make a fine missionary, and I'm sure God will be with you."
"Thank you, Mother," said twenty-six-year-old Mary. "I know God will be with me and will make me strong and brave to serve Him."
Mother Slessor was very happy. There was going to be a missionary in the family after all. But there were some people who did not agree with Mother Slessor. They shook their heads in doubt. Others thought Mary was very foolish to risk her life in that way.
"You're doing real well at the factory," said one of them. "And you're doing missionary work right down there at the mission. Why rush away to those people way off in Africa? Seems to me missionary work ought to begin at home."
"Yes," said Mary, "it should begin there, but not end there. There are some who cannot go to Africa. They can do the work at home. If God lets me, I want to take His Word to those people who have never heard of Him or His love."
The next year, 1875, Mary offered herself to the Foreign Mission Board of her church. She asked to be sent to Calabar. Then she waited. Waiting is hard sometimes. Mary had to wait until the Board had a meeting. Then when the meeting was over, she had to wait for the secretary of the Board of Foreign Missions to write her a letter. Early in 1876 the letter came. How excited Mary was! Her hands shook as she tried to open the letter. Had they accepted her offer or refused it?
"Mary dear," said her mother, "you are so nervous, you had better let me open that letter."
"I'll manage, Mother," said Mary. She finally got it open, and she read:
Dear Miss Slessor, I take great pleasure in informing you that the Board of Foreign Missions accepts your offer to serve as a missionary, and you have been appointed teacher to Calabar. You will continue your studies for the teaching profession at Dundee. May God richly bless you in His service.
"Oh, Mother, I'm accepted! They're going to send me to Calabar!"
"Praise God from whom all blessings flow," said Mother Slessor. "That is wonderful news indeed. To Calabar! Oh, I'm so happy I could shout for joy!"
In March another letter came. This letter told her that she was to spend three months at a teachers' college in Edinburgh. All Mary's friends in Dundee gathered at the train as she got ready to leave for Edinburgh.
"Come, Mary," said Duncan, the tough boy from the slums, who was now a grown man and a faithful worker at the mission, "give us a speech."
"I can't make a speech," said Mary, "but I'll just ask you this: Pray for me."
While Mary was at the school in Edinburgh, some of the other girls she met there tried to talk her out of being a missionary. They did not want her to go off to Africa where there were wild animals and man-eating heathen, and all kinds of terrible sicknesses.
"Don't you know that Calabar is the white man's grave?" asked one of her school friends.
"Yes," answered Mary. "But it is also a post of honor. Since few volunteer for that section, I wish to go because my Master needs me there."
At last the time had come for Mary to leave for Africa. For fourteen long years she had worked at the looms in the weaving factory. As she worked, she had dreamed of Calabar. Now her dream was going to come true. Mary went to the city of Liverpool. There she went on board the ship, the "S. S. Ethiopia." As she got on board she looked around. Everywhere were barrels of whiskey.
"Hundreds of barrels of whiskey, but only one missionary," said Mary sadly.
The boat whistle blew. The engines chugged. The "S. S. Ethiopia" was on its way. It was August 5, 1876. Mary saw the shoreline of Scotland become dimmer and dimmer. She looked forward to seeing the coast of Africa and the land of Calabar.
"At last I am on my way to Calabar," said Mary Slessor as the "S. S. Ethiopia," sailed southward. "How Mother would like to be with me! How often she prayed that God would send more missionaries to Calabar. I didn't think then that I would really be one of them."
It did not take Mary long to make friends on board the ship. Among the friends she made were Mr. and Mrs. Thomson.
"So you are going to Calabar," said Mr. Thomson. "Aren't you afraid of that wild country?"
"Oh, no," said Mary, "because God is with me. He will take care of me. Jesus said, 'Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world,' and I am trusting in His promise."
"Do you know what this country is like?" asked Mrs. Thomson.
"Only what I have read about it," said Mary. "You've been there before, haven't you?"
"Yes, we have," said Mrs. Thomson. "My husband wants to build a home where tired missionaries can rest and rebuild their strength for their wonderful work. He has explored the West Coast and chosen the Cameroon Mountains as the place for that home. We are going there now to build this home for missionaries. Missionary work in Africa is so hard that missionaries need a place where they can rest from time to time."
"I think that's wonderful of you!" said Mary. "I know the Lord will bless the work you are doing. Won't you tell me about Africa?"
"Well," said Mr. Thomson, "the climate is very hot. The sun is so strong and hot that white people don't dare go out without a hat to protect their heads. The rivers are very muddy and often flow through dark, gloomy swamps that white people can hardly get through."
"But often," broke in Mrs. Thomson, "there are beautiful green banks with the most beautiful flowers. You will see the prettiest birds in all the world dressed in the brightest reds and greens and blues and purples. You will see the long-legged cranes and the funny pelicans with their big beaks."
"And don't forget the man-eating crocodiles that are swimming in the river or lying on the banks. They look like an old log, but if you get near them, look out! They seem lazy and slow, but they can snap off a leg or drag you into the river as quick as a wink. Then in the jungles are the lions, and elephants, and other wild animals."
"I am most frightened of the swift and terrible tornadoes," said Mrs. Thomson.
"And, Miss Slessor," said Mr. Thomson, "don't forget that the natives are wild and fierce and many of them are cannibals who would be glad to eat you."
"I shall not fear," said Mary. "God is leading me. He is my good Shepherd. He can protect me from fierce beasts and the wild people. I am happy He has chosen me to bring the messages of the Saviour to these wild people. He will call me home to Him when the work He has for me is done. Till then nothing can really harm me."
Four weeks passed. The ship was plowing through the tropical sea. The air was warm, but the sea breezes made it very pleasant. The ship turned landward and soon Mary could see the shore of Africa. How thrilled and happy she was—Africa at last! On September 11 the ship entered the tumbling, whirling waters of the Cross and Calabar Rivers which here joined and poured into the sea. Mary had read about these rivers, and now she actually saw them. She saw, too, the pelicans and the cranes. She saw crocodiles, about which Mr. Thomson had told her, lazily slide off the sandbanks into the muddy waters of the river.
Mr. and Mrs. Thomson stood with Mary at the rail of the ship as it sailed up the river. They would point out to her interesting sights as they passed along.
"Look," said Mrs. Thomson, "there is Duke Town. That is where your mission is."
Mary saw clay cliffs. She saw mud houses with roofs of palm leaves. Duke Town did not look in the least like Dundee or the other cities in Scotland which Mary knew. Duke Town did not look pretty, but Mary did not care. To her it looked beautiful, because here she would have the chance to serve the Lord.
Soon native canoes came out to the steamer. Then the boats of the traders. All was hurry and bustle as the great ship anchored and prepared to unload the part of its cargo that had been sent to Duke Town. Mary looked about, wondering how she was going to go ashore.
A tall Negro came up to Mary. He bowed and said, "Are you the new white ma that is coming to the mission?" By ma the native meant lady. They called all white ladies "ma."
"Yes, I am," said Mary.
"Mr. Anderson sent me to bring you ashore and take you to the mission house."
Mary was lowered from the great ship into a large canoe. Her baggage was brought down and placed in the boat. Then with powerful strokes the rowers sent the boat skimming across the water toward Duke Town. Mary was helped ashore by the tall Negro who had come for her.
"At last," she said to herself, "at last I am in Calabar."
"Welcome, welcome, Mary," said "Mammy" Anderson, as she hugged Mary. Mammy Anderson and her husband, William Anderson, were among the first missionaries at Duke Town in Calabar. "This is Daddy Anderson," said Mammy Anderson, "and Daddy, this is Mary Slessor, just come from bonny Scotland to help us."
Daddy and Mary shook hands. "Long ago you preached in our church in Dundee," said Mary. "You told how many missionaries were needed. I wished then I could help you. I hope I can."
Mary liked this fine Christian couple from the start. The mission house where they lived was high on a hill above the town. Mammy took Mary around the house and the yard, which they called a compound. She showed Mary where the workers stayed who helped at the mission house. She showed her the school where the little black children were taught to read and write and told of the dear Saviour who had died for them, too, that they might be saved from sin and Hell and go to Heaven.
"And here," said Mammy, "is the bell. I am putting you right to work. One of your jobs will be to ring the rising bell for morning prayers. You ring this at six o'clock. Then everyone will get up, and we will have prayers in the chapel."
That was Mary's first job, but alas! Mary often overslept and did not ring the rising bell in time. One morning she awoke and saw that it was very bright outside.
"Dear me," said Mary, "I've overslept again." She jumped out of bed, slipped into her clothes and rang the bell, loud and long. Soon the workers began coming, rubbing their eyes and yawning.
"What's the idea of ringing the bell now?" asked one of them. "It's much too early."
"But look how bright it is," said Mary.
Daddy Anderson laughed.
"Mary, Mary," he said, "it's only two o'clock in the morning. The light you see is our bright tropical moon. It's not the sun." And all the workers laughed, and Mary laughed with them.
"I guess I'm not a very good bell-ringer," she said.
Mary's real job was to teach the children in the school on Mission Hill. She remembered how she had played when she was a little girl that she was teaching the children of Calabar. Now she was really doing it. She loved the little black children. After school she would take long walks with them into the bush. There they saw beautiful birds of many bright colors, and beautiful flowers of all kinds.
Mary ran races with the black children. How they loved that! She climbed trees as fast as any boy. The black children loved their white ma who taught them and played with them. But playing with the children often made Mary late for meals.
"Mary, Mary," scolded Mammy Anderson gently, "you are late again. I am going to punish you. You go to your room. Since supper is over, you'll just have to go to bed without it."
Mary went to her room. In a little while she heard a knock at her door.
"It's Daddy, Mary," said a deep voice. "Please open your door."
Mary opened the door. There stood Daddy Anderson with his hands full of biscuits and bananas which he was bringing to her with Mammy's consent.
"I thought you might be hungry," said Daddy Anderson.
"You and Mammy are perfect dears," said Mary. "I don't deserve all your kindness." Mary soon began to visit the different yards or compounds in Duke Town. Missionaries had been here for thirty years, but there weren't many of them. They worked chiefly in Duke Town, Old Town, and Creek Town—three towns at the mouth of the Calabar River. They also had opened a station at Ikunetu and Ikorofiong on the Cross River. One day Mary was at one of the stations with another missionary. When he finished his talk, he said, "Mary, won't you speak to these people?"
Mary stood up. "Please read John 3:1-21," she said. The missionary did. Then Mary told the people how they could be born again. She told them of the joy that they would have if they took Jesus into their hearts. She told them of the hope of life after death with God in Heaven. The natives listened. They liked her talk. After that whenever she came to that district, crowds would come to hear her speak.
"Mammy," said Mary, after she had come from a trip to the outstations, "it hurts my heart to see how cruel these people are. And those awful, ugly, cruel gods they pray to. The chiefs are so cruel and mean and have no mercy. And then that terrible secret society, the Egbo. I saw some of their runners dressed in fearful costumes scaring the people and whipping them with long whips. I saw a poor man whom they had beaten almost to death. Then there is that horrible drinking. They are worse than wild animals when they become drunk. And worst of all is that they have slaves and sell their own people as slaves."
"Ah, lassie," said Mammy Anderson, "you haven't seen anything yet. There are millions of these black people in the bush and far back in the interior. Most of them are slaves. They don't treat a slave any better than a pig. The slaves sleep on the ground like animals. They are branded with a hot iron just as animals are. And just as the farmers back home fatten a pig for market, so the girls are fattened and sold for slave wives. The slaves can be whipped or sold or killed. When a chief dies, the tribe cuts off the heads of his wives and slaves and they are buried with him. The tribes are wild and cruel. Many of them are cannibals, who eat people. They spend their lives in fighting, dancing, and drinking. But the way they treat twins is one of the worst things they do."
"What do they do to twins?" asked Mary.
"They kill them," said Mammy Anderson. "Sometimes they bury the twins alive and sometimes they just throw them out into the bush to die of hunger. The mother is driven into the bush. No one will have anything to do with her. She is left to die in the jungle or to be eaten by the wild animals."
"But why do they do such cruel, wicked things to harmless babies?" asked Mary.
"They believe that the father of one of the twins is an evil spirit or devil. But they don't know which one's father was a devil, so they kill both to be sure of getting the right one."
"That must be stopped," said Mary. "I will fight it as long as I live. I will never give up. Jesus loves twins just as much as other children. The natives must learn that. They must learn that God said, 'Thou shalt not kill.' I'll teach them."
Mary made many friends, not only among the children whom she taught, but also among the grown-up natives. One day she heard a chief speaking to his people about God and His love. He was a Christian. Mary thought that he made a very fine talk. She could tell he was very sincere. He talked so that everyone could understand him.
"Who is that chief?" asked Mary of the man standing next to her.
"That is King Eyo Honesty VII," said the man.
"King Eyo Honesty? I must talk to him."
As soon as she could, Mary went up to the chief.
"King Eyo Honesty," said Mary, "I am Mary Slessor. Many years ago the missionaries told my mother about you. They told her what a fine Christian you were. She told us. She will be very happy when I tell her that I have met you."
"I am very happy to have met you," said King Eyo Honesty. "Perhaps I could write a letter to your mother and tell her how happy I am that I have met you. I would tell her how happy I am that her daughter has come to teach my people about God."
"Mother would be very happy, I know, to get a letter from you."
For many years the African chief and Mary's Scottish mother wrote letters to one another.
Every day when school was over, Mary went to visit the natives in their homes. She would tell them about Jesus and how He loved them. She told them Jesus wanted to save them. She told them that Jesus had paid for their sins by dying for them. If they loved and trusted in Jesus, He would take their sins away.
One Sunday morning as she was walking through the village, she saw one of the old men who came to church all the time sitting at the door of his mud house. He looked very sad.
"Ekpo," said Mary, "why aren't you on your way to God's house? Mr. Anderson will be looking for you. He will miss you."
"If your heart were sad, would you go any place?" asked Ekpo.
"But why is your heart sad?"
"My son, my only son, is dead. Even now he is buried in the house."
"Ekpo, let me tell you a story," said Mary. "A long time ago there were two sisters. They had a brother. They loved him very much. They loved him like you loved your son. He became sick. The two sisters sent a messenger to Jesus to tell Him. When Jesus came, the brother was dead. Martha, the one sister, said to Jesus, 'Lord, if You had been here my brother would not have died. I know that even now God will give You whatever You ask Him.'
"Jesus said, 'Your brother will get up from the grave.'
"Martha said, 'I know that he will get up from the grave in the resurrection at the last day when all the dead shall come out of their graves.'
"Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, even though he dies, he will live. Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.'"
"Did the brother get up from the grave?"
"Yes, Jesus went to the grave and said, 'Lazarus, come out,' and Lazarus did. But, Ekpo, later Lazarus died again. Then his body stayed in the grave, but his soul was with God. He was happy. All Christians are happy with God. Your son was a Christian, wasn't he?"
"Oh, yes, Ma, he was," said Ekpo's wife, who had come to the door while Mary was talking.
"Then don't you see, God has taken him. He is with God. He is happy. If you believe in Jesus, then some day you, too, will be with God and will see your son again."
"Well," said Ekpo, "if God has taken him, it is not so bad."
"Come, then," said Mary, "let's go to God's house and thank Him that your son was a Christian and is now with God in Heaven."
Mary knew there was a great deal to do. There were so many people who did not know about Jesus. There were so many who were terribly mean and cruel. But Mary knew that with the Lord on her side she would not lose in the fight against sin and wickedness. Every day she would tell the natives about Jesus. Every day she would show them their sins and the Saviour.
For three years Mary worked hard. Then she became sick. It was the terrible coast fever. Sometimes she was so sick, she did not know what was happening. She was very tired. She wished that she could see her mother and sisters.
"Calabar needs a brave heart and a strong body," said Mary. "I don't have much of a brave heart, but I often feel the need of it when I am sick and lonely."
"Mary, you must go home to Scotland and rest," said Mammy Anderson, "then you will get well from the fever. You will never get well here."
"That's true, Mammy," said Mary, "but you know that I cannot leave my field of work was until the Board of Missions says I may."
"That's right, but you have a furlough coming. I do hope we hear from the Board soon."
In June, 1879, the letter came. Mary read it gladly. It told her that she could come home for a year's vacation. It did not take Mary long to pack. She left for Scotland on the next steamer. There were tears in her eyes as she stood on the deck. There on the shore were her black friends waving good-by to their white ma. They were crying, too.
"Come back again! Come back again! God bless you and keep you!" they said.
Mary waved to them.
"I will be back," she said. Mary loved Africa. She loved the people there, but she knew if she wanted to get well she would have to go home. Then, too, she was anxious to see her mother and sisters again.
The ocean trip did Mary much good. The cool ocean breezes blew the fever away. It made her cheeks pink again. Every day she prayed for the people of Africa. She prayed that she might go back again. She prayed that more missionaries would be sent out to show these poor people the way to Heaven.
How happy Mary's mother and two sisters were to have her with them again! And how happy Mary was to be with them! They could not hear enough about Calabar. It made Mary's mother very happy to know that her daughter had taught the black children the way to Heaven. She was glad to hear about the other missionary work which Mary had done. But other people, too, were anxious to hear about Calabar. So Mary had to speak at Wishart Church and other churches.
Mary told about the heathen, the wicked things the heathen natives did to twins, the mean way they treated slaves, and the many other cruel, wicked things these people did.
"There is only one thing that will change these people," said Mary. "There is only one thing that will turn these heathen from their sins. That is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news about the Saviour. But who will tell these people about Jesus? We need many, many more missionaries. If you cannot go yourself, you can send gifts and offerings for this work. We need money so the missionaries can buy food and clothing. We need money so that they can build homes and churches and hospitals. Have pity on these poor people! Pity the poor little children! Help them now! Above all, pray for these people, and pray for your missionaries that God will bless their work with these lost souls."
Everywhere Mary went she won friends for Calabar. The people who heard Mary wanted to help make Christians of the heathen people. Many prayed. Many gave. Men and women gave gifts of money for the work. Boys and girls brought their little gifts, too. They knew the hymn:
If you cannot give your thousands You can give the widow's mite. And each gift you give for Jesus Will be precious in His sight.
Mrs. Slessor was not well. Living in the crowded, dusty, smoky city made her sick. Mary found a little home out in the country. Here were clear blue skies and pleasant fields. Mary's mother was much better after they moved her. Mary's sisters enjoyed it also. The months passed quickly. Soon the year would be over.
"What do you want to do when you go back?" asked Mrs. Slessor.
"I want to go on up the river. I want to go where missionaries have never been. I want to go to Okoyong and tell the people there about Jesus. I am praying God that sooner or later He will let me go and work there."
"Isn't it much more dangerous there?" asked Mrs. Slessor.
"Yes, it is," answered Mary, "but I am not afraid because I know that God is with me and His angels are watching over me."
June came. Mary had been home a year. Now she was in good health again. She wanted to get back to Africa. July, August, September went by and then the good news came. Mary was to leave in October for Calabar. It was a happy day for her when she got on the ship that would take her back to the Africa she loved.
On the ship she found the Rev. and Mrs. Hugh Goldie. They, too, had been missionaries in Calabar for many years, and now after a short vacation were going back once more. All the way to Africa the friend talked about the great work of winning souls for Jesus, especially the souls of the people of Calabar.
At last the big steamship entered the mouth of the Calabar and Cross Rivers. It was not far now to Duke Town. Soon Mary would learn what work she should do. Would it be work she wanted to do? Would it be work in the jungles? Mary would soon know.
On Her Own
"Mary, how would you like to have a mission station of your own?" asked Daddy Anderson.
"Why, I'd love it," answered Mary.
"It is hard work and very unpleasant at times," said Daddy Anderson.
"I don't care how hard or unpleasant it is," said Mary, "as long as I can work for my Lord."
"Good, then you will be in charge of the Old Town Station, two miles up the river."
It did not take Mary long to pack her things and move to Old Town. But what a sight greeted her when she arrived! The first thing she saw as she came into the village was a man's skull hanging from the end of a pole and swinging slowly in the breeze.
"Where is the mission house?" asked Mary of one of the natives.
"Down that way at the end of the road, Ma," he answered.
Mary found the mission house. It was an old tumble-down shack. It was made of long twigs and branches, daubed over with mud. The roof was made of palm leaves. It was not nearly as nice a home as the one on Mission Hill in Duke Town. When Mary went inside, she found that it was whitewashed and somewhat clean. Mary got busy cleaning up her house, and as she did, she began to make her plans.
"I don't care if my house is not so fine. I am nearer to the jungles. I want to get into the jungles sometime and win those poor, ignorant heathen people for Jesus. I am going to live in a house like the natives and use the tools and things they do—only I'll be a lot cleaner. Then they will feel that I am one of them and I'll be better able to win them for Jesus. Then, too, it's cheaper to live that way and to eat bananas. I will be able to send more money home to my poor mother in Scotland. Living this way will also help me get ready for the time when I can go into the jungles. Then I will have to live that way."
Mary held services every Sunday. She started a day school for the children. The grownups came, too. Mary was so friendly and kind that the natives loved her. More and more came to hear about Jesus. Mary showed them that He was the Saviour of the blacks and whites alike. Many came from faraway places to hear the white ma and go to her school.
Mary soon visited all the villages in the neighborhood and every place she went she would tell the people about Jesus. At one place the king of that part of the country came regularly to hear the white ma. He would sit on the bench with the little children and listen to Mary tell about the Saviour who loves all people.
One thing still bothered Mary very much. This was the way the natives treated twins. As soon as twins were born, they would break the babies' backs and stuff the little bodies into a jar made out of a big gourd. Then they would throw the jar out into the jungle. The mother would be sent away out into the jungle to die.
"It is very wicked for you to kill these twin babies," said Mary to the people. "It is a sin against God, who said, 'You shall not kill people.' Jesus loves all children. He loves the twin babies, too."
The natives would not listen to her. They were afraid of the evil spirits. One day Mary heard about some twins that were born. She rushed over to the house and took the babies before they were killed. She brought them to her house and took care of them.
"She will have lots of trouble taking an evil spirit into her house," said one of the natives. "Just you wait and see."
"Maybe she is a friend of the evil spirit," said another.
But weeks and months went by and nothing happened. The people began to see that Mary was right. Everywhere the people began to call Mary "the white ma who loves babies."
Another wicked thing the people did was to kill the babies of slaves who died. They did not want to bother taking care of them so they killed them. Mary began to take these little orphans into her home and take care of them. But it began to be too much work for Mary alone. She wrote a letter to the Mission Board asking for someone to take care of these children.
One day a trader came and knocked at Mary's door. He was carrying a little black baby in his arms.
"I found this twin out in the bush," said the trader. "The other one was killed. This baby would have died, but I know how you love these little ones, so I brought it to you."
"Thank you," said Mary, taking the tiny baby in her arms. "I shall call her Janie, after my sister." Mary adopted the little baby and the baby brought Mary much joy and happiness.
One time Mary took a baby six months old into the mountains. The baby was sick. In the valley it was very hot.
"This child shall not die if the cold can save him," said Mary.
Up in the mountains it was much cooler than in the valley. Mary pitched her tent and stayed there for a time so the baby could get well.
One night Mary woke up. She heard a growling noise. She looked around. A panther was in the tent! He had the baby in his mouth! He was going to carry it away!
Mary jumped up. She grabbed a burning stick from the fire and rammed it into the panther's face. With a wild howl the panther dropped the baby and ran off. Mary picked up the baby who was crying now. She looked him over, carefully. He was not hurt. Softly she sang to the baby and rocked him to sleep. After the baby was well, Mary went back to the mission station in the valley.
Another time news came that twins had been born. All the people had thought a lot of the mother, even though she was a slave. Now everyone hated her. The other women in the house cursed her. They broke up the few dishes she owned. They tore up her clothes. They would have killed her but they were afraid of Mary Slessor and what she would do.
They took the two babies and stuffed them into an empty gin box and shoved it at the woman.
"Get out! Get out!" they said, "you have married the Devil. You have a devil in you." They threw rocks at her and drove her out of the village.
Mary met the poor woman carrying her babies in the box on her head. The screaming, howling crowd of people were following her.
"Go back! Go back to your village," Mary told the crowd. Then turning to the woman she said, "Give me the box and come with me to my house."
When Mary opened the box, she found one child dead. The baby's head had been smashed when it was jammed into the box. Mary buried the poor little baby. Soon the owner of the woman came and took her back. She was willing to do this as long as she had no children. The little baby stayed with Mary and became another of her family.
One evening Mary was sitting on the porch of her mission house talking to the children. Suddenly they heard a loud noise. They heard the beating of drums. Then they heard men singing loudly.
"What's that?" asked Mary. She took the twin boys that were with her and rushed down to the road to see what was going on. Here she found a crowd of people. They were all dressed up. Some wore three-cornered hats with long feathers hanging down. Some had crowns. Some wore masks with animal heads and horns. Some put on uniforms with gold and silver lace. Some just covered their bodies with beadwork and tablecloths trimmed with gold and silver.
When Mary came, the shouting stopped. The king came forward to meet her.
"Ma," said the king, "we have had a palaver. We have made new laws. The old laws were not God's laws. Now all twins and their mothers can live in town. If anyone kills twin babies or hurts the mothers, he shall be hung."
"God will bless you for making those wise laws," said Mary.
The mothers of the twins who lived at the mission and other mothers, too, gathered around Mary. They laughed and shouted. They clapped their hands, and with tears running down their cheeks, cried: "Thank you! Thank you!" They made so much noise that Mary asked the chief to stop them.
"Ma, how can I stop these women's mouths?" asked the chief. "How can I do it? They be women."
Mary was happy, but after a while some of the people began to forget the new laws. Quietly and underhandedly they began to go back to doing the old bad things again. This was because they were not Christians. They did not love and trust the Saviour. Mary knew that the main thing to do if she were to get them to live right and do right was to change their hearts. New laws could not really change them. Only faith in Jesus could do that.
"I must help them more. I must lead more of them to Jesus," said Mary. "Many are sick. I will give them medicine, and at the same time tell them about Jesus who makes the soul well and the body, too."
As Mary gave out medicine, many people would often crowd around her to hear her "Jesus talk." She told them of Jesus' love for them. She told them how He had died that they might be saved from everlasting death and be made pure. Mary had her hardships. Often she would not be able to get home at night and would have to sleep in the open. It was not easy to be a missionary, but Mary was gladly willing to do it because she was working for Jesus and saving souls.
One day a man came to the mission house.
"I am the servant of King Okon. King Okon has heard of the white Ma. King Okon has heard how the white Ma loves our people and is kind to them. King Okon invites the white Ma to come and visit our country."
"I shall be glad to come if I may tell your people about Jesus, the Saviour," said Mary.
"Sure," said the messenger, "you come and make Jesus-talk."
When King Eyo Honesty VII, Mary's old friend, heard of this invitation, he said:
"Our Ma must not go as an ordinary traveler to this savage land and people. She must go as a lady and our mother, one whom we greatly respect and love."
He brought his own canoe to Mary and said, "The canoe is yours to use as long as you wish."
Mary's eyes filled with tears of thankfulness.
"King Eyo," she said, "I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I accept the offer of your canoe in Jesus' name. I know God will bless you for your kindness."
"God has blessed me," said the king. "He has sent our white Ma to us."
The canoe was long and slim. It was painted in bright colors. At the front end bright-colored flags were flying. In the middle of the canoe was a sort of tent to protect Mary from the sun. The Christian natives had brought gifts of rice and these were put in the boat. Crowds of people came to say good-by to the white Ma. At last it began to get dark. The thirty-three natives who were going to row climbed into the boat. Torches were lit and the boat started upstream.
As Mary lay down in her tent in the middle of the boat, she heard the rowers singing as they rowed.
"Ma, our beautiful beloved mother, is on board," they sang, "Ho! Ho! Ho!"
She thanked God that He had protected her in Old Town. She prayed that He would protect her still as she went into a part of the country where no one had yet brought the news about a loving Saviour. She prayed that He would bless her speaking, so that many people would believe in the Lord Jesus and be saved forever.
As she prayed, the rowers continued singing their made-up song: "Ma, our beautiful beloved mother, is on board. Ho! Ho! Ho!"
Mary fell asleep and the canoe carried her silently through the night to a new part of the country and to new adventures.
When the sun arose the following morning, the canoe carrying Mary Slessor arrived at King Okon's village. A great shout went up from the people when they heard the white Ma had come.
"You have my room," said the chief. "It is the best room in the village."
It may have been the best room, but it was not a very comfortable one. Rats and big lizards were running back and forth across the floor. There were insects and fleas and lice everywhere.
The people were much interested in the white Ma. They had never seen a white woman before. They crowded into the yard. Many of them touched and pinched Mary to see if she were real. Some were afraid. Their friends laughed at them and pulled them into the yard. They watched Mary eat. They watched everything she did. Mary did not care. She used their interest in her to tell them about Jesus who loved them. She told them that they must love Jesus and trust in Him for salvation.
Twice a day she held services and great crowds came to hear her. She cut out clothes for the people and taught the women how to sew. She gave medicine to the sick and bandaged the wounds of those who got hurt.
"King Okon," said Mary, "I would like to go into the people's homes in the jungle. May I go?"
"No, white Ma, I cannot let you go. This is elephant country. The elephants go wild and run over everything in the jungle. These stampedes have been so bad my people have had to leave off farming and make their living by fishing. I cannot let you go. You might get hurt or killed."
One night Mary saw that the people looked very angry. Some were sad.
"What is the matter?" asked Mary.
"Two of the king's young wives have done wrong. They have broken a law," answered one of the natives. "They thought nobody was looking and went into a room where a young man was sleeping. Each of them will be hit a hundred times with a whip."
Mary went to the king. She asked him to be kinder to these girls. She begged him not to beat them so much.
"Ma, you are right," said the king. "I will call palaver of all the chiefs. If you say we must not whip girl, we must listen to you as our guest and Ma. But the people will say God's Word be no good, if it keeps the law from punishing those who do wrong."
Mary saw the king was right. She turned to the girl-wives of the king.
"You have brought shame to the king and the tribe by the silly foolish things you did. God's Word teaches men to be kind and merciful and generous, but it does not pass over sin or permit it. I cannot ask the king not to punish you. Ask God to help you in the future, so that you will not do bad or foolish things."
All the chief men of the tribe grunted their approval of what Mary had said to the girls. But then Mary turned to the chief men and said:
"You are to blame. Your custom of one man marrying many wives is wrong and cruel. These girls are only sixteen years old and still love fun and play. They are too young to be married. They meant no real harm."
The men did not like to hear that. They did not like to hear that their ways were wrong.
"If punishment is hard," said the old men, "wife and slave will be afraid to disobey."
"King Okon," said Mary, "show that you are a good king by being kind and merciful. Don't be too hard on these young girls."
"All right, Ma," said the king, "I will make it only ten blows with the whip. Also we will not rub salt into the wounds to make them sting."
When the whipping was over, Mary took the girls into her room. There she put healing medicine on their backs while she told them about Jesus who could heal their souls.
At last it was time for Mary to go back to Old Town. The king and the people were sorry to see her go. On her homeward way a tropical storm struck the canoe and the people in it. Mary was soaked. The next morning she was shaking with sickness and fever. The rowers feared their white Ma would die. They rowed as fast as they could for Old Town. Mary was so sick that she had to take a long rest.
A few months later a big storm tore off the roof of her house and again she was soaked as she worked to save the children. Again she became very sick.
"You must go home to Scotland," said Daddy Anderson. "You must go home and rest and get well."
"Since you tell me to do that and the Board has ordered it, too, I can only obey," said Mary. "I am going to take my little black Janie with me. It is too dangerous to leave her here where some of the heathen might steal her and kill her because she is a twin."
With a heart that was sad at leaving Calabar, but glad to have a chance to see her dear ones in Scotland again, Mary sailed for Dundee in April, 1883.
Into the Jungle
"Oh, Mary, it is good to see you again," said Mother Slessor when Mary arrived once more in Scotland. "And this is little Janie about whom you have written us so often! We are happy to have you with us, Janie."
"I am glad to be home, Mother," said Mary, "but I am anxious to go back to Africa as soon as I can. There are so many souls there to be won for Jesus."
Mary soon got over her sickness and was well and strong again. Now she went to the churches in Scotland to tell about the missionary work in Calabar. She made many friends. Some of the young people who heard her wanted to become missionaries. Miss Hoag, Miss Wright and Miss Peabody decided to become missionaries and later worked in Calabar, too.
Mary was so successful in interesting the people in mission work that the Board of Missions asked her to stay longer and visit more churches. Mary did what the Board asked, although she was anxious to get back to Africa. At last this work was finished. Now she could go back.
Mary was getting ready to go back to Africa when her sister Janie became sick.
"You will have to take her to a warmer climate," said the doctor. "That is the only way she will get well."
Mary could not afford to take her sister to Italy or southern France.
"I will ask the Board of Missions if I can take my sister with me to Africa."
Anxiously Mary waited for an answer to her letter. At last the letter came.
We are sorry, but we must answer your question with a No. We feel that to take your sick sister along to Africa would be an unwise mixing of family problems and missionary work.
What should Mary do now? A friend told her to take her sister to southern England where the climate was warmer than in Scotland. She wrote to the Board to ask whether they would let her be a missionary if she took out the time to take care of her sister. The Board of Missions wrote:
Dear Miss Slessor:
When the way is clear for you to return to Calabar we will be glad to send you out again as our missionary. In the meantime we will be glad to pay your missionary salary for three more months.
Mary was glad that she could go back again, but she would not take the missionary salary when she was not working as a missionary. This left her with a sick sister and no salary. She took her sister Janie and her mother to southern England. They had been there only a short time when Mary's sister, Susan, in Scotland, died. It made her sad to lose a sister, but she was happy in the thought that Susan was now with Jesus her Saviour in Heaven.
After a while Janie was better and Mary packed up and got ready to sail once more to Africa. Just as she got ready to go, her mother became sick. What should Mary do now? She took her troubles to God in prayer. As she prayed, a thought came to her which showed her a way out of her problem.
"I will send for my old friend in Dundee to come and take care of Mother and then I can go to Africa."
Mother Slessor agreed that this was the thing to do. Soon the friend came and now Mary was free to go to Africa. The weeks at sea were a good rest for her and she was in the best of health when she landed once more at Duke Town. Ten years had gone by since she first came to Africa.
"Where should I go now?" asked Mary of Daddy Anderson after she was once again in the mission house on Mission Hill.
"This time you are being sent up to Creek Town," said Daddy Anderson.
"Oh, I'm glad," said Mary. "That is the settlement farthest up the river."
"You will work with the Rev. and Mrs. H. Goldie," continued Daddy Anderson.
"That makes me happy, too. They are old friends. I met them on the trip the time before this one."
As soon as she was settled in Creek Town, Mary worked harder than ever for the salvation of the natives. She did not care about her health. The only thing she could think of was how she could win more of the natives to Christ. She spent very little on herself because the money from her salary was needed back home in Scotland.
One day very sad news came from Scotland. Mother Slessor had died. Mary was very sad. Her mother was the one who had interested her in missionary work by telling her stories about it when she was only a little girl. Her mother had always encouraged her in her work. Her mother was willing to do anything and suffer anything so that Mary could be in the work of saving souls. Her mother was always interested in everything that Mary did. No wonder Mary was sad even though she knew that her mother was now with the Saviour in Heaven.
"There is no one to write and tell my stories and troubles and nonsense to. All my life I have been caring and planning and living for my mother and sisters. I am now left stranded and alone."
But she was not alone. The words of Jesus, "Lo, I am with you alway," came as sweet comfort to her heart.
"Heaven is now nearer to me than Scotland," she said. "And no one will be worried about me if I go up country into the jungles."
Mary was very anxious to go to the deep jungles to Okoyong, but every time she mentioned it the Board and the Andersons said, "No, not yet." The tribes were cruel and wicked. They were always fighting among themselves and with other tribes. They did more bad and nasty things than any of the tribes she had ever worked with. They killed twin babies. They stole slaves and when they caught some stranger they made him a slave. They would hide along jungle paths and when someone went by, they would kill him. They hated the people of Calabar and the British government.
At different times missionaries had tried to get into this land, but always they had to run for their lives. The natives of Okoyong trusted no one. It was to that country that Mary wanted to carry the love of Jesus and the story that He died for them. Every day she would pray:
"Lord, if this is Your time, let me go."
Meanwhile Mary worked hard at Creek Town. Besides her missionary work she was taking care of a number of native children. Some were twins she had saved from death, some were the children of slaves. Mary took care of these children at her own expense. In order to take care of them and have enough food for them, she ate only the simplest of foods, sometimes nothing but rice for a long time.
One day a man came to Creek Town to see Mary.
"I am the father of Janie, the twin," he said. "I am glad you have taken care of her."
"Come and see her," said Mary.
"No, no!" said the man, "the evil spirit will put a spell on me."
"You won't be hurt if you stand far away and look at her," said Mary.
As he watched Janie, Mary took him by the arm and dragged him to the little girl. She put his strong black arms around her little shoulders. At last the man took the little girl on his lap and played and talked with her. After this he came often to visit his little girl and brought her food and presents. At last the time came when word reached Calabar that the Mission Board had decided that the Gospel should be preached in Okoyong and that Mary could go. Mary was very happy. At last God had answered her prayer. She was going into a wild country. She was going to go ahead of the other missionaries to find a place where they could build a mission house and church.
When King Eyo Honesty VII heard of it, he came to see Mary.
"So you are going into the wild country, to Okoyong," he said.
"Yes, and I am so happy. Those people need to have their hearts and lives changed. I am happy that I shall be able to tell them about the Saviour."
"Aren't you afraid to go among these wicked men? What if they should go on the warpath when you arrive?"
"I am not worried. God is on my side. If it is His will, He can keep me from all harm. If it is His will that I should die, then His will be done. If giving my life will help open Okoyong to the Gospel, I will gladly give it."
"God bless you, Ma. I am going to let you use the king's canoe for this trip. My rowers can take you there swiftly. They will do anything you ask, because they love you."
"Thank you, King Eyo; that will help me very much."
King Eyo fixed up his canoe for Mary, as though she were a queen. He put a carpet in it, and many cushions. He put a sort of tent on it so that Mary could be alone when she wanted to be. The boat was loaded with homemade bread, canned meat, rice, and tea.
At last everything was ready for the trip into the wild country. Mary said good-by to her friends, the missionaries, and to her native friends. Then the thirty-five rowers pushed out from the shore and headed upstream toward the wild country. On both sides of the river were banana and palm trees. There were beautiful plants and flowers of many colors. The light shimmered on the flowing river as the rowers pulled the oars and sang their songs.
"What will happen if the Okoyongs are on the warpath?" Mary asked herself. "What will I do then?" Mary knew the answer. "I will put my trust in God and not in man."
She lay back on the cushions and prayed to God to protect her in the wild country and to lead her in His way. The rowers rowed swiftly and sent the canoe shooting up the river toward the wild country.
"There is the landing place," said the chief rower. "Now we must walk the rest of the way to Ekenge."
Mary got out of the boat. The rowers followed her. They carried the packages Mary had brought with her. They began to walk through the jungle. It was four miles to Ekenge where Chief Edem lived. As they came near to the little village of mud huts, the chief rower whispered to Mary,
"There is Chief Edem. Praise God, he is at home and sober."
Mary, too, thanked God that the Okoyongs were not on the warpath and she asked God's blessing on her visit with them.
When the people of Ekenge saw Mary they began to jump up and down and shout,
"Welcome, Ma. Welcome to Ekenge."
Chief Edem bowed to her and said, "You are welcome Ma Mary. It is an honor to have you come to us. We are happy because you did not come with soldiers. We know now that you trust us. I have set aside a house for you as long as you stay with us."
"Thank you, Chief Edem. I am happy to be here."
"This is my sister, Ma Eme," said the chief. Mary liked Ma Eme at once and Ma Eme liked Mary. They were friends as long as they lived.
"I want to go to visit the next village now," said Mary. "I want to go to Ifako."
"Oh, no, Ma," said Chief Edem. "The chief is a very bad man. He is not fit for you to meet. Besides he is drunk now and he doesn't know what is going on. You must stay at Ekenge."
"Very well," said Mary, "I will stay, but call the people together so that I can have a Jesus-talk."
When the people had all come together, Mary told about God's great love for them. She told them about Jesus who died that they might be saved. She told them about the happiness Jesus would bring to their village by changing their lives when they came to Him.
That night Mary did not sleep very much. The chief had given her one of the best houses in the village, but we would not think it was much of a house. Her bed was made of a few sticks with some corn shucks thrown over them. In the room all night were plenty of rats and insects. But Mary's heart was happy.
Later Mary went to Ifako. The chief there liked Mary very much. He and Chief Edem agreed to let her start a mission in their villages. Each one promised to give her ground for a schoolhouse and a mission house. Mary chose the places for the buildings. They were a half-hour's walk apart.
"Now I must go back to Creek Town," said Mary. "When I come back again, it will be to stay."
"Come soon, Ma," said Chief Edem. "It will make us very happy to have you stay with us."
As they rode down the river, Mary could not sleep at first because the rowers kept whispering,
"Don't shake the canoe or you will wake Ma," or "Don't talk so loud so Ma can sleep." At last, however, tired from her days of work in Ekenge and Ifako, she fell asleep and did not wake up until she came back to Creek Town.
Now she was very busy getting ready to move to Ekenge. One of the traders heard about her going to Ekenge.
"Do you trust those wild people?" he asked. "Do you think you can change them? What they need more than a missionary is a gun-boat to tame them down."
"No, my friend," answered Mary, "they need the same thing that every person in the world needs and that is the Saviour Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can change the hearts of sinful people."
At last Mary was packed up. She was taking with her the five children she had saved from death. Another missionary, Mr. Bishop, was going along with her. Now at last Mary was going to work in the jungles as she had wanted to do. She had been in Africa for twelve years. She was now forty years old.
When Mary was ready to leave, all the people of Creek Town gathered around her. They told her good-by and wished her God's blessing.
"We will pray for you," they said.
One of the young men she had taught in school said, "I will pray for you, but remember you are asking for death when you go to that wild country."
It was getting dark when Mary's boat landed near Ekenge. The rain was pouring down. It was a four-mile walk to Ekenge. Mary and the five children started out. Mr. Bishop and the men who carried the baggage were to follow.
An eleven-year-old boy was in the lead. He was the oldest of the five children. He carried on his head a box filled with tea, sugar, and bread. An eight-year-old child followed him carrying a teakettle and cooking pots. Next came a three-year-old who held tight to little Janie's hand. Then came Mary carrying a baby girl and a bundle of food.
The children slipped in the mud. They became soaked by the rain. The jungle was dark around them and strange noises came from all sides. The children began to cry. They were hungry and scared.
"Don't cry children," said Mary. "Remember Jesus is watching over us. He will take care of us. Soon we will be in the village and then we can have something to eat and we can put on dry clothes."
They marched on. At last they came to the village. The village was dark and still. "Hello, hello," called Mary. "Is anyone here?"
No one answered. Mary called again. At last two slaves came.
"Ma," said the oldest slave, "the chief did not know you were coming today. The mother of the chief at Ifako died and all the people have gone to Ifako for the burying."
"All right," said Mary. "We will wait here then for Mr. Bishop and the baggage carriers."
"I will send a messenger to Chief Edem," said the slave, "to tell him that you have come."
Mary took some of her food and cooked it over an open fire in the pouring rain. She fed the children and put them to bed.
At last Mr. Bishop came to the village.
"I am sorry, Miss Slessor," he said. "The carriers will not bring anything until tomorrow. They are tired. They are afraid of the jungle trail."
"But tomorrow is Sunday," said Mary. "It would be a bad example for them to do work for us on Sunday. I will not have them work tomorrow."
"John," said Mary, turning to a young man who had come with Mr. Bishop, "you go back and tell the carriers they must come tonight for we need food and dry clothing."
After the young man had gone, Mary decided she should go and help. She took off her muddy shoes and started back through the dark and fearful jungle. Mary was afraid when she heard the snarls of animals in the jungle, but she put her trust in God and went on.
As Mary came near to the beach she met John.
"Ma Mary," he said, "the men will not come. They will not bring the things until the daylight chases away the hidden dangers of the jungle."
"I will talk to them," said Mary. She plodded on through the mud. She came to the canoe. The men were all sound asleep. Mary woke them and put them to work. In the meantime Mr. Bishop had coaxed some of the slaves from Ekenge to help. Soon all the things Mary had brought were being carried to Ekenge.
Sunday morning was cloudy. Mary got things ready for church. Church time came. But where were the people? Mary and Mr. Bishop and the children began to sing hymns as loud as they could. Still no one came. How discouraging! All the people had been at the burying. When they buried somebody, especially somebody important like the chief's mother, they would have a wild party. The people would get drunk and do many other wicked things. The next day they would be too tired and sick to do anything.
Mary and the children and Mr. Bishop kept on singing. At last a few women came. Mary gathered them around her and told them the story of Jesus and His love. The women listened but they did not say anything.
After the service was over and the women had gone to their huts, Mary knelt down and prayed.
"O God, my heavenly Father, with Your help I have made a beginning in the jungles of Okoyong. Things look black and discouraging now, but I know that if it is Your will You can change all that. If it is not Your will that my work is successful here, then send me wherever I can work best for You. Forgive my sins. Make me a better and more faithful worker for You. And bless the work here in Okoyong. I ask this for Jesus' sake. Amen."
Would the work in Okoyong be a failure or a success? Time would tell. Mary knew that it depended on God.
At last Chief Edem and his people came back from the wild, drunken party at Ifako.
"Welcome Ma Mary," said Chief Edem. "I am glad you have come. I have a place for you. You take this room here in my women's yard. It is for you."
"Thank you, Chief," said Mary. It was a dirty, filthy room, but it was the kind of room all the people of Okoyong used. Mary cleaned out the dirt. She had a window put in. She hung a curtain over the door. While she was working a boy came up to her.
"Ma Mary," he said, "I am Ipke. I want to help you." Ipke worked hard. He helped Mary as much as possible. Whatever there was to do, Ipke was ready to do it.
A few days later Mary looked out of her room. She saw Ipke. He was standing near a pot of boiling oil. A crowd of people stood around yelling and shouting.
Chief Edem came up to the crowd. Then a man took a dipper and filled it full of boiling oil. Ipke stretched out his hands in front of him. Suddenly Mary knew what was happening. She rushed out of her house, but she was too late. Already the man had poured the boiling oil over Ipke's arms and hands.
"Why have you done this?" asked Mary. Chief Edem said nothing. He turned and walked away. The other people also kept still. Mary took Ipke to her room. She put medicine on the burns.
"Why did they do this to you, Ipke?" she asked.
"It is because I helped the white Ma. The people say I do not follow the old ways. It is bad to follow new ways. I must be punished. The bad spirit must be burned out."
"O God," prayed Mary, "heal this boy and help me to change the wicked heathen ways."
A Brave Nurse
It was strangely quiet in the village of Chief Okurike. The chief was sick. All the magic of the witch doctors could not make him better. If he died, many of his wives, slaves and soldiers would be killed to go with him into the spirit-world.
A woman from a neighboring village came to the house of Chief Okurike's wives.
"You are sad because Chief Okurike is dying," said the woman. "I know someone who can help him. Far away through the jungle at Ekenge lives the white Ma. With her magic she can make devils go out of your chief. My son's child was dying. The white Ma saved her. She is well today. The white Ma has done many wonderful things by the power of her juju. Let your chief send for her. Then he will not die."
The wives talked it over.
"We must tell the chief," said the head wife. "He must send for the white Ma. If he dies, many of us must die too. We do not want to die."
They told the chief about the strange white Ma at Ekenge.
"Let her be sent for," said the chief. "Send swift runners to ask her to come."
All day long the men hurried through the jungle along the narrow paths. They went through many villages but they did not stop. At last after eight hours, they came to the village of Ekenge.
"We are the men of Chief Okurike," said the men to Chief Edem. "Chief Okurike is very sick. We want the white Ala who lives in your village to come and heal him."
"She will say for herself what she will do," said Chief Edem. He sent a man to tell Mary some men from Chief Okurike wanted to see her. Mary came at once to see what was wanted.
"Ma," said the men, "Chief Okurike sent us. He is very sick. Come and bring your magic medicines and make him well."
"What kind of sickness does your chief have?" asked Mary. "Maybe I can send the medicine with you."
They shook their heads. They did not know what the sickness was.
"I must help," said Mary to herself. "If the chief dies, then according to their heathen way the tribe will kill all his wives and slaves so he will have company on the long trip to the spirit-world. I must go and teach them about the Good Shepherd who is with us even in the valley of the shadow of death. If the chief should die and the tribe think that it is because of witchcraft it will be even worse. Many people will be killed because the tribe will think they used witchcraft to kill the chief."
"I will go with you," said Mary.
"There are warriors out in the jungle and you will be killed. You must not go," said Chief Edem.
"It is a long journey," said Ma Eme. "There are deep rivers to cross. It is raining very hard. You will never get there."
"If Chief Okurike dies, there will be fighting and killing. You will be in great danger," said Chief Edem. "Don't go."
Mary knew that if anything happened to her, Chief Edem would go to war against the tribe of Chief Okurike, because she was his guest, and a chief must protect his guest. Mary prayed to God about it. Then she said to Chief Edem, "I am sure that God wants me to go. It will be a chance to tell these people about Jesus who heals the soul-sickness. God will take care of me."
"Well, Ma, I do not like it, but you may go if you wish. I will send women with you to look after you. I will send men to protect you."
Early the next morning they started on the journey. It was raining hard. After they had left Ekenge, it began to pour. The jungle was flooded and steaming hot. It was hard to go, but Mary and the guard pushed on. Soon Mary's clothes were soaked through. They became so heavy she could hardly walk. Her boots became water soaked. She took them off and threw them in the bush. Soon her stockings wore out and she walked through the jungle mud barefooted. She knew she was doing God's work, and even fearful rainstorms were not going to stop her.
After three hours the weather began to clear, but now Mary's head began to ache from fever. As Mary and the guard passed through the jungle villages, the people looked at Mary with surprise. But nothing would stop Mary. She pushed on, and after walking through the jungle for eight hours, she stumbled into the village of the sick chief.
Some of the people were crying. They expected to be killed when the chief died. Others were laughing and shouting. They were going to have "fun" when the chief died. They were going to kill people and have a wild party.
Mary was tired and sick, but she went at once to the chief's house. He was stretched out on a dirty bed. His face was gray with sickness. He was moaning and groaning. He was very near death.
Mary examined the chief to see what his sickness was. She opened her little medicine chest and took out some medicine. She gave the chief a dose. It made the chief a little better.
"I don't have enough of this medicine with me," said Mary. She knew that away on the other side of the river another missionary was working. She knew he had some of the medicine. She went to the men of the village.
"You must go across the river to Ikorofiong for more medicine," said Mary.
"No, no, we cannot go," said the men of the village. "Our enemies are on the other side of the river. They will kill us if we go there."
"But I must have the medicine," said Mary.
"There is a man from that village down the river a little ways. He is living in his canoe on the river. Maybe he will go," said one of the men.
Some of the men ran down to the river. They found the man. They promised him many things. At last he said he would go. The next day he brought the medicine to Mary.
For days Mary nursed Chief Okurike. She taught one of his wives how to help her. She also told the chief and his family about Jesus. Whenever she could leave the chief for a short time she would talk to the tribe about the Saviour and how He would change their lives if they believed in Him.
Day after day Mary prayed for Chief Okurike. At last prayer won out. Chief Okurike got well. The people were very happy.
"Ma Mary," they said, "we want to learn book." They meant that they wanted to learn about the Bible.
"I am glad you do," said Mary, "but then you must do what the Book says."
"We will," said the people. "We will make peace with Calabar. We will not kill the traders who come to our land or the other white people."
"Then I will always be your worker and I will send you a teacher as soon as I can, who will teach you of the Saviour who died for you to pay for your sins."
Mary went back to Ekenge. Here she found that Chief Edem was very sick. He had some very bad boils on his back. Mary put medicine on the boils. Every day she came to his house and took care of him. One day when she came in she saw feathers and eggs lying around the room. This was witch doctor "medicine." On the Chief's neck and around his arms and legs were witch charms.
"Oh, Chief Edem," said Mary, "how could you do this? Surely you know that doing witchcraft is a sin against God. I do not see how you could go back to it after you had learned to know about Jesus."
"Ma, you don't know all about these things. Someone is the cause of this sickness. You don't know all the badness of the black man's heart. Look, here are the proofs that someone is working witchcraft against me. The only one who can fight that is the witch doctor. He is the only one who can make me well. See, here are the things that were taken from my back."
Chief Edem pointed to a collection of shot, egg shells, seed and other things which the witch doctor said had come from his back. He believed the witch doctor. He believed that someone using witchcraft had sent them into his back.
Mary knew what would happen. Everybody whom the chief thought might have done the witchcraft would have to take poison. The people thought that if the person who took the poison died, he was guilty, but if he was not guilty he would live. The tribe would also use other tortures like pouring boiling oil on people to get them to confess.
"That is all wrong," said Mary. "The sickness is because you have not eaten good things or taken care of yourself and kept as clean as you should have. Don't believe the bad witch doctor." (God said something about that in Exodus 22:18.)
Chief Edem would not listen. He had everyone he thought might have the witchcraft made a prisoner. The witch doctor took the chief and his wives and chief men and prisoners to a nearby farm. Mary was not allowed to come to this farm.
Mary knew of Someone who could help her. She prayed to God again and again to keep these people from doing the bad things they planned. Days went by. Mary prayed that Chief Edem might get well. God heard Mary's prayers. He did what she asked. He made Chief Edem well again.
When Chief Edem was well again he decided not to kill the prisoners, the people he thought might have done witchcraft against him. He let them go free. Then the chief and his wives and the chief men came back to the village.
The tribe had a big party to celebrate. They were happy the chief was well. It was the wildest party Mary had ever seen. The people stuffed themselves with food until they became sick. They got drunk. They had wild dances. They did many wicked things.
Mary had often prayed that God would turn the heathen people from their wicked ways, but here they were carrying on worse than ever. The only answer to her prayers that she could see was that the prisoners who were going to be killed had been set free.
"Am I doing anything for my Saviour?" Mary asked herself. "Am I having any success in winning people for Jesus?"
One day Chief Njiri and his warriors came to visit Chief Edem. They stayed several days. They had wild parties every day. They drank native beer until they became drunk. Then they would quarrel and fight. They asked Mary to settle their quarrels and decide who was right. Mary was praying every day that there would not be bad fights and that no one would be killed.
Finally it was the last night of the visit. The men were so drunk that Mary knew there would be trouble. When the chief and his men were ready to leave, everyone was excited. The people were shouting and pushing. Some shots were fired and the men began stabbing with their swords. They were too drunk to know what they were doing. Mary ran into the crowd. She went up to Chief Njiri.
"Chief," said Mary, "your visit is over. Go now before trouble starts." She took hold of the chief's arm and led him out of the village and his men followed him. They started for their own village.
"I'm glad that's over," said Mary, but she had spoken too soon.
On their way home, as they were staggering along, Bakulu, one of Njiri's men, cried out, "Look!" and pointed with his finger. The chief and his men stopped.
"It is witchcraft," said Bakulu. "See the little banana plant with palm leaves, nuts and a coconut shell close by!"
"Don't go past it," said one of the other men. "It is bad medicine. You will get sick and die."
"It is the people in the last village we passed through. They did it. Let us punish them," said Chief Njiri.
"Yes, let's punish them," shouted the men. Mary had been following the men to make sure they would go home.
She heard the shouting. Now the men started running past her. She tried to stop them, but they slipped away. Mary took a short cut through the jungle. She reached the road to the village before the men did.
"God, our Father in Heaven," prayed Mary, "help me for Jesus' sake to stop these men, so there will not be a bloody battle."
"Stop," she cried as the first men came in sight. "Stop, I want to talk to you."
The men stopped. The others soon came running up. They had to stop, too.
"You men are planning to do something bad. You do not know that the people of this village did bad things to you. You only think they did. You have drunk too much beer. You do not know what you are doing. Go home."
"But Ma," said Njiri, "they have made bad medicine against us. They made witchcraft. They must be punished before we are hurt."
Njiri and his men argued with Mary, but finally they listened to her. They turned around and once more started for home. Mary went with them to make sure they would get there. At last they came again to the banana plant and the witch medicine. They were afraid to pass it.
"If we pass it, we will get sick and die," said Njiri.
"That is sinful foolishness," said Mary. "That banana plant and those other things will not hurt you. I am not afraid of them."
Mary picked up the banana plant, the palm leaves, nuts and coconut shell and threw them into the jungle.
"Now, brave men, come on. I have cleared the path. Let us go to your village."
Timidly the men tiptoed past the place where the "medicine" had been. Then they went on to their own village. Once more Mary thought that all would be peaceful now for a while. She started for the village of Ekenge.
No sooner was Mary gone than the people of Njiri began drinking again. Then they started quarreling and fighting. One of the men in the village ran and told Mary.
"I will fix that," said Mary. She took some of the men of Ekenge with her. She went to the village of Njiri. With the help of the men of Ekenge and some of the people of the village, they tied some of the most drunken men and the wildest fighters to the trees. They left them there to cool themselves in the breezes of the jungle.