Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”1
When Mary Slessor made the decision to take up her cross in Calabar, some people tried to frighten her. “Didn’t she know that the natives around Calabar were cannibals? insisted her antagonists. Didn’t she know the heathen of Africa worshipped the devil? And what of the ferocious leopards that lurked behind every tree?”2 In the midst of the opposition, she simply said, “Well, if it’s the post of danger, then it is surely also the post of honor.”3
When she submitted her application to the Foreign Mission Board, she trusted God and said that she would go wherever she was needed. God affirmed His calling on her life when they sent her to Calabar, in West Africa.
When her fear of leopards, snakes, jungle fever, pagan natives, and horrific heathen rituals threatened to overcome her, she had a Hiding Place from which no one could pluck her.4
When the Egbo runners bullied slaves in their cruel way, Mary confronted them and faced them down. When a leopard stood in her path in the jungle, she sang to it until it left. When innocent people suspected of witchcraft were being held captive, she blocked the way of the murderers and wouldn’t let them administer the poison bean test. In this way she saved many lives.
At age forty-three, Mary received a marriage proposal from a twenty-five year old missionary, who wanted to work with her in the Okoyong. She eventually agreed to leave the decision up to the Foreign Mission Board. When the Board decided that the young man needed to stay in Duke Town ministering to the Efik people, Mary trusted God that she should stay with her work among the Okoyong. Thus she gave up her own dream of marriage to fulfill the will of God.
During her years in Calabar, she was horrified with the practice of twin killing. The natives believed that no man could father two children, and thus a devil must have fathered the other. Since they didn’t know which was which, they would kill both children and leave them out in the jungle. The mother would also be cast out, left to starve or be killed by beasts, for her supposed sin. Mary threw herself wholeheartedly against this practice, and took in many twins who were found alive in the jungle.
Mary was made a legal judge over the natives in more than one area. They respected “White Ma” very much, and would abide by her decisions. When she was able, though God’s help, to avert bloodshed, she held it as a great triumph indeed. When she was faced with a difficult decision, her light and guide was Scripture and prayer.
She wasn’t perfect. One time she forgot what day of the week it was, whitewashed the walls on Sunday, and was going to conduct a church service on Monday. She was gently reminded what day it was, but decided to have the service anyway “for the natives’ peace of mind”.5 Her goal was to “feed the sheep” in the best way she could.6
After 37 years of service in Africa, Mary was given the Maltese Cross for her great work for the faith. She received it saying, “If this is my crown to take to gloryland, I will lay it at the Master’s feet.”7 Her view of that medal from then on was as a token of appreciation to all the missionaries in Nigeria.8
One of Mary’s biggest legacies is the many native children she raised; babies found abandoned in the jungle, and those who were esteemed cursed. Her compassion for these children echoed the loving words of her Master: “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.”9
Some may have thought her crazy, but surely not the natives she loved and aided. Jesus gave this promise to servants like Mary; “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”10
Mary Slessor could have spent her life for herself. But instead, she followed the example of her hero David Livingstone and also of Moses of the Bible, who “thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward.”11
1Mark 8:34b-35, NIV 2Mary Slessor: Light for the Dark Continent 3Ibid 4Psalm 32:7; John 10:28 5Mary Slessor: Light for the Dark Continent 6John 21:15-17 7Mary Slessor: Light for the Dark Continent 8Ibid 9Mark 10:14, NKJV 10Matthew 10:42, NIV 11Hebrews 11:26, NLT, adapted
General information about Mary Slessor taken from Mary Slessor: Light for the Dark Continent, by Sam Wellman (Copyright 1998)