Chapter 38

Dedication

 

All my life I have been an early riser. It was no difficulty for me to rise at five forty-five a.m. and start work at six a.m. The sunrise in Central Africa is very beautiful. Dr Laws had a saying, 'Stay in bed after sunrise and you'll be tired all day.' A true saying. Every morning before six o'clock, all workers assembled for a simple act of worship, some words of scripture, a short prayer and Blessing. Twice each week, instead of scripture, an African hymn was sung, a really inspiring event, for Africans are sweet singers. After devotions, work was detailed to certain groups - I always had over a hundred workers, men and women of character and honesty. They had a fine sense of humour.

The Livingstonia Mission was a pretty place: fine houses, well spaced with gardens, fine church, school, clock tower and post office, carpentry, engineering, building, printing and agricultural concerns - all very vigorous - theological college, high school and hospital. Each department had its own staff and first class African clerks. The Plateau had wide tree-lined roads and pockets of flowering shrubs and fir trees. Being 3,000 feet up the air was pleasant by day, chilly by night. The quarters for married tradesmen and key African leaders, were selective and well designed. So too, the quarters for boarders, up-to-date and clean.

The marvel of Livingstonia was the water supply. Each house had running water, so also did a score of other areas, all drawn from a mountain side miles away. There was complete harmony between the missionaries and the African tribes.

Wild animals prowled around in the bush - lions, leopards, hyenas, warthog, snakes of all sizes and antelope of all kinds. The three main hazards were mosquitoes (malaria), ticks (fever) and jiggers (insects that pierced hard skin, causing infection). Quinine tablets were taken every day by all white people to ward off many kinds of fevers. There were many birds of prey - eagles, vultures and hawks. Plumage birds were exceedingly beautiful - the colourings have to be seen to be believed, especially in tiny birds.

My first love is what I was specially trained in: agriculture, horticulture and forestry. Let me add here that all missionaries, specialists in their own sphere, were fortified in the knowledge that they were all partners in one great crusade, to bring the dynamic message of 'The Good News' to the people of Central Africa. Our job was not so much to preach but to witness by our daily living, our skill and patience and our love for a really charming race of Africans.

Walking down the main broad avenue, lined with Millanje Cedars, a fine sense of peace came over me. My locus of service was well defined: the hills to be clothed with trees; the scrubby bush land to be cleared, later tilled and planted to grow food; men to be trained, to branch out to teach others, so that the lovely land may blossom forth and all the people rejoice in God-given harvests of plenty.

On this particular day of reflection I met the resident African Minister, Rev Edward Boti Manda. He was a friendly and lovable man. Greetings over he said, 'We are all very happy you are to plant many trees, lay down smallholdings, grow cotton, improve food crop growing and train high school students in all these things.

I knew this was to be part of my work in the 52,000 acres held by the Mission for development. I knew what Edward had said was part of my instructions from Dr Laws while in Edinburgh. Was this my introduction to bush telegraph?

Edward led me off the Cedar Avenue and along a path about half a mile long. He stopped. 'Look all around you,' he said softly. 'What do you see?'

'A valley of dense jungle on one side, a tiny village; on the other, a badly kept cemetery!' I replied.

Edward smiled. Long ago Dr Laws told the Divinity Students: 'In Scotland, we have a saying, "Clean up the back garden first and others will take notice".'

'Thank you, Edward,' I said softly. 'Your request will have my attention. I know exactly what to do!'

I was assistant to Mr Archie Burnett. He was married, I was single, so we came to a satisfactory working arrangement. He would supervise most work on the plateau, except for work I specialized in and I would have a free hand to travel and organize developments of special land for trees, tea, coffee, maize, mountain rice, training of oxen for farm work, market gardens for vegetables, orchards for fruit and plantation for cotton.

With Rev Edward Boti Manda as my guide and his son William as my clerk, I called a conference of chiefs and their headmen.

First, according to custom, there was a meal. An ox was killed, baskets of maize prepared and after a lapse of four hours, all took part in the family meal.

The conference was an outstanding success - the first full meeting of chiefs and headmen - sixty in all - in the history of the Mission to consider one subject: 'Agriculture'. After I had outlined my programme, interpreted by Rev Edward Boti Manda, I retired to my tent for one hour. All my plans were passed, full co-operation promised and I was given an African name, 'Mwakuyu' (the planter of trees).

A century earlier, a famous Chief Mwakuyu told his people -'Plant trees so that succeeding generations may have huge logs for canoes; when land crops fail there are many kinds of food in the mighty Lake.'

In an area fifty miles deep into the land and fifty miles along part of the lake shore, I held a dozen conferences in seven months and from all the deliberations a map was plotted with areas of priority marked in green.

At a tree planting ceremony, on the date of Dr David Livingstone's birthday (19th March), Dr Laws called me to his office for a talk. I had my daily log book and maps. He read, turned over page after page, took notes on a jotter. I said, 'Dr Laws, I have a full copy of all my journeys and work for you as I promised on the steamer Ghoorka coming out.'

He looked up, half smiled, 'I was just wondering if you had remembered your promise.' No words of encouragement, no pat on the back, just a crisp sentence, 'You are settling in very well.'

I had indeed settled in, totted up nearly 1,000 miles on foot or bush car; twelve conferences, with chiefs and headmen; soil tested fifty-two areas, discovered beds of nodular lime stone; twenty nursery beds made and 500,000 seeds of all kinds of trees, shrubs and coffee planted; started four blind men in string-making from sisal, collected a band of trustful students to help me with the vernacular; passed my first exam in the language; had two bouts of malaria and God be praised, not one cross word with anyone.

My army training in the First World War, to hear much and say little, coupled with my passion for self discipline and routine, gave me a sense of inward peace and the vision I had had from my youth, to be a missionary, in every meaning of the word - sincere dedication. Oh, yes, I must say, all I promised Rev Edward Boti Manda was completed - the dense jungle was cleared for afforestation, the tiny village cleaned up and the cemetery completely transformed to a serene place of beauty.

 

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This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993.   All rights reserved.  Used here by express permission.