Wonder Upon Wonder
One of the great wonders to all outsiders was the way the Livingstonia missionaries, by peaceful means, brought together tribes who had hated each other for centuries. Yet one thing was not solved, the attitude of Africans to the outcast -the maimed, epileptic, mentally retarded and the leper. To this end, I set myself the task to break down the barrier. In all my travels I sought out the deaf, dumb, blind and anyone who was looked upon as possessing an evil spirit, according to African custom.
My task was difficult to start with as the outcasts were hidden and could not be found when I made enquiries in villages. However, I managed to get a number together to work in gardens, make string and nets, mould pottery, shell ground nuts, sweep up, carry loads and pound food. As each 'outcast' made progress and earned a wage, they were accepted. I never refused my help to the downtrodden and lonely men and women. To all, I extended a hand of friendship and gave them a welcome, especially the non-Christians.
I was fortunate in finding Christian Africans - men and women - to teach all the unwanted outcasts simple lessons and simple crafts. I specially wanted a stand at the Jubilee Celebrations to have exhibits to prove to Europeans and Africans that everyone had a part to play in advancing civilization. In a short time my interest and patience was rewarded.
For a long time I was working on average sixty hours each week and the strain began to tell. I had headaches, shivers and feverish periods.
My wife was as keen as I was on all plans and projects. She was loved by the Africans. Sometimes she got work going where I felt there was delay. It was an honour for my wife. She carried instructions from me and the staff and workers readily obeyed her. Africans do not take orders from their women folk.
Dr Laws and my missionary colleagues were alarmed about my many attacks of low fever. They all offered to help but I tactfully declined, saying all my instructions are in writing, my wife knows exactly what to do and she is ready to act. Maybe I was selfish but I had toiled like a regimental soldier in all my plans, schemes and projects. I really treasured all my many developments, so all the work was put on my wife's shoulders.
It was only when pressure was put upon me by Dr Laws to rest completely for one week that I agreed on condition my wife would supervise all my plans.
I did rest indoors and enjoyed a lot of reading, writing home and drawing up future concerns. It was a week too when colleagues came for a chat, for I was so engrossed in work I only saw them for short periods at Sunday services and midweek European meetings. The four Africans who worked so closely with me called each day for a ten-minute talk about problems that required attention.
I was always keen on photography - I developed my own prints and enlarged some films. Peter, one of my clerks, often watched me taking pictures and took a great interest in my camera and how it worked. I thought it would be a good idea to send Peter out to some projects and take snaps. On return he said he had taken eight pictures at eight different places. He was keen to know if the snaps were good so I showed him how to develop and print. The prints were all good. Each showed an advancement in work and the African who was in charge. It made me happy to see my instruction so faithfully done by men at a distance. It was a case of mutual trust. I presented Peter with my original 'Brownie' box camera, along with two spools.
He made very good use of his new 'toy', taking snaps of Africans and selling them!
It was a fortnight before I was back on light duty. My wife had every stage of the work advanced. I could afford to slow up for she understood the projects and the African workers.
In the second week of September 1925, all Europeans were called to the Stone House. Dr Laws offered a short prayer, then he said, 'My colleagues, I expect from you a factual report that all projects for the celebrations are complete, except for brushing up.'
My report was the last called for. I placed it on the table before the Doctor, also the original plans, accompanied by facts and figures. I spoke for a few minutes about the exhibition village and then Dr Laws unfolded for the first time to my colleagues what the exhibition would hold.
He stopped. 'Explain everything yourself, Mr Caseby.'
I read from my report nearly 1,000 individual exhibits for arts, crafts and paintings in the large hall.
To my surprise, the Doctor asked, 'Have you included trained joiners, apprentices and school craft work?'
'No, sir. Every exhibit, ivory, ebony, string, mat, horn, stone, iron, copper, pottery, bone, pebble and fossil and many others are all native village craft, without any outside help. There are also a hundred types of spears, shields, bows, arrows, axes, hoes and hunting nets. All exhibits will be clearly marked with the tribe they belonged to and the village they came from.'
The Doctor ticked off items on his paper and when I had finished he lifted up his fine bearded face. 'Thank you all. It's a case of wonder upon wonder for our festivities.
We parted from the meeting feeling very satisfied that all was in order for the Jubilee celebrations in one month's time. As we walked from the Stone House an African teacher whispered, 'The newly erected Hall for the main celebrations has collapsed.'
We hurried to the scene. The Doctor joined us, looking very very upset and distressed (the first time I had seen him in this mood).
Who is to blame for this?' he asked his assembled colleagues.
No one spoke. The Doctor knew very well he alone was to blame. He had refused advice from missionaries who were competent carpenters and builders, about his plan. I had supplied all the necessary material. It was on the site well ahead of time and there my duty ended. We were all vexed for our beloved Principal as he gazed at the ruin of his dreams - it was his first failure in fifty years as a missionary. He looked in my direction.
'Excuse me, Doctor, we are united to have the building erected at once. I propose Mr Tom Gordon to take charge!'
He looked straight into my face. 'When will you start?'
'Now,' I said. 'We are ready.'
Within minutes the thatch and bamboo lacings were removed from the fallen roof and rearranged. Before nightfall the whole site was cleared.
Just after six o'clock next morning, Mr Gordon, with a team of carpenters and apprentices, were at work. By midday I had a squad of thatchers at work, also a score of women mudding the reed walls. It was splendid team work, an effort to prove to Dr Laws our loyalty and affection for him.
Within three days the hall was complete, beautiful and very substantial - a credit to all concerned. The Africans worked with great enthusiasm, something that made us happy. Like all Africans, the natives of all our mission stations had a profound regard for Dr Laws and they worked with a will to prove it. After all, it was the greatly loved Doctor who brought light, liberty, healing and peace to their land.
Wonder upon wonder, indeed. Amazing salvation to thousands upon thousands of many tribes of Africans over a period of fifty years - Dr Laws, the 'superman', a Christian gentleman, a man supreme in wisdom and power.
This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993. All rights reserved. Used here by express permission.