INTO THE ABYSS
They eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.
1849: In the 1800s missionaries often wore two hats: missionary and geographer. This was especially so in Africa where much of the continent had never been mapped accurately, a situation that was a hindrance to commerce as well as evangelism.
One of the great missionary-geographers, George Grenfell, a native of Cornwall in southwest England, was born on this date.
Raised a Baptist, Grenfell went as a missionary to Africa in 1875 and with a missionary partner began exploring the vast basin of the Congo River in central Africa.
On board a steam-powered riverboat called, appropriately, the Peace, Grenfell made notes on areas no white man had seen before; one of the sights was later named Grenfell Falls in his honor. He made such careful observations that England’s Royal Geographical Society awarded him a medal.
But Grenfell never forgot that his primary task was spreading the gospel. This was not easy, for many of the tribes of the region were hostile, and some believed that the men arriving on the noisy steamboat were fierce demons bent on conquest.
Thus the Peace, with peaceful people on board, was often greeted by natives wielding spears. Grenfell let nothing deter him, not even the deaths of several missionary partners who succumbed to tropical diseases. (Africa in this period was often called “the white man’s grave.”)
The region sorely needed the light of the gospel, for the tribes placed little value on human life, and when a chief died, several war captives and slaves would be killed also, in the belief that a chief must have attendants in the spirit world.
Some victims were buried alive, others burned, some hacked to pieces. Superstition and witchcraft ran rampant, as did cannibalism, and the concept of mercy and forgiveness seemed unknown. And yet he persisted—and made converts.
He died in 1906 and was buried in Africa, as were his wife and four children. The native Christians mourned for the loss of their beloved Tata, “Father.”
Prayer: Lord, bless all those who sacrifice so much to carry the gospel to the unreached. Amen.