Some of us reading this article have an aim to achieve in life. Maybe we all have role models who inspire and guide us. If we are looking for achievers whose methods we wish to adopt we should look to some great missionaries, among others.
In a predominantly Christian country such as Malawi, paying homage to pioneer missionaries is a duty that must be fulfilled.
On 15th May 2016 I walked more than a kilometre from my house to the multipurpose hall at the Henry Henderson Institute to attend the 125th anniversary of the St Michael and All Angels church or cathedral as it is being referred to these days.
In the course of preaching, the pastors paid glowing tributes to the efforts that Clement David Scott made to build the church which in 1924 was greatly admired by the Phelps Stokes Commission on education in eastern Africa.
The sermons inspired me to reflect on a few of the great missionaries whose untiring efforts resulted in Christianity spreading from Lake Galilee to all corners of the world.
Which missionary should we start talking about? Naturally, we must start with Paul of Tarsus, the first Jewish follower of Jesus who felt duty bound to take the gospel to non-Jews or gentiles.
A former anti-Christ, Paul met Jesus in a vision on his way to Damascus, Syria, where he was going to arrest followers of Jesus. His conversion to Christianity was profound. More than any other followers of Christ, he was responsible for spreading the gospel in what is known as Asia Minor up to Rome.
Those communities he could not visit he contacted with epistles or letters which were later gathered and made part of the New Testament. These letters testify to his greatness as a theologian and philosopher. He believed in the written word as a vehicle for spreading the Good News about Jesus Christ.
Those who doubt whether education can be acquired through correspondence courses should remember that this is the method Paul used.
Intimidation and threats to his life never dismayed him. He died as a martyr at the hands of the notorious Roman emperor called Nero.
St Francis Xavier (1506-1552)—One and a half millennium later rose another indefatiguable missionary. It was in Paris in 1529 when he met Ignatius Loyola his fellow Spaniard and founder of the Roman Catholic order called the Society of Jesus popularly known as Jesuits.
In August 1534, he took a vow of poverty, celibacy and devotion to the salvation of others. Later, he was ordained in Venice.
In 1537, Loyola chose Xavier to lead a mission to those eastern regions of the world that had been colonised by the Portuguese. He left for Goa and arrived there in 1542 where he commenced a painstaking village to village ministry among the Paravas who had converted to the Catholic faith seven years earlier, but had been left without pastoral guidance.
Xavier’s missionary efforts bore fruits through the coastal area up to Sri Lanka partly because of the native auxiliaries that he trained. In the Malaya islands his converts had to renounce the faith due to persecution which resulted in too many martyrs.
He reached Japan in 1549 where one of the Buddhist monks asked him why the message about Jesus had not reached the people of Japan earlier. When he returned to India in 1551, he left 2 000 Japanese converts. His next goal was China despite being closed to foreign visitors. He died on board the ship. His body was taken back to Goa where it was enshrined and embalmed.
In 1622 he was canonised. He was declared patron saint of the mission in 1927. He stressed the need for a missionary to learn native customs and languages.
Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965)—German Nobel Prize winner for humanitarian work. He was born in an Evangelical Lutheran home. He was awarded a doctorate in philosophy at Strasbourg university in 1899 and remained there as professor.
He became famous as an organist. His future at the University looked bright, but at the age of 30 he enrolled as a medical student meeting the costs from his musical recitals. Having qualified he and his nurse wife left for the Ogowe River in Gabon and set up a mission at Lambarene.
From humble beginnings partly supported by donations, the hospital grew until it had 36 white physicians and nurses. His medical work as well as his preaching were known and appreciated throughout the world. In 1952 he was awarded the Nobel Prize. n