“There is the
king’s own hut.” Mebalwe pointed to a huge cone-shaped building
made of thatch. David Livingstone, the quiet slender missionary,
stood at his black friend’s shoulder. Silently he studied the
capital city of Chief Sechele, in central Africa.
The common people’s huts were uniform in
size and laid out in orderly patterns, the grass roofs shining
golden yellow in the sunlight. The earthen streets were swept
clean and beaten hard by the passage of many bare feet.
“Here come the guards to meet us!” David
exclaimed. A faint prickle of tension was mixed with his
excitement. “Brother, shall we pray?” He said softly to Mebalwe.
Briefly, both men bowed their heads as they stood on the trail.
“Thank You, Lord, for moving Chief Sechele
to send for us,” David prayed. “Help us to win him into Your
A dozen muscular guards, with towering
plumed headdresses and sharp tasseled spears, escorted the two
Christians into the village. Their black faces were somber, and
as David walked down the street between the rows of huts, he
realized that something was wrong here. “Why are the people so
sad?” he asked.
“The chief’s only child is dying,” came the
“I am a doctor,” David stated. “Take me to
Chief Sechele quickly, and perhaps I will be able to help!”
There were three small fires burning before
the Chief’s hut, and near the middle one squatted the weird,
wrinkled figure of the witch doctor. He rocked back and forth
and muttered a low chant between his toothless gums. Strange
decorations hung from strings all around his neck, waist, and
arms: dried snake skins, a leopard’s claws, the skull of a dead
monkey, and some crocodile teeth. Now he took a pinch of dried
herbs from a small antelope-horn cup and threw them into his
boiling pot, without looking at the visitors.
“Hail! Sechele, Great Elephant of the
Bechuana!” David and Mebalwe politely called out the correct
greeting as they approached the chief.
Chief Sechele rose from his wooden throne
in the doorway of his hut. His face under the headdress of blue
heron plumes was stern, and his eyes were troubled. “I have sent
for you, White Doctor,” he announced, “because I have heard that
you are skilled in healing. I command you to give my daughter
“I will be glad to do whatever I can,”
David answered simply. “But it is God in heaven Who does the
healing. Where is your daughter?”
The witch doctor jumped to his feet and
glared resentfully at David. “O Great Chief Sechele,” he whined.
“I am ready to give your daughter my strongest medicine! We do
not need any help from this foreigner. If he touches your
daughter, she will surely die!”
An expression of fear flitted across the
face of Sechele, but he stood firm. “Come,” he told David, and
the missionary doctor followed him into the big hut.
As David’s eyes adjusted to the dim light
inside, he could see the form of a little girl lying on a rug
made of leopard skins. Her knees were drawn up to her belly, and
she moaned in pain as her mother and several other women stood
“Where does it hurt, princess?” David asked
softly. With gentle hands he felt her feverish head and examined
the sore stomach. Then he turned to Chief Sechele. “Her appendix
is infected,” he told the father. “It is a small thing inside
her belly that has become bad. Now I must cut her belly and
remove the appendix quickly, before it bursts open and kills
her. See,” and David opened the pouch of medical equipment he
always carried, “here I have a small sharp knife. And with this
medicine,” he held up a tiny bottle, “I will put her to sleep so
she will feel no pain. Then I will close the hole in her side
with these,” he held up a needle and thread, “and in a few days,
she will be well again.”
The women gasped at the sight of the knife
and began to wail and cry. Chief Sechele frowned. “If you kill
my child, I will kill you!” he growled.
“If I don’t cut out the bad thing, she will
die,” David pleaded. Seeing that Sechele was wavering, he added,
“If she dies, I die too. All right?”
Slowly the chief nodded his head in a
gesture of agreement. “Do the thing quickly,” he whispered
David stepped out of the hut into the blinding sunlight once
more and beckoned to Mebalwe. “My instruments must be cleansed
in the hot water,” he told his companion. “While they are
boiling, let us pray.”
“Are you sure you should take this chance?” Mebalwe questioned softly in English. “If you fail, we will be
killed like dogs.”
“I believe this opportunity is from the
Lord,” David replied confidently. “With His help, the operation
will succeed. Then Sechele’s tribe will be open to the Gospel at
Together the men knelt beside the fire.
Hundreds of curious eyes were upon them as David and Mebalwe
bowed their heads. “Almighty Lord God,” David prayed, “Give my
hands the skill to do this operation successfully. Please grant
healing to the daughter of Sechele that all his people may know
You are the one true God!”
The Africans crowded in closely around as
David bent over his little patient. Carefully he gave her just
two drops of laudanum from the small bottle, then picked up his
sharp knife. Quickly he cut a small gash deep into the child’s
belly, and removed the diseased appendix. “Just in time,” he
murmured to Mebalwe. “This thing was about ready to burst!” He
closed the cut he had made and bandaged it lightly, then felt
the little girl’s pulse.
“I have finished,” he said to Chief Sechele.
“The child will sleep awhile longer. When she awakens, we will
know how she is.”
One by one the curious onlookers left the
hut, to take their own naps in the heat of the day. Chief Sechele and his wife squatted on one side of their sleeping
daughter, while David kept watch at the other side.
They did not speak,
and as David sat silently, his mind ran back over the events
that had brought him here to this place. He thought of his
boyhood in Scotland. His parents had been so poor that David had
needed to leave school and go into a factory to work at the age
From six o’clock in
the morning until eight at night, he had worked in a hot room in
the spinning mill, mending broken places in the cotton ropes. He
had been responsible to watch one-hundred and sixty ropes at
once, and often needed to walk more than twenty miles a day as
he hurried around and around the whirring machines. In every
spare moment, though, he had read all the books he could;
especially books about science, and travel in other countries!
At the age of twenty, he had decided to become a missionary
David raised his
head now and looked at the sleeping girl, daughter of an
important chief. Sechele had been angry and threatening toward
the Christian missionaries until now. Would the operation save
his daughter’s life, and open his tribe’s hearts to the Gospel
David gently counted the heartbeats once more as they passed
through the child’s limp wrist. All seemed to be well and he sat
back again with closed eyes to rest and wait. Also to remember
another time when his courage had been tested by great danger!
Lions had been terrorizing a little African village close to the
mission, and the people had appealed to David for help. “If we
can kill one of them, the rest will leave this area,” they told
the missionary. “Will you come with us?”
David had agreed, and that night the men formed a circle. David
and Mebalwe had guns, the others held spears. Everyone was
silent and tense as the clouds drifted back and forth in front
of the moon. Lions had crept toward the cattle pens, then
charged the ring of men. David had fired at a lion, then reached
down to reload his gun.
Suddenly Mebalwe shouted a warning! Out of the darkness the
wounded lion rose up right in front of David! It reared over him
like a cat pouncing upon a mouse, with the ruff of its enormous
mane fully erect. In the light of the flaming torches, it’s eyes
glowed a bright ferocious gold. The lion opened its jaws and
roared an ear-shattering gust of sound.
David’s own yell was lost in the roaring of the enraged animal.
He had one glimpse of long, white, cruel fangs in that gaping
red mouth and then the charging beast’s jaws closed upon David’s
shoulder. Growling horribly, the 400-pound lion shook the
missionary as a dog shakes a rat!
The remaining lions broke through the
circle of screaming men and vanished into the darkness, as Mebalwe fired his gun into the air. Instantly the lion that was
attacking David dropped him and sprang at Mebalwe instead, only
to fall dead at last on the bloody sand.