Peter's Blog

More on Livingstone's Legacy

Written by Peter Johnston on .

Rev Steve Younger as Livingstone

This past week has been very Livingstone focused! It has been a good week and I had hoped to put down some thoughts before this but this has been the first moment to stop and breathe!

After the events last Sunday which I mentioned in a previous blog post, on the actuall bicentenary of Dr David Livinsgtone's birth, 19 March, there were a number of events to commemorate this anniversary. The first took place in the David Livingstone Centre and was a great morning with lots of involvement from local schools, music and drama (with a wonderful performance from Toto Tales as Susi and Chumah, Livingstone's companions, recounted their travels with Livingstone) and the offical opening of a new exhibit in the museum.


The story behind the new exhibit is fascinating. On a visit to the museum a researcher assisted by volunteer Anne Martin (pictured above) were looking through some of the diary notes of Livingstone including pages that were written on old newspapers with ink that Livingstone had concocted himself (having both run out of paper notebooks and proper ink). Alas the ink has faded terribly over the intervening years, but with the application of some spectral photography taking repeated pictures of the pages under many different colours of light, these images could be tweaked to reveal the original notes of Livingstone. These notes were his eyewitness acounts of events, before he edited them for his journal. As such they provide a fascinating insight into his thinking, particularly comparing them to his later thoughts. It was found that these earlier notes of Livingstone provide different details that had later been omitted by Livingstone of the massacre in Manyuema when 400 people died. It is worth a visit to explore the details.

Livingstone and the Exodus

In the evening of Tuesday I attended one of two celebratory services (the other taking place in the wee toon of London at Westminster Abbey) held in the United Reformed Church in Hamilton which in its previous guises was the church that Livingstone and his family attended when he was young.

The sermon was given by Lawrence Moore, who is the director of the Windermere Centre, a retreat centre run by the URC. After a long day, I confess I was rather tired and there was an element of duty in my attendance, having already led worship myself in the afternoon, but I was very glad to have gone. Lawrence challenged us to think about mission in its many forms, and the true legacy of Livingstone's mission. His opening used John Gatu's proclamation along with many other African theologians in the 1970s that there should be a "moratorium on missionaries", which came as part of a general resistance to the colonial empire building that had gone hand in hand with much missionary work in the heyday of the missionaries.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu succinctly puts it, "When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land."

In his sermon, Lawrence, drawing also from his own history in Zimbabwe, helped uncover why, despite this legacy of the mission movement, Livingstone is still revered within countries like Malawi and Zambia. Livingstone understood what was happening, he also was deeply shaped by his own faith. He understood that he served the God of the Exodus story, not a God who holds people captive. He served the God that proclaimed freedom, not a God who sought to keep people in bondage. If you simply list the verses and passages and assumptions contained within the Bible, it is easy to gather evidence that the Bible condones slavery. It does, in the sense that slavery was a given within the cultures in which most of the Scriptures were written. These arguments were made by many within society and the church at the time of the spread of empires around the globe to defend the practise of human slavery.

Livingstone saw things differently. He understood the wider picture of God's salvation for his people: that the living God was working for this freedom not to enslave people. Livingstone still today is thought of as a freedom fighter in Africa because he saw things differently to how many back home saw things. Led by his faith and conviction to follow Christ, he worked for freedom.

Following this through to today and thinking about the legacy of Livingstone, Lawrence asked us to consider the true legacy to be the independent democratic states of Africa where finally everyone has a voice. A great point. But it took a long and difficult time to get to that better end.

It is so easy to be caught in the traditions and thinking of the past, and sometimes the path through the present to the future is difficult to discern or seems itself a very treacherous route. It takes people of hope, courage and vision like Livingstone to see beyond what has aye been and what is to what could be.

While thinking about this I could not help but think about the future for the Kirk in Blantyre and the vision, courage and hope that is now required to see that journey through to a future destination. Livingstone's example of faithfulness to Christ's purposes despite all that happened to him gives encouragement to that process.

We ended the sermon with Livingstone's own prayer, which speaks to this sentiment:

Lord, send me anywhere, only go with me. Lay any burden on me, only sustain me. Sever any ties but the tie that binds me to thy service and to thy heart.

Thereafter we sang the hymn "Sing one and all" of which verse 3 reads:

We need not now take refuge in tradition, like those prepared to make a final stand, but use it as a springboard of decision, to follow him whose Kingdom is at hand.

Meeting David Livingstone

On Thursday morning, as part of the Calderside Chaplaincy Team's preparations with the David Livingstone Centre for a Lifepaths event for Secondary 2 pupils in June, Steve Younger and I filmed at the Centre an interview between Stanley and Livingstone. When we had been discussing this a month or so ago, the team had set Steve the challenge of growing out his beard so that he could shave for the full 'tache and sideburns look. Well, Steve took his method acting to heart and truly looked the part. Brilliant stuff! We took lots of photos, and the raw film footage now needs to be edited down. I will put an extended video on here when it is done.

The funniest part of that morning was when some other visitors to the museum did a complete double-take when they came into the room we were filming and found Livingstone present with them. You can imagine what they said... I presume!