Queen Victoria established it in 1856 for exceptional and conspicuous gallantry on the field of battle. Of the millions who have entered combat for the British Commonwealth, few have risen to the heights of valor demanded of the Victoria Cross; and of those select recipients, many won it at the supreme expense of their lives.
In a humble part of the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, on Pine Street, in the early part of this century, three boys–Fred Hall, Bob Shankland, and Leo Clarke–grew up within a few blocks of one another. When Canada entered the war against Germany, all three joined the army and eventually entered combat in France. Each of these boys from Pine Street was eventually awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on the battlefield, a truly astounding feat. In honor of their achievements, Pine Street in Winnipeg has been renamed. It is now called Valour Road.
But there is another battle beyond the blood-soaked fields of this world’s animosities, a battle not of flesh and blood. It is a battle against spiritual enemies with eternity in the balance. There the Victoria Cross is not the prize but the Cross of Christ and His glory. Countless men and women have taken up their cross and, in glorious anonymity, have marched off to give their all for the cross of their Saviour. One such saga began in a small area near Glasgow, Scotland. It has a geographical twist as unique as Valour Road.
From this quiet farming and mining region, in and about Lanarkshire, came three of God’s greatest spiritual warriors: David Livingstone, Frederick Stanley Arnot, and Dan Crawford. Raised in this community in God-fearing, simple homes, each of them set sail from this little area of Scotland to fight and die for the cause of Christ in the vast spiritual battlefield of Africa.
Livingstone (1813-1873) was raised in a poor home in Blantyre, Scotland. He began work as a piecer in a local textile mill at the age of ten. Working six days a week, from 6:00 am until 8:00 pm at the mill, he then took school courses from 8:00 till 10:00 pm, often stretching out his reading past midnight. He was intrigued by travel and botany, and in his infrequent moments of spare time, he took long walks, documenting the flora and fauna he found. Through sheer dint of effort, he studied for, and became a doctor of medicine at Glasgow University.
As for Livingstone’s spiritual history, he was converted at the age of 16. From that point, Livingstone set his sights on mission work. But where?
A conversation in 1840 with Dr. Robert Moffat, another Scottish missionary who was home on furlough from South Africa, directed Livingstone to his eventual field of service–Africa. In 1841, he came to Kuruman where he began work near the Moffat’s station. Moffat eventually gave more than direction to Livingstone’s life. He also provided a blue-eyed daughter, Mary Moffat, who became Livingstone’s wife.
David had gone to Africa under the London Missionary Society, but chafed under their policies. They promoted a stationary work, while David felt called to “the regions beyond.” Hence his famous letter to the mission board promising “to go anywhere–provided it be forward.” Later, he wrote to Robert Moffat, “I shall open up a path into the interior or perish.”
Livingstone has been honored as the one who opened the “Dark Continent” to a curious world. Africa’s interior was an unknown entity at that time. Across european maps of Central Africa was written, “The Mountains of the Moon.” The sources of the Nile, the Zambesi, or the Congo rivers were vague assumptions. Part of Livingstone’s reasons for pursuing exploration were his post-millennialist views of prophecy.
He believed that the ongoing progress and success of the Church on earth would usher in the millennium. This, of course, is a discredited and scrabbled view of the prophetic scriptures, but in Livingstone’s day it was commonly held. And some of those holding it saw political and economic progress to be equally as important as the preaching of the gospel. David was convinced that his exploratory work was his way to further the Kingdom of God. Sending his wife and children back to Scotland, with a small troupe of Africans carrying his meager possessions, the intrepid Livingstone began his evangelization and exploration of the so-called Mountains of the Moon. He clung to the claims of God’s protection and grace as he entered the dangers and challenges of that forbidding place. His sentiment is reflected in his journal record. On Christ’s words, “Lo, I am with you,” he penned this comment, “It is the word of a gentleman of the strictest and most sacred honor, and there’s the end of it.”
Livingstone walked thousands of miles, often fell victim to malaria, exposed himself to the danger of “wild beasts and wilder men,” as he dutifully pursued his mission, his inquisitive, well-trained mind recording scientific and geographical data along the way. He discovered Lake Ngami in 1849, the upper Zambesi river in 1851, Victoria Falls in 1856, Lake Nyassa in 1859, Lake Moero in 1867, and Lake Bangweolo in 1868. His final trek was in search of the sources of the Nile River. In The Personal Life of David Livingstone, Blaikie tells about his last days:
“At last they [his African carriers] got him to Chit-ambo’s village in Ilala…There they laid him on a rough bed in a hut, where he spent the night. Next day he lay undisturbed…Nothing occurred to attract notice during the early part of the night, but at four in the morning, the boy who lay at his door, called in alarm for Susi, fearing that their master was dead. By the candle still burning they saw him, not in bed, but kneeling at the bedside, with his head buried in his hands upon the pillow: he had passed away on the furthest of all his journeys, and without a single attendant. But he had died in the act of prayer …commending Africa–his own dear Africa, with all her woes and sins and wrongs–to the Avenger of the oppressed and Redeemer of the lost.”
Livingstone’s carriers cut out his heart and buried it under a tree. His heart remains in Africa. They salted and dried his body in the sun for fourteen days. Then they wrapped it in calico and rolled it in a large piece of bark to form a cylinder. Carried on a pole between two men, they then marched it to the coast. From Zanzibar it was shipped to England. On April 18, 1874, the body of the pioneer was committed to its resting place near the center of the nave in Westminster Abbey.
Punch magazine published this poem at the time of the funeral:
Open the Abbey gates and let him in
To sleep with King and Statesman, Chief and Sage.
The Missionary came of weaver kin,
Yet great by work that brooks no lower wage.
He needs no epitaph to guard a name
That men shall prize while worthy work is done.
He lived and died for God, be this his fame;
Let marble crumble, this is Livingstone.
The world honors Livingstone for his geographical exploration, but Livingstone was preeminently an evangelical missionary. His primary goal was to preach Christ. His letters and books were used by God to stir hundreds to rise up to the challenge of foreign missions. Especially gripping were his descriptions of the horrors of the slave trade.
Near Livingstone’s birthplace, another mighty man was in the making. Frederick Stanley Arnot was born in 1858 in Glasgow. As a boy, he and his sister were guests in the Livingstone’s Scottish home, where the boy saw the relics of the great pioneer, and listened to David Livingstone’s daughter, Annie Mary, read the letters that she found in a chest in the attic. Stirred by the great spiritual need of Africa and the horrors of the slave trade, young Arnot said, “If God spares me, I will go and help to right this wrong.” When the boy was asked how he expected to reach Africa if no one sent him, his firm answer was that, in that case, he would swim there.
When eleven years old, Arnot and a friend were busy stealing plums out of a neighbor’s tree when a voice sounded from a nearby window, “Thieves! Thieves!” His chum Jimmie didn’t seem too bothered, but Fred went away with the word ringing in his ears. That night his body was tired, but his conscience would not rest. He was too ashamed to tell anyone what a wicked thing he had done. Then, in the dark the thought came–he could tell God. Everyone else had long since fallen to sleep in the little Arnot home when Fred slipped onto his knees beside his bed. He later said, “Now, I thought, I will ask God to forgive me; but the words would not come, and, at last, I burst into a flood of tears. I felt I was too wicked even for God to forgive; yet a glimmer of light and hope came to me with the thought: ‘That is why Jesus died on the cross for me, because I am so wicked.’ I awoke next day with a light heart, the burden gone.”
Now more than ever, Arnot was determined to join in Livingstone’s work. “I scarcely ever, as far back as my memory takes me, opened a book, or watched a tradesman at his work, without the thought ever being in my mind, ‘Will this be of use for Africa? I must remember this for Africa.'” When fifteen, he began open air preaching beside his father in the area villages. When 21, he was commended by his local assembly to the grace of God for work in Africa. Without any guarantee of financing or the supervision of a mission board, he sailed for Africa, beginning a phenomenal career in the interior of Africa that lasted until his homegoing in 1914.
Arnot was quiet, even bashful, and hardly fit the stereotype of the intrepid pioneer. But a closer look revealed his utter dedication. Sir Ralph Williams, in his book, How I Became Governor, describes meeting Arnot at Victoria Falls in 1884: “Mr. Arnot, the missionary, was a remarkable man. I had many talks with him. He was the simplest and most earnest of men. He lived a life of great hardship…existing on from day to day, almost hopeless, without any appliances which make life bearable. He was imbued with one desire, and that was to do God service. Whether it could be best done that way I will not here question, but he looked neither to right or left, caring nothing for himself if he could get one to believe; at least so he struck me. And I have honored him ever since as being as near his Master as anyone I ever saw.”
Fred Arnot was a shy man, but he became quite aggressive when it came to recruiting missionaries for Africa. Taking the torch that David Livingstone had passed to him, he passed it on to a young man named Dan Crawford (1870-1926). This great missionary worker became his fellow-laborer and then successor.
Dan Crawford was also born near Glasgow in the town of Gourock, and was led to Christ by a fellow Sunday school student named John Storer in May of 1887. After a Sunday evening gospel meeting, at Dairy Hall in Glasgow, Dan remained in his seat. A few young believers remained behind, too, and for two hours they reasoned back and forth. Then John took a carpenter’s pencil from his pocket and drew a black line across the floor of the hall. Looking into Dan’s eyes, John said, “Now, Dan, you’ll not step over that line until you have trusted Christ.” The room was still. The young man stood and with a long stride said, “I will.” Thereafter Dan often told how “At 20 minutes past 10, by grace I crossed that line.”
A voracious reader and a diligent Bible student, Crawford quickly put what he learned to use by proclaiming it in the streets. However, his spiritual strength was not wedded to a strong constitution. His constant efforts left him run-down, so that, when he expressed his determination to go to Africa, there was a hesitancy from the saints. Eventually the whispers filtered back to him that “to send this stripling to Africa would kill him in twelve months.” Dan’s reply? “One year? Then let it be a year spent in winning Africans for the Saviour.”
Dan went out in 1889, led by Mr. and Mrs. Arnot. After landing in Benguella, on Africa’s West Coast, they started inland and soon entered into the constant challenges of laboring for Christ in Africa’s oppressive atmosphere. Eventually Dan received a grant of land on the border of Rhodesia and the Congo. By 1893, he had established his mission there, where the Luanza River flows into Lake Mweru. In 1895, Crawford wrote a letter proposing to Grace Tilsley, an acquaintance in Scotland. They wed in 1898.
Dan and Grace Crawford eventually saw a village built at the mission sight, and he named it Luanza, modeling it on the villages of his native Scotland. He built there what he called his #30 mission house, which overlooked Lake Mveru. When the King of Belgium visited the Congo in 1916, he visited Dan in that house. Dan often told how he sat beside the King on a bluff overlooking the great lake, and how the King asked Dan to explain the difference between Protestant and Catholic missions. “For three-quarters of an hour, I let him have the gospel of the grace of God as plain as ever man heard it.” The Crawfords worked long and hard for the service of Christ. They took their first furlough after 23 years on the field.
Besides all of this missionary work, Dan Crawford was a fine author. His first book, entitled Thinking Black, went through three editions soon after it was issued. This was followed by a companion book entitled Back to the Long Grass. A few weeks before his Homecall, he finished his greatest literary ambition: a translation of the whole Bible into the native tongue.
In the conditions he faced during his thirty-six years in Africa, Crawford had often stared at perils, as he slipped out of dangers–unscathed. On a dark night in 1926, he passed his hand over a board, and something snagged his skin. From that slight scratch he contracted blood poisoning and died a few days later. Dan was fifty-six years old.
What rewards these three from the south of Scotland will one day receive! Will any take the torch from them today? Who will forsake all, for the greatest of battles, and the greatest of Masters?
Garenganze or Mission Work in Central Africa, by F. S. Arnot
Angola Beloved, by T. Ernest Wilson, Gospel Folio Press
Thinking Black–22 Years Without a Break in the Long Grass of Central Africa, by D. Crawford, Morgan & Scott
A Central African Jubilee, by F. S. Arnot, Pickering & Inglis
Robert Moffat, by J. C. Western-Holt, Zondervan
Livingstone’s Travels and Researches in South Africa, by David Livingstone, New York, Harper, 1858
Personal Life of Livingstone, by William G. Blaikie, John Murray, 1882
The Life Explorations of Frederick Stanley Arnot, by Ernest Baker, Seeley, Service & Co., Limited
Dan Crawford of Central Africa, by Dr. G. E. Tilsley, London, Oliphants, 1929