Semper Informanda: Prolegomenon
Two Missionaries, a President and a Poacher!
What are you thankful for? Most of you know how I enjoy looking back at history and discovering accounts of God working through His people. Recently, I was reminded of how God opened the Republic of the Congo to the Gospel in 1910. By all assessments it seemed impossible; however God worked in “mysterious ways” to accomplish His purpose. In this case, He used two courageous missionaries, a U.S. President and an elephant poacher.
At the end of his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt, one of my favorite presidents, set out for Africa to hunt big game for an exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute. During the year-long hunt in Kenya, he passed through African Inland Mission’s (AIM) Kijabe mission station where he laid the corner stone to the central building of Rift Valley Academy. In the process, he also became friends with AIM’s field director, Charles Hurlburt. This gave Hulburt the opportunity to tell the president how AIM was trying to minister in the Congo, but couldn’t get Belgian permission to enter the country. Roosevelt made a note and later personally spoke to the Belgian king who immediately wrote a letter granting AIM permission to start mission work in the Congo.
Hurlburt then sent town missionaries John Stauffacher and James Gribble along with five porters to deliver the precious letter to the Belgian authorities in the Congo. It was quite an undertaking that led them through Uganda. Well into the journey they learned that getting into the Congo was near-impossible – letter or no letter. As it turned out, another respected mission group, also with proper documentation, sent parties with as many as 200 porters as well as military escorts and were still refused entry in the country.
Understandably, this news was devastating and discouraging. What was going on? Had God closed the door after miraculously providing the letter? Yet they pressed on only to receive another blow! The main route through the West Nile District was under quarantine for a sleeping-sickness outbreak and no one was allowed to go in or out. Another door was slammed shut!
The men set aside a day to prayerfully consider what to do. They decided the best option was to go south toward Lake Albert and try to enter from that point. This was an arduous choice as there were no roads or even paths, making the travel extraordinarily difficult. After some time the missionaries also noticed the once-cheerful porters were becoming more and more sullen. It seemed that their lives were being threatened by the locals, and they were afraid of continuing the journey. Despite losing their porters, the two missionaries decided to press on, telling the porters to wait for them. At the shore of Lake Albert, they found a man with a canoe who, in return for a few beads, took them across the lake into Congo.
As they approached the shore they were met by an unfriendly crowd obviously opposed their coming. Nevertheless, seeing only two men the crowd allowed the missionaries to make land. Then, from the crowd, two uniformed Africans with guns walked up and asked who they were. The two men replied, “Missionaries.” The solders laughed, and turning to the crowd, pointed out that the two men had nothing but sticks in their hands. Then to the utter astonishment of the missionaries, the soldiers told them that their “Bwana” or boss was waiting for them. They were lead up a steep path to a figure sitting on a rock. He was a red-headed, red bearded Irishman, who laughed long and loud, telling the missionaries that he thought they were the authorities looking to arrest him for his elephant poaching. Despite the Irishman’s urgency to flee, he and his African cohorts took the two missionaries by canoe to deliver their precious letter. The poacher then fled to safety in neighboring Uganda. The Belgian authorities, after reading the letter, welcomed the missionaries and ultimately AIM into the Congo!
Dr. Bob Orner
Dean of Students
Guest Lecturer Practical Theology
Director of Field Education
Orlando Semper Informanda | Volume 7 Issue 14