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Evangelistic Explorer: David Livingstone

  • Amy Puetz Home School Enrichment
  • Published May 02, 2005
Evangelistic Explorer: David Livingstone

Rarely does one find an explorer who had the character and virtue that Dr. David Livingstone possessed. Many explorers achieved worthy accomplishments in their work, but sadly many of them did not have heroic character in their daily lives. Livingstone, however, in addition to his great accomplishments, was also a Christian and lived it out in his every activity. He viewed his main purpose in life to be that of an evangelist and shared the gospel wherever he went.

Born on March 19, 1813, in Blantyre, Scotland, David Livingstone was raised in a Godly home. His relaxed childhood was shortened when at the tender age of ten he went to work at a factory. Long days he slaved at work from six in the morning till eight at night. Many times he would bring a book and catch a few sentences when time allowed. At the age of nineteen, he enrolled at the Glasgow University with the intent of becoming a doctor, while inwardly he felt God calling him to do missionary work. He applied to the London Missionary Society for support. After graduating in 1840, he made preparations to go to China, but the Opium War prevented him. God opened up a door to Africa and David willingly went.

Dr. Livingstone's first years in Africa were very informative. He made his home among the natives, and learned much about how they lived. He also found the diverse land in southern Africa very fascinating. Also interested in the African animals, he once had a terrifying encounter with a ferocious lion. The lion had been causing disturbances among the tribes, so Livingstone joined a group of men to search for the animal. While they were hunting, the lion appeared. David shot both barrels of his gun but the animal still attacked him. The mauling seriously injured David's left shoulder and arm. He was taken to the home of Robert Moffat, where he was nursed back to health by Dr. Moffat's daughter, Mary. A relationship grew between David and Mary, and they were married in 1844. His first years in Africa were enlightening, but he had not yet begun his most memorable work.

Why did Dr. Livingstone become an explorer? He wanted to share the Good News with people who had never heard it. His first taste of exploring came when he journeyed north from his missionary station at Kuruman and through the Kalahari Desert with its trackless plains and prairie grass. This trip was made again in 1849. In August of that year Livingstone reached Lake Ngami, becoming the first recorded white man to see it. Finding Lake Ngami was an important discovery. As the expedition continued, Livingstone came down with malaria. Throughout his life he suffered severely from various kinds of diseases but he never let them stop him. He kept pressing on with the bold perseverance of a true Christian and a determined explorer.

He did so many noteworthy things as an explorer that it is easy to forget that he was also an evangelist. Unlike other whites he lived among the natives, thus sharing in their lives in a very special way. Certainly his most important mission was to spread the gospel. He lived what he preached.

He also showed his genuine concern for the Africans by openly opposing slavery. Even during the mid 1800's the barbaric practice of slavery was still a driving force in Africa. Dr. Livingstone hated slavery! On at least one occasion he drove away some slave catchers and set free those who were in chains. Sadly many of the trails he opened up were used by slave catchers. Nothing grieved Dr. Livingstone more than having his explorations used to exploit the natives.

During the years of 1852-1853, Dr. Livingstone led another expedition. After traveling through the Kalahari Desert, he reached the Chobe River whose banks were surrounded by a dense forest. Paddling down the river in canoes he and his men encountered numerous kinds of water snakes. Eventually they reached Linyanti, a town of the Makolol tribe. Livingstone hoped to find a suitable location for a missionary station, but when he became ill with malaria the spot was considered unhealthy and they continued their trip. In his own words he explained what he intended to do next: "I shall open up a path to the interior or perish, I never have had the shadow of a shade of doubt as to the propriety of my course." Departing from Linyanti on November 11, 1853, they followed a northwesterly route. They arrived at the coastal city of Luanda on May 3, 1854. In only six and a half months the exploration crew had traveled 1,400 miles.

Dr. Livingstone journeyed back across the continent because he had promised the men who came to Luanda with him that he would take them home. Although he was urged to go to England for a rest, he did his duty instead, which saved his life. Sadly, the boat that would have taken him to England sank in the Atlantic Ocean with only one survivor. God was watching over him.

While traveling through the hostile country of the Chiboque tribe, Livingstone became ill with rheumatic fever, but with the Lord's help he persevered. While fording the Lotembwa River he made one of his greatest geographical discoveries. According to his journals, he discovered the divide that separated rivers flowing south from those flowing north. Next he traveled east, eventually going through present day Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique. Rumors had reached him of a tremendous waterfall, and Livingstone intended to find it. What he discovered was a massive falls that was 1,800 yards wide and descended 350 feet. It was a grand sight! The natives' name for the waterfall meant smoke that thunders, but Livingstone called it Victoria Falls in honor of the Queen of England. When Livingstone reached the city of Quelimane on the east coast of Africa, he sailed for England to enjoy a much-deserved rest after all his travels.

Dr. Livingstone's last expedition began in 1865 when he left England. The source of the Nile had always fascinated him, so he set out to locate it. Since the natives said it flowed out of a large lake in central Africa, Livingstone traveled extensively in Zaire, Zambia, and Tanzania. Days turned into months and months into years, and the outside world began to wonder if Livingstone was still alive. Newspaperman Henry Morton Stanley was given the assignment of finding Livingstone. For two years Stanley searched for the lost missionary-explorer. Finally, on October 28, 1871, Stanley found Livingstone at Ujiji, on the banks of Lake Tanganyika. He greeted him with the now famous words, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" Although Livingstone continued to explore he did not have many more years to live. He died on May 4, 1873. His devoted friends buried his heart in Africa and embalmed his body, then they carried his remains to the coast and Livingstone found his final rest at Westminster Abbey. His last journey had ended.

Dr. David Livingstone was a heroic man. When thinking of explorers in Africa, Dr. Livingstone inevitably comes to mind. During his life he traveled 29,000 miles in Africa, and most significantly he unlocked one million square miles to the rest of the world. His drive for discovery opened up many trails into the continent, which were used by missionaries. Although he did not find the source of the Nile River, his contribution to the knowledge of Africa's geography is astounding. He also did many worthy things in the capacity of a missionary. He was an amazing explorer and an excellent evangelist.

Study Questions & Follow up Research

• Locate these places on an African map: Lake Ngami, Luanda, Victoria Falls, Quelimane, Nile River, Lake Tanganyika, Ujiji.

• Spreading the gospel was Livingstone's main goal in life. Missionary work is still continuing in Africa. Do you know a missionary in Africa? Study about the country where they live. After you have done a little research about their country, send them a note of encouragement. (If you do not know a missionary in Africa, choose one African country to study.)

• Study about the continent of Africa in an encyclopedia. Answer the following questions: How many square miles are in Africa? What are the main geographical features of Africa? Where is the highest point? Name some animals that are native to Africa. What is the largest lake? What is the longest river?

• Read the book David Livingstone a Man of Prayer and Action by C. Silvester Horne, M.P., a good book about the life and work of Livingstone.

• Find some pictures of Victoria Falls either in an encyclopedia or a geography book. It truly is a magnificent sight.

Amy Puetz, a homeschool graduate, loves history, sewing, and working as a computer graphic artist for her company A to Z Designs. She is also the author of the exciting book Costumes with Character. Visit her website at Call 1-307-464-0266 to request a free catalog. She makes her home in Wright, Wyoming.

This article was originally published in the Mar/Apr '05 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more information, visit