Mary Slessor was truly a remarkable woman, and it was through her testimony and witness for her Saviour that Calabar in Africa turned from superstition and witchcraft to the Lord.
Born December 2, 1848, in Aberdeen, Scotland, Mary was saved after being witnessed to by an old woman who was concerned about the souls of Mary and her friends. By the time she was eleven years old, Mary was spending twelve hours a day working in a factory to help support her family, but throughout the years she still found lime to teach Sunday school and evening Bible classes, and she was an effective witness in her community.
When she felt called to the mission field, one of her main concerns was leaving her family because her factory income was an important part of their support, but Mary's mother encouraged her to go. Mrs. Slessor was a strong supporter of missions and she had lost two sons who she had hoped would go to the mission field.
Mary presented herself to the mission board of her church and on August 5, 1876, at the age of 28 she sailed for Africa.
Her first station was at the already established Calabar Mission. Working among the poor and needy at home in Scotland had helped to prepare her somewhat for the physical conditions that she was to face, but nothing could fully prepare her for the way of life of the people of Calabar. Superstition, witchcraft, cruelty, sorcery, and bloodshed were widespread in the area; and the killing of twins (it was believed that one had an evil spirit) and the banishment of the mother to the bush was law in the area.
Mary spent three years at the Calabar Mission working among the natives and telling them about her Lord and Saviour and how He could save their souls before she was sent home on furlough. As would be common throughout her days in Africa, sickness was a constant problem and Mary had already had several bouts of fever, one nearly fatal.
Upon returning to Calabar, she went to Old Town and began her work again. There was the constant battle against witchcraft, superstition and liquor, but Mary continued to tell the people about how the Lord loved them and died for them. Always ready and willing to expand the work so that she could tell others about Christ, Mary opened a mission station at Okoyong, where she spent the next fifteen years.
Her initial attempts at contacting the people of Okoyong were met with hostility (and armed guards), but they admired her courage for coming to them alone and eventually provided her with land for a mission.
Although her main objective was to tell the natives about Christ, of necessity Mary became involved in all aspects of their lives. The people attributed every accident or occurrence to sorcery which meant that someone always had to be blamed and punished (usually involving bloodshed). Mary had to be ready day or night to leave her home and try to act as peacemaker before someone got killed. The people, for the most part, respected her fairness and judgment, but she was put into dangerous situations on many occasions because of her firm stand.
The practice of killing twins was an abhorrence, and Mary rescued many of these unfortunate children and raised them herself. It was a very slow and painful process, but eventually the twin killing ceased.
Trade between the villages, which cut down on the idleness among the people, was established through Mary's influence. This, in turn, cut down on the use of liquor among the men and it also helped to stabilize relations between warring villages.
While teaching Christ to these African villagers, Mary had to work to prevent tribal wars between villages, and she also had to tend to all sorts of sickness and disease, prevent retaliatory killing due to superstition, and stand up to tribal chiefs in order to prevent cruel and unfair punishment and murder. She spent many hours seeing that disputes were settled without the usual bloodshed.
Okoyong became a more peaceful place due to Mary's influence and many came to know Christ as their Saviour.
Mission stations were set up in many villages and native Christians were left to tell others about Christ. These native-taught stations were basically self-supporting, which freed Mary for further pioneering work.
Even though in declining health, Mary continued to expand the work of the Lord, and in each village she had to fight the same battles against superstition, twin killing, witchcraft, corruption and sin. But finally the last heathen village in the area asked her to come and establish a mission in their midst.
Her work done, the Lord took Mary Slessor home on January 13, 1915, at the age of 66. She had spent thirty-nine years on the mission field in her beloved Calabar, and she was buried in Duke Town where her work in Africa had begun.