1795 - 1883
Scottish Congregationalist missionary
to Africa, was born at Ormiston, Haddingtonshire,
on the 21st of December 1795, of humble parentage.
He began as a gardener, but in 1814, when
employed at High Leigh in Cheshire, offered
himself to the London Missionary Society,
and in 18i6 was sent out to South Africa.
After spending a year in Namaqua Land, with
the chief Afrikaner, whom he converted, Moffat
returned to Cape Town in 1819 and married
Mary Smith (1795-1870), the daughter of a
former employer, a remarkable woman and most
helpful wife. In 1820 Moffat and his wife
left the Cape and proceeded to Griqua Town,
and ultimately settled at Kuruman, among the
Bechuana tribes living to the west of the
Vaal river. Here he worked as a missionary
till ~87o, when he reluctantly returned finally
to his native land. He made frequent journeys
into the neighboring regions as far north
as the Matabele country. The results of these
journeys he communicated to the Royal Geographical
Society (Journal xxv.xxxviii. and Proceedings
ii), and when in England on furlough (I839--1843)
he published his well-known Missionary Labors
and Scenes in South Africa (1842). He translated
the whole of the Bible and The Pilgrims Progress
into Sechwana. Moffat was builder, carpenter,
smith, gardener, farmer, all in one, and by
precept and example he succeeded in. turning
a horde of bloodthirsty savages into a people
appreciating and cultivating the arts and
habits of civilized life, with a written language
of their own. He met with incredible discouragement
and dangers at first, which he overcame by
his strong faith, determination and genial
humour. It was largely due to him that David
Livingstone, his son-in-law, took up his subsequent
work. On his return to England he received
a testimonial of 5000. He died at Leigh, near
Tunbridge Wells, on the 9th of August 1883.Scottish
pioneer missionary to South Africa for over
50 years. He opened mission stations in the
interior, translated the Bible into the language
of the Bechuanas, and wrote two missionary
books on South Africa: Labors and Scenes in
South Africa and Rivers of Water in a Dry
Place. His oldest daughter Mary, married David
When I think of Robert Moffat,
I am rightly reminded of the Scripture in
Zechariah 4:10, which witnesses, "For
who hath despised the day of small things?"
It seemed a small thing to
some godly men in a southern Scotland church
when a boy about four years old, from a home
of poor but pious parents, knelt at an altar
to pray. His decision was despised by the
elders as one who was too young to understand.
Thank God, one unnamed, unknown-to-us brother
bothered to kneel in prayer with "Robbie."
Moffat may well have been
converted to Christ then -- if not, it was
the commencement of a chain of events that
led to his conversion and to the opening of
doors of evangelism to the uncharted depths
of the dark continent of Africa.
In his mid-teens he left
home for High Leigh, near Liverpool, England,
to begin work as an undergardner. It was there
that Moffat's spiritual convictions were confirmed
and he became a member of the Methodists.
And it was on a walk from High Leigh to Warrenton
that another event occurred which would engineer
him into evangelism in Africa. He saw a sign
announcing a missionary meeting. On such a
small thing as a poster, God prompted the
heart of the youth to purpose to become a
missionary. Moffat attended the meeting and
there is every evidence he got the message
for shortly afterward he contacted Rev. William
Roby, the Methodist preacher in Manchester,
and was soon recommended to the London Missionary
Society. At the age of twenty-one, Moffat
reached South Africa.
His earliest ministries were
treks taken into the interior. There were
few railroads or roads and oftentimes those
were washed away by rains. Travel was difficult,
dangerous and often death-bringing. Rivers,
rocks, swamps, and forests had to be avoided
or mastered somehow. Intense heat by day and
chill cold by night complicated travel. Always
there were the wild beasts: lions, jackals,
hyenas, crocodiles, snakes, monkeys and, worst
of all, warlike and untrustworthy native bushmen.
Such journeys were not often undertaken by
those who knew the country well, and to a
newcomer like Moffat such treks were deadly
dangerous! But Moffat, motivated by his missionary
call, meant to master all such obstacles.
He gradually became physically acclimated
to Africa's extreme climates. He learned the
country and became proficient in its customs
and its languages, and he developed the great
power of leadership that was to be his badge
and make him a blessing to multitudes.
In 1817 he set out for the
kraal, or village, of the Namaquas where the
chief, Afrikaner, a blood-thirsty butcherer,
was converted. That conversion has been considered
one of the great accounts of the grace of
God on the mission fields. On that trip he
saw for the first time the Kurumon River and
the Bechuanas, the peoples with whom he would
spend most of his long missionary ministry.
The Bechuanas' reception
of Moffat's ministry ranged from stony indifference
-- to steeled intolerance -- to incorrigible
rejection. Moffat, who had now married an
English sweetheart, "saw no reward for
untiring work." That work, by the way,
consisted of being a builder, a carpenter,
a smith and a farmer all in one; while at
the same time preaching.
Probably one of the most
momentous events in Moffat's ministry was
not preaching but attempting to defend his
Bechuanas from the warring Zuluas. He did
not avert a war, but procured firearms and
equipped his people. The Bechuanas conquered
the Zuluas and, realizing Moffat's bravery
and compassion in their behalf, they began
to respect him as a friend.
It was twelve more years
before his message bore the fruit of revival.
Suddenly the meeting house was crowded. Heathen
songs were not sung in the village and dancing
stopped. Prayers came to the lips of the Bechuanas,
and the songs of Zion were sung. They began
to give up their dirty habits. Converts were
recorded, then time-tested, then baptized.
Other tribes, hearing the news, sent representatives
to learn of the white man's teaching. Moffat
often would return with them and thus the
revival message and results spread.
It was then that Moffat realized
he must concentrate on translating the New
Testament into the language of the people
if they were to learn God's Word and live
God's way! And, customarily, he not only translated
the text, he procured a press and printed
Moffat returned to England
only one time before returning to die. On
that visit he persuaded Livingstone to go
to Africa instead of China. Livingstone built
mightily upon the foundation that Moffat had
so ably laid, yet, incredibly, Moffat outlived
Livingstone ten more years.
He had opened jungle villages
to the Gospel, he had braved the dangers,
the deadlines of African jungles, he had withstood
medicine men like Elijah had withstood the
prophets of Baal at Carmel. He had preached,
he had translated, he had instructed Africans
to read, write, sing and farm. He had exalted
Christ and magnified the ministry of a missionary.
August 9, 1883, he wound his watch with a
trembling hand. "For the last time,"
he said. And it was so. The next morning the
88-year-old soldier of the Cross was dead,
with eighty-four years of life for his Lord
since that night as a four-year-old bairn
(boy) he had come to Christ.
"For who hath despised
the day of small things?"