The blog returns after rather a lengthy seasonal break!
Mary Slessor’s name is familiar to me, brought up as I was in the Church of Scotland. We heard about her in Sunday School and I think she was one of the ‘heroines’ featured on the back page of the girls’ comic I read. ‘Girl’ was it? Interesting to note that those pages featured missionaries, Mary herself, Gladys Aylward and at least one female saint -St Perpetua. The recent centenary of Mary Slessor’s death brought this back to me and underlines the degree to which we live in a post Christian society. Can you imagine a children’s comic featuring religious role models? Before we get bogged down in whether things ‘ain’t what they used to be’, let’s get back to Mary Slessor. .
Originally from Aberdeen, she was brought up in harsh circumstances in Dundee. In 1876 she sailed to Calabar in Southern Nigeria and proceeded to throw herself into teaching and service, administering medicines and mediating disputes. She adopted children, often twins because the custom was to kill twins because one was believed to be a child of the devil and you couldn’t tell which one it was. She campaigned on behalf of women who were mere chattels, subject to great cruelty and killed when their husbands died. I’m in awe of the bravery of travelling to a region where malaria, cannibalism and human sacrifice was common. Writing in The Scotsman on Sunday, Dani Garavelli says, ‘Her determination to help regardless of the risk fostered the Scottish tradition for public service which can still be seen today in the efforts of aid workers, including Pauline Cafferkey, who have put their lives on the line to treat Ebola victims in Sierra Leone.’
Honoured still in Africa, Mary is to receive more recognition now through the Mary Slessor Foundation inaugurated in 2002. I’m delighted to have been reintroduced to her. Dundonian women were famous for their strength and independence. Mary laid her own concrete floor and when asked who taught her , she said: “Naebody, I just mix it and stir it like porridge. Then I turn it oot, smooth it wi a stick and say: ‘Lord, here’s the cement. If it be thy will, please set it.’ And he aye does.”
Do read the article – truly inspiring.