Babies cried in the bush. Mary searched through the dense covering of cotton trees
and banana bushes. “Lord, help me find them, before it’s too late.” Rough terrain tore
at her clothes. Limbs and bushes slashed her face.
Mary Slessor, known as Ma Akambo, the White Queen of Calabar, born in Scotland
had come to Africa to spread the gospel in 1878. Calabar, a land of nearly
impenetrable forest, chiefly unexplored, brought fear to even the villagers who lived
there. They captured their own, put them in cages and held them for the slave ships. It
was a place of witchdoctors, swarms of insects, elephants and wild cats. At times
cannibalistic, they worshipped the skulls of dead men, yet held little value for life.
Mary followed the bellowing cries till she found their source. Twin newborns. Lying on
the ground, left to be eaten by insects and animals. “Thank You, Lord, for keeping
Mary gathered up the twins and held them close to her small body, “There, there, little
ones. Ma Akambo will take care of you.” She picked her way back to the mud hut
where she lived, the home made with her own hands. There she would raise this
rescued pair, nor would it be the last children she saved. For the villagers considered
twins to be a curse, and believed that one was always evil. Not knowing which was the
accursed baby, both were left in the jungle to die.
One day the chief’s son, while in the thick forest, was crushed when a tree fell on him.
Mary tended to him, but he didn’t survive. The people believed that a violent death was
the result of witchcraft inflicted on them by other villages. The witchdoctor named the
offensive village, the men slipped into the neighboring community, kidnapped several
and brought them back to test their innocence. Forced to drink poison, their resulting
deaths would prove their guilt. But Mary intervened. For days she prayed and pled for
the innocent people’s lives. The chief finally relented, but because there had to be a
shedding of blood, for the first time, a cow was sacrificed.
Another time Mary was summoned to a village eight hours away. She traipsed through
mud and dense growth, weak with fever herself, but arrived safely to care for the ill
chief. Using precious medicine, he got better. The whole village was thankful to Mary,
for if the chief had died, many of them, including his wife, would have also been killed
and buried with him to serve him in his next life.
Mary risked her life daily for her beloved peoples of Calabar. The White Queen showed
them the love of Jesus and they learned to love and trust her. She was called upon to
treat sick and injured and to settle disputes, and so prevented numerous wars between
the villages. Her successes in treating the sick, settling arguments, persuading those
who only respected cruelty and vengeance to change their minds and try her ways,
made them curious to know the source of the power within her. They recognized that
the courage and love she exhibited came from the God she believed in. Doors were
opened and many were saved.
For nearly forty years she delved deeper into the jungle. With each move she was
warned she would be killed by animals or heathen warriors. Growing more sick and
feeble, she pushed on, hacking her way through the dense growth, ever praying that
God would give her more souls to reach for Him.
One little white woman with the mighty power of God went to a heathen black nation
and saved many babies, prevented wars, stopped the custom of proving innocence by
drinking poison, tended to many sick, established several churches, and spread the
gospel, the good news of her loving God and Savior.
To the many children she saved and raised (sometimes as many as 25 or 30 slept in
hammocks in her home) she would say, "Keep close to Jesus. Bairns, it's the wee
lassie that sits beside her mother at meal-times that gets all the nice bittocks. The one
who sits far away and sulks doesn’t know what she misses. Even the kitten gets more
than she does. Keep close to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, all the way."
Mary Slessor (1848-1915)
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