The Man Who Passed Away in Prayer


He is remembered for many things, this Scottish man rabidly committed to African exploration. Was he a missionary? Did he have enough converts to qualify him? Was he a scientist? Did he even find was he was looking for? Didn’t he die alone?

As a young man, he heard his future father-in-law present the missionary enterprise to a crowd of young British adults; Robert Moffat told them about Africa. He told them about what they knew to be the “dark continent.” He told them that when he woke up in the morning, he could look across the horizon and see the smoke of a thousand villages who’ve never heard the name of Jesus.

That was enough for David. 

Born the year Adoniram and Ann Judson sailed to Burma, he studied medicine in Glasgow before joining the London Missionary Society and sailing to Africa. Livingstone was a missionary in the era of colonialism, and felt confident he could effectively eradicate slavery if he could figure out where the Nile ran through Africa. He had a vision to establish legitimate trade enterprises along the river so as to abolish the corruption of selling humans. Support from the LMS dwindled, and Livingstone was more effectively funded through the Royal Geographical Society of London as he mapped out the unknown corridors of the African continent. The decades he spent away from Britain were difficult, painful and, in many ways, embarrassing. Livingstone fought all his days to not be remembered a failure.

Isolated, exhausted, and racked with fever and sickness, David Livingstone died in Africa reportedly on his knees. He uttered one final prayer before his breath gave out. With his children in distant Britain, his estranged wife buried in her grave, one singular convert to his missionary legacy and even his most committed colleagues having left his expeditions, Livingstone met his Maker never having achieved what he set out to do in Africa.


But did he ever try.


For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.”


Stephanie Quick is a writer and producer serving with Frontier Alliance International in the Middle East. She is the author of To Trace a Rising Sun and can be found on on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Sign up for her ministry updates here and receive a free copy of her book Confronting Unbelief. She can be reached at