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Nigeria: Fish Eyes and Hard Work


Mary Slessor was a missionary to Africa more than 100 years ago. The story below tells about some of her experiences serving the Lord among people who had never heard of Him.

Note: To learn about the NEW Torchlighters DVD featuring Mary Slessor, and to find related activities, click here. Parents and Teachers: Please preview before sharing with younger children.)

“Lord, give me strength,” Mary Slessor prayed silently. She smiled at the tribal hosts who had invited her to a feast in Calabar. (Calabar was a part of what is now called Nigeria.)

To please her hosts, Mary knew that she must eat whatever she was offered. She wanted to make friends with them so she could tell them about Jesus. But the soup looked like tar to her. Another dish was filled with plants and fish heads. She prayed for help.

“Excellent!” she exclaimed as she sipped the soup. “Superb!” she said as she tried the fish dish, trying not to look at the fish eyes.

Not Afraid of Work
Mary was not afraid of difficult tasks. She grew up in the late 1800s as the second oldest of seven children in a poor family in Scotland.

At the age of 11, she had to go to work to support her family. When she got paid, she hid the money from her father. He was an alcoholic, and he wanted to spend the money on liquor instead of food for his family.

Mary became a Christian through the influence of a neighbor woman. She was willing to do hard work in God’s service, even when others said it was not proper work for “ladies.”

Life in Calabar
Mary volunteered to be a missionary in Calabar, where her willingness to work was useful. She learned to wash her clothes in river water and to hack her way through jungle trails.

She learned a tribal language, started schools, took care of the sick, and adopted homeless children. She struggled with homesickness, loneliness, and illness.

Mary told stories of Jesus to people who had never heard of Him. Some listened eagerly. One boy seemed to be open to Mary’s teaching. He enjoyed helping her in her tasks.

The boy’s kindness to Mary put him in danger. His tribe did not want him to accept Jesus and leave their false beliefs behind. Tribal leaders burned his arms with hot oil. Mary treated his wounds and helped him recover.

A Pioneer
The tribes Mary encountered believed in witchcraft and superstitions. Little by little, some of the people gave up some of their ungodly customs and superstitions, as she showed them better ways.

Mary was a pioneer. She wanted to make things easier for missionaries who traveled to Calabar after she left. She died in Africa in 1915, at the age of 66.

Today Nigerian churches send hundreds of missionaries to other nations. They spread the gospel brought to them by Mary and the brave missionaries who followed her to Calabar.

[Photo: Mary Slessor with Nigerian children.]

(Sources include: Mary Slessor: Queen of Calabar by Sam Wellman (Uhrichville, OH: Barbour Publishing, 1998).