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Central African Mission

From Mission Life, Vol. II (March 1, 1871), pages 161-164.


BISHOP TOZER'S Mission at Zanzibar has during the past year seen several important changes. The government of the coast has passed into fresh hands, and the Mission itself has suffered by the death of another clergyman, and gained by the setting apart of another of its native scholars to act as sub-deacon during its service.

The arrival of the Rev. Ormsby Handcock to take the place vacated by the death of the Rev. L. Fraser, seemed to promise an active continuance of the work so well begun at Magila in the Shambala country. Thanks to the grammars and translations lately printed by the Mission, he was ready almost as soon as he arrived to proceed to his work. It was soon arranged that he should go and see for himself the position and capabilities of his station, and as the king of the country had sent down an urgent invitation to Mr. Fraser to visit him in his own town, which arrived about the time of his death, the Bishop determined to send Mr. Pennell and Robert Firuzi, one of the oldest native scholars attached to the Mission, to present his acknowledgements to the king, and to introduce to him the new-comer. They had a very pleasant journey up from the coast, being met everywhere by evidences of the good work done by Mr. Alington and Mr. Fraser. They gathered the children around them at the coast-town, and were delighted to find how readily they understood those Parables and parts of the Gospel history which Mr. Pennell explained to them. The older people were very friendly, and glad to talk with them, though themselves clinging to the Koran as the criterion of the truth or falsehood of all they heard.

For about twenty miles from the coast is a district without streams or ancient wells, and therefore uncultivated; but they found by the road another trace of their predecessors in a shady spot, where Mr. Alington had dug for water and found it. The place is marked by the initials cut into the bark of a tree--C. A. A. 1867--and the natives call the water "the European's well." During a short stay at Magila, they had the pleasure of finding traces of the Mission work everywhere. A large number of the natives gathered to join in their prayers and to listen to Mr. Pennell's preaching--one old man recommending him to aim at saying fewer things and to say them over and over many times that they might be the better able to remember them. Several who had profited by Mr. Fraser's teaching had continued to use morning and evening the prayers which he had taught them, and could repeat the Apostle's Creed, and only desired further instruction.

They were all charmed with the position of Magila itself, lying as it [161/162] does to the entrance to the Shambala mountain country amid a dense population. Their visit to the king was equally pleasant; he received them with much honour, and said he should be glad that they should travel about his country wherever they pleased, though he thought that for a permanent settlement they would find no place so safe and convenient as their own station at Magila.

Full of high hopes they began their return, Mr. Handcock intending to stay a short time at Magila and see what he should be likely to want, and then go down to Zanzibar to fetch up the rest of his baggage, and so settle in his new home. But there was no new home on earth intended for him. A few days after he fell ill, and within eight weeks from the time of his first arrival at Zanzibar he died. Strangely enough, as if to show that this death ought not to be attributed to any special dangers incident to Mission work, a gentleman who had gone out in the same ship with Mr. Handcock to join mercantile agency in the town, died also only a few weeks later.

The last year seems to have been a specially unhealthy one on the East African coast. The cholera was raging at its commencement, and in the autumn a kind of rheumatic fever appeared, which has not shown itself very fatal, though very prevalent and extremely distressing.

The other members of the Mission maintain their usual good health and go on steadily with their work of instruction, remembering, as Mr. Pennell says, that "God sends us checks to try our faith, not to damp it."

The death of the late Sultan of Zanzibar, Seyed Majid, has caused great changes among the chef natives, though it is not likely that it will very materially affect the Mission. He is succeeded by his brother, Seyed Barghash, who disputed the succession with him when their father died. There are many old scores to be avenged, as Majid trampled down remorselessly all his brother's adherents. The first effects of the change have been that Majid's prime minister and chief favourite has fled for his life, that the commodore of the Sultan's navy and some other chief men have been imprisoned, the judges have been deposed, and notice given that all whom they have dealt with unjustly may come to the Sultan and be righted, which means that the old judges are to be ruined, and every one knows that they have long deserved it.

Majid was very indifferent as to all religious matters; his successor appears to be determined to support strongly his own special Mohammedan sect (the Ibathi), which is not that of the great majority of his subjects. As he has no children of his own, he is no sooner on his throne than he begins to dread conspiracies among his brothers, and has already imprisoned one of them. If no greater violences occur than those we have news of (between the end of September and the middle of December) the transfer of power will have been upon the whole a quiet [162/163] one, since, in the absence of any certain rule of succession, every change of ruler necessarily partakes of the nature of a revolution.

It is pleasant to turn from this turmoil of the outer world to the steady progress of the native school. Year by year native agents are growing up, of whom we may hope that we shall have no such tale of fatal sicknesses to tell as we must always dread for Europeans. The sixty African boys whose training is Bishop Tozer's chief work, are not merely sixty Christian souls, but much more--the hope of the future African Church. Nothing can be more gratifying than the warm praise which the Bishop is able to give to the whole conduct of John Swedi and Francis Mabruki, his two native sub-deacons. Eighteen of the eldest scholars are now confirmed and constant communicants, and there have just been two marriages among them. Another of the eldest boys, who did not show any great aptitude for learning, is now the house-steward, and so the Mission is freed from the necessity of employing heathen or Mohammedan servants. There has been no great addition to the number of native scholars during the past year, chiefly because the English cruisers abstained from searching dhows during the prevalence of cholera, and in the town itself that fearful visitation served to stop for the time all change and movement.

As it seems to become more and more evident that this and other Missions cannot rely upon the Church at home for a full supply of ordained Missionaries, Bishop Tozer has turned his attention to the question how to train up European as well as native scholars. He says upon this subject: "However desirable it is to hasten on the formation of a native ministry, it cannot be denied that for many years to come it would be very undesirable to entrust the more responsible posts to men who have only recently emerged from heathenism; hence the necessity of a succession of clergy who have received a special training for this part of the work. If I mistake not, it is in the Mission field itself, rather than elsewhere, that a man acquires the varied experience, the habitual self-command, and the ready tact with are indispensable for dealing successfully with rough and untried minds.

"Looking at this plan of training Missionaries on the spot, we cannot doubt that in some instances, if not in many , acquaintance with actual Mission life will check the candidate's early aspiration for it, and eventually some other calling than that of a Missionary will be preferred. But even then no great harm will have been done. The pupil's education will have been carried forward, and his knowledge of the world largely increased; and, as a return, the Mission will have received much valuable help in many departments of its daily life. Those, on the other hand, who are not deterred from embracing a Missionary life by a close acquaintance with its many trials and difficulties, will, we may fairly hope, be of incalculable service to our own particular work in East [163/164] Central Africa. We therefore invite boys whose tastes seem to give promise of future usefulness, and whose parents or friends can afford some moderate help towards their support, to join us as Missionary pupils."

A special advantage of this scheme is that it takes up a young man just at that time at which he has to choose his calling in life, and occupies that break between the time of leaving school and that of entering a theological college, during which many a lad who would have made a good Missionary gets sucked in by the world, and gives himself up to a secular calling. Bishop Tozer has already three English Missionary pupils, and wants but the continuance of his own health and that of his present coadjutors to render tolerably certain the success of his plans. But, meanwhile, the want of a few earnest priests to take the lead in new Missions, is what presses most heavily upon his mind. Would that it could be at once supplied!

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