Missions in West Africa

BRYAN ROE was in some respects a remarkable character. From his boyhood he was full of fire for the conversion of souls; at the early age of fifteen he riveted audiences—navvies and miners weeping under his burning words, till he was known in Staffordshire among the Primitive Methodists as the "boy preacher.”
In 1881 he had such strong assurance of God being with him, that he gave himself up entirely for the ministry. During his student days, drunkards and spiritualists were turned from their iniquity through him, and drowsy Christians awakened to live as Christians should do.
In 1885 Bryan Roe felt called to the mission-field of Africa. He was ordained in that year, and on the day following ordination sailed for Lagos. Ten brief years of his life were given to Africa; he fought with the climate and with sickness; was driven back again and again to England; and at last, while yet young, fell under the power of pestilential fever, and yielded up his brave spirit to his Lord and Savior.
Far be it from us to question the propriety of the path Bryan Roe's feet trod. “I had better die in Africa," he said, "doing my duty, than live in England neglecting it." What was the spiritual result of his work in Africa his biographer hardly tells us, and we should indeed like to know the inner working of Bryan Roe's heart, as he faced the horrors of devil worshipping paganism, and the scarcely less horrible "civilization" of the gin and drink traffic forced upon the sons of Ham by English and other "Christian" nations I Nor should we less like to know the inmost thoughts of this earnest man, as to the true character of conversions to God of the heathen, resulting from the mission in which he was engaged.
A few passages which portray the horrors of the Niger region, to which at the present time many minds are naturally directed, will be interesting.
First as to slavery: instead of precious metals or bank-notes being accepted as a circulating medium, Africa has for ages declared that a human creature—a slave—should be regarded as the standard for prices. "A slave is a note of hand, that may be discounted or pawned... thus slavery is not likely to be soon surrendered by the negroes themselves as a national institution." Hence parents pawn their children, and tribe wars against tribe.
Then as to fetishism, which holds so firm a grip of the African, that nothing save the power of God's Spirit can loosen the bonds.
The different forms of superstition which enthrall men are an interesting study, but the end of the bondage is in all cases very similar—the priests of the god, idol or image, grind out the life, soul and body, of their dupes. “In the main it may be said, that a fetish is supposed to have behind it the power of some particular deity." Allied to fetishism is the faith in charms: “A charm is any article which has received the blessing of a priest, or which is supposed to possess inherent virtues peculiarly its own." This admirable definition we commend to any reader who has an affinity for scapulas and relics, since all that is required is to exchange the name of the priest from Christian to pagan; the charm will be alike in each case! To the definition we add this practical sentence:" The priests are generally the vendors of charms, which are almost universally worn, and they drive a remarkably brisk business.”
Coming home to us in England more closely than slavery or fetishism possibly can do, is the horror of the spirit traffic. " It had been the custom of many business houses in Togoland to pay part of their laborers' wages in drink and tobacco—two bottles of gin and a screw of ‘negro head' being equivalent to a day's pay. The consequence was that many and many a man would work hard one day and get blind drunk the next." Well did Bryan Roe say:" Without gin the West African may indeed be a savage, but, with it, he is a demon. The amount of gin and rum poured into the heathen lands by 'Christian' traders is almost beyond belief." The missionary takes the Bible to the heathen, the trader takes gin and powder to him." In the hand of one there is the Bible; the other rolls his rum cask on shore." And yet we hear that civilization is the pioneer of Christianity!
As so much of the trade of Africa is carried upon men's heads, we readily understand the needs-be for "the carriers' god," whose portrait we give.
The deeply interesting question in all mission work is, Are men really changed and brought to God? The trader is well satisfied if he can intoxicate or clothe the naked savage; the Christian requires that the man shall be "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God."2
Let us hear of some of the spiritual difficulties and sorrows of the region.
“The country through which the Upper Niger runs... is densely populated, and almost entirely Mohammedan, many being recent converts and great fanatics. Roman Catholics," says Mr. Roe, "were pouring in men and money in a most lavish manner.... It was almost impossible to get a congregation without paying for it. One trader gave me a part of a conversation he had overheard between a certain missionary, bent on gaining adherents, and some natives. Will you come to the mission?' Oh, yes; we will come tonight," and according to promise they went. Two days later the same question was asked, but the answer was somewhat different. Why should we come to your mission? We are no better off for it. You give us no chop,' (i.e., food). You give us no cloth. You give us no gin. You give us nothing but palaver. Why should we come? Give us chop, cloth, gin, rum, and we come to hear you as long as you like; if not, palaver set' (i.e., the matter is ended).
“A Roman Catholic missionary resolved to teach the natives a higher Christianity, and said, We will make no more gifts, no more rum, blankets, and tobacco.' The king, wearing a brass plate announcing his dignity, approached the missionary, and inquired: No more blankets? No more baccy? No more rum? Then,' said he, looking scornfully at the missionary, all right; good day. Na more Alleluias! '”
This description, to our hearts, is on the same level of misery as that of the slavery and the fetish, and of the iniquity of the gin and rum.
The very idea of true repentance seems foreign to certain so-called missionary effort.
As the natives have many wives, a great difficulty arises when Christianity enters their land. The following story—be the incident true or not—demonstrates an awful laxity of ideas as to what is really the Church of God.
“There is told the story of a repentant chief who was advised to put away one of his two wives before he could be received into the Church. Soon afterward the chief returned, claiming the boon.
“Well,' asked the missionary, and what have you done with your other wife?
“Pointing to a wide-opened mouth, the chief replied, I have eaten her! '”
Mr. Roe evidently keenly felt the questionable Christianity of some of its native professors—especially of certain schoolmasters, whose characters only brought dishonor upon the name of Christ.
But in the midst of the varied power of the enemy, we are encouraged to see the power of the Spirit of God, and thus to feel that if there were more true trust in Him, mission work, whether at home or abroad, would assume a very different character from that to which we are too well accustomed.
“On one occasion the fetish priests began to see that unless they bestirred themselves they would very soon be left without any followers at all. They commenced operations by sending a message to the catechist, advising him to leave the town, as Shango, the god of thunder, had communicated to them the fearful fact that he was tired of tolerating Christianity. The agent sent word back that he would soon show them who was the stronger—Shango or the mighty God he worshipped. 'Tomorrow,' he said, you shall know who is the Lord.' Calling his people together he taught them the few lines of a hymn of his own composing, and started off for the Shango quarter of the town. Here a great crowd of heathen were gathered, armed with stout clubs, and determined to give the Christians a sound thrashing, but, marvelously enough, when the Christians began to sing and pray, the effect produced was so profound, that the angry mob gradually melted away, and the agent was left in possession of the ground.
“I will preach here again this evening,' he boldly announced; at which the Babalawo, or high priest of If a, another celebrated African deity, gnashed his teeth with rage.
“You come,' he said warningly, `and I and my people will flog the life out of you and your people.' Others standing by made a similar declaration.
“The handful of Christians grew desponding and fearful. Let us abandon this,' they advised; no good can come of it.'
“Wait, brothers, wait,' he cried encouragingly, for today you shall know who is the true and living God. He is not asleep; His open eye is upon us, and His help will be forthcoming this evening, even as it was this morning!
“When night came, the faithful few assembled again in fear and trembling. The catechist with undaunted heart prayed and began to preach, and as he did so, the Babalawo, arrayed in all the glory of his priestly office, came forth from his quarters, followed by an immense crowd of infatuated adherents. Tom-toms were beaten, horns were blown, and loud shouts indulged in; but what alarmed the Christians more than these noisy demonstrations, was the very significant manner in which sundry clubs of formidable size and shape were waved in the air. Nearer and nearer came the howling mob, brandishing their whips and clubs, and intimating by word and gesture what short work they were going to make of the feeble band in front of them. But as in the days of Wesley, when God often changed the hearts of men from rage to tenderness, so here a magical transformation was effected in the mind of the Babalawo. No sooner did he come within sound of the Christian voices, lifted up in holy hymns to God, than his whole disposition seemed to change, and to the intense astonishment of all present, he commanded his followers to cease their noise and listen to what the Christians had to say. Then, ranging himself by the catechist's side, he said, Baba (father), preach on, for I feel you are preaching a true word. Let no man dare disturb you, lest I punish him as I had intended to punish you.'
“That very night a violent tornado swept over the town, accompanied by heavy thunder and lightning. Many houses were hurled to the ground, others were burnt down, and among the number was the house of the Shango priest, who had professed but the day before to be able to catch the wind in his hand and compel it to do what he liked. The little church and mission-house were left untouched by the storm, as were the dwellings of all the Christians!'
The story of Byran Roe, as told by his biographer, unfolds some bright instances of true conversion to God, and it lets us see also into the terrible difficulties attending true discipleship. Many informed Mr. Roe that they would be secretly put to death if they forsook their idols, but, notwithstanding such fears, some came out bravely for Christ to live or to die for Him. Mission work in pagan lands calls for intense faith in the living God; and the insight into its true character in West Africa, which the story of Byran Roe supplies, should inspire us to pray much for the work.