I did not know, until a week ago, that David Livingstone’s heart lies buried in Africa. The Scottish medical missionary, explorer and philanthropist had come to Africa at God’s call, criss-crossed the continent on foot, discovered the Victoria Falls and, through his reports sent home, laid the foundation for the outlawing of slavery throughout the civilized world. At his own request, Livingstone’s heart was to be removed from his body and buried under a certain mpundu tree near Ilala village in N.E. Zambia. On hearing of his death, the Dean of Westminster offered burial in Westminster Abbey. And so Livingstone’s faithful attendants wrapped his enbalmed body in bark and sailcloth, and carried it hundreds of miles east to Bagamoyo on the coast of Tanzania. Livingstone’s faith and love so inspired these carriers that they overcame their natural superstition of carrying a dead body for so many months with all the dangers that journey entailed. From the east coast of Africa his body was shipped to England to be buried in the Abbey. The story goes that at the burial H.M. Stanley had to restrain one of Livingstone’s faithful servants from throwing himself into the grave. On his gravestone was inscribed Jesus’ words, ‘Other sheep I have, which are not of this Fold: Them also I must bring, and they shall hear my Voice.’ (John 10:16)
A key verse for me in the OT is Prov. 4:23, ‘Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.’
The author, a man deeply concerned for his son’s welfare, speaks of the teaching he himself had received from his father, the enormous value of which he had proved in the intervening years. He indicates that the key to wise living is what is in the ‘heart.’ The term ‘heart’ in Proverbs and Scripture refers primarily to the mind, but also to our emotions, will, in fact our whole inner being. It is the ‘wellspring’ of our thoughts, passion, choices, speech and actions. It is meant to be filled with God, his presence and truth at all times.
Jesus connected with this reality many times: e.g. in Mk. 7:14-23 where he underlines that it is ‘from within, out of men’s hearts’ that evil or good springs. Quite possibly Jesus is quoting from Prov. 4:23 when he cries out at the Feast of Tabernacles (Jn. 7:38), ‘Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him!’
Note also the challenge Jesus issues to materialistic and consumerist would-be-disciples in his ‘Sermon on the Mount’: ‘For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’ (Mt. 6:21)
For me personally clarity came in the late 1980’s when an American missiologist came to South Africa to stir up Andrew Murray’s vision of ‘prayer, revival and mission’. I had a kind of ‘missions conversion’ whereby I realised that, out of a heart in tune with the God of the Bible, I was called to ministry in Africa, and that our congregation was obligated to send workers into South Africa, Africa and beyond (some went to Turkey, others to Cyprus and Peru). I renewed that call one star-lit balmy night on the beautiful southern shore of Lake Malawi, when I stood where Livingstone had stood in 1859, where my wife’s forbears had served at the call of Andrew Murray more than eighty years before.
Very recently, driving slowly through a squatter camp (barrio/favela) on the fringes of our city, seeing people with dirty clothing, children and young people with little hope of decent education and employment, hungry and exploited, largely forgotten, I realised again where my heart lies. My heart lies with Jesus, who more often than not worked with ‘fringe people’ (the poor and outcast). It lies specifically in Africa (with all its confusion, tension and frustrations). Here let me incarnate Jesus in life and word for as long as he sees fit.
I humbly ask, where does your heart lie? With Jesus and his kingdom? Maybe somewhere else, in accordance with your location, passion, gifts and calling. Wherever it lies, it should be flooded by our loving Shepherd’s restless words, ‘I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also…’ For surely the congregation, small group, organic house church that is not at its heart truly incarnational and missional, at home and in the marketplace, denies its very DNA. Someone has said, The Church exists by mission as fire exists by burning!’