Mary Slessor of Calabar (Nigeria) – Pioneer Missionary

Free Book Recommendation!

Dear Readers,

Since I mentioned Mary Slessor last post, I decided to republish this about her life.  It’s now a free book on Kindle, so I hope you are blessed in reading about this heroine of mine.

by W.P. Livingstone

I have been reading it this time through the lens of life experiences since I have now visited several “third world” countries, including jungles, and can better appreciate the hardships she endured. She had such passion to give the wonderful good news of Jesus Christ to cannibal jungle tribes in Nigeria from 1876-1915, and endured much physically and emotionally as she trusted God to transform the people by His power.

Mary Slessor- a Scottish single lady who devoted her life to reaching the cannibal tribes in Nigeria

Challenged by the life of David Livingstone, Mary Slessor offered her services as a missionary in Calabar, Nigeria. Arriving there when she was 28 years old, she overcame her fears and inexperience with a genuine love for the people and shared with them the hope of the resurrection through faith in Jesus Christ. Earning the nickname “White Ma” she became mother to many adopted children and never failed to preach the love of Christ to all she met. Many times she was ill with fever from malaria, but God renewed her strength repeatedly so she could carry on the work.

The natives believed that any mother who gave birth to twins must be cast out and the twins be killed immediately. Mary rescued many twins and raised them herself to demonstrate the love of Christ to them.

Mary Slessor with some of her beloved adopted children.

She worked long hours as a mill worker in Scotland before coming to Nigeria in 1876. She was a diligent student of the Bible although she never received any formal training herself. When no worker could be found to go with her into the jungle, she went alone with some natives, trusting God to open doors. She wrote in a letter home in 1888, “I am going to a new tribe up-country, a fierce, cruel people, and every one tells me that they will kill me. But I don’t fear any hurt –only to combat their savage customs will require courage and firmness on my part.”

Even though she was not a formally trained nurse, she did what she could to relieve the people’s sufferings who usually went to the witch doctor when ill. In 1896, she decided to move further up the river with her many adopted children since most of the tribe had moved there. However, there was much sickness among the children by an infectious disease which caused the death of four of them. To make matters worse, smallpox then swept through the country, killing hundreds of people. For hours daily she vaccinated all who came to her hut. A man from the mission downriver arrived when her supply of lymph had run out and assisted her to take blood with a penknife from the arms of those who had already been inoculated so they could inoculate more.

She returned to her old house and converted it into a hospital, and people flocked to it. When she heard her beloved Christian chief Edim caught the smallpox in the new village, she tramped back alone through the jungle to nurse him, but it was in vain.  The Lord took him home to heaven in the middle of the night. Since she had no one to help her, she fashioned a coffin with her own hands, placed his body in it, dug a grave, and buried him.

Mary with Chief Edem who later died of smallpox

Two white Christian men arrived from the Mission House down river to help, and she asked one of them to go back to her old house to gather some supplies. When he arrived in the village, all was total silence and he knew something was wrong. He opened the door of her house to find it full of corpses of those who had died from small pox. The place was never fit for habitation again, and gradually was engulfed in bush and vanished from the face of the earth.

Later in her life, the British government appointed her as Vice Consul because of her unique command of the native language, her understanding of their customs, and the great respect and love the people gave her. People would flock to her from miles around so she could preside as judge over their cases. Sometimes her judgement was to assign hard labor for 1 to 3 months, while other times she would box the person’s ears! This was a huge change from when they would administer the poison bean to some while pouring boiling oil over others. Previously, whenever a chief died, they would kill many of his wives and children to serve him in the afterlife. As more and more became Christians, the twin killing and killing among the tribes gradually stopped.

Mary presiding at Okoyong Court

So I hope I have told you enough to whet your appetite to read or reread this classic biography. You will be blessed, amazed, and challenged as you see how God used this humble little Scottish single lady to transform  tribes of cannibals through the power of Jesus Christ! Her image is now on the 10 pound note in Scotland.

Mary's image on the 10 pound note of Scotland!

“and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Acts 1:8

Modern day photo of Cross River, Nigeria where Mary labored.

A Mother of None or Many?

May, 2001

After examining me, my gynecologist gently said, “Pam, I’m afraid you need to have a hysterectomy. I don’t want to let you keep bleeding like this and ending up with an emergency situation.” I choked back the tears and replied, “Is there any way I could be on a different floor so I don’t have to see the new babies?” Dr. Sally said, “No, because the nurses on the other floors aren’t familiar with post operative care of gynecology patients. But I will make sure you have a private room as far away from the nursery as possible so you don’t hear the babies cry. The surgical staff will call you with the date.”

Upon arriving home, the tears flowed as I poured out my heart to God. I know that I am too old to have a baby at the age of 46, nor would I have the energy to run after a toddler, but I grieve for all the children I never had. My pastor has been preaching an excellent series of messages on how to handle trials, so this is my opportunity to learn all I can from this difficult exercise. He said to start by thanking God for the trial. I recited the familiar verse, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” I Thessalonians 5:18 God brought another verse to mind. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 

As I continued in prayer, I asked the Lord to teach me all the lessons He could from this trial, to comfort me, and to help me to think rightly from His point of view and not my own. I decided to do a Bible word study of “barren” since that is the word the Bible uses for women who cannot have children. Over the next weeks, whenever I read an encouraging verse, I wrote it in bold black ink (so I could read it through my tears) on an index card. Every morning I read through my growing stack of “comfort verses” and hid them in my heart. The ones that encouraged me the most were Isaiah 54:1 and 5.

Sing, O barren, thou who didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou who didst not travail with child; for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord….For thy Maker is thine husband, the Lord of hosts is His name; and Thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall He be called.”

I noticed the command to the barren was to SING rather than cry, so I started singing whenever I felt like crying. God always lifted the clouds away after I sang to Him. I also noticed that there is no limit to the number of spiritual children I can have. I just finished reading Amy Carmichael’s biography. She started an orphanage in India and became the spiritual mother to 1000 children! I recalled how Gladys Aylward went to China as a single lady and became the mother of many orphans and led them to safety over the mountains during World War 2. Mary Slessor adopted abandoned children in the African jungles. (see post on Mary Slessor )

Surgery

This is my first time to stay overnight in a hospital as a patient. I’m a little apprehensive as I’ve always heard that nurses and doctors make the worst patients. It feels strange to be the one receiving care rather than giving it. I am so thankful that my sister flew in from the Midwest to be with me. She is also a nurse and a Christian. God quieted my heart as we prayed together this morning and asked the Lord to give the doctor wisdom and to give me a good recovery.

I barely remember being rolled on the stretcher from the recovery room to my nice big private room at the end of the hallway far from the nurse’s station. They gave me a clear liquid tray for supper which promptly came back up. Yuck! What a mess… The pain isn’t too bad for which I thank God. My sister was hesitant to leave me because she wasn’t sure I could call for the nurse because I was so groggy.

The night nurse woke me up this morning and said she had to put the catheter back in my bladder since I was unable to urinate. I was under anesthesia the last time they did it. I recalled how many of these I have placed inside my patients over the years.

Tonight I’m feeling better and could eat solid food for supper, but sleep is escaping me. I decided to walk down the hallway and look at the babies in the nursery. As I looked through the window at each baby, I prayed for each one to receive Christ as his Savior and for his parents to look to God for wisdom in raising him. I thank the Lord for each precious new baby.

Reflection

A few months later, I was asked to share all the lessons God taught me through this exercise with ladies’ groups at several different churches. A number of women who were unable to bear children came up to me afterwards and said the lessons I had learned were a blessing and encouragement to them. I also typed in large print all the “Comfort Verses” God gave me at this time. I have handed out hundreds of these to others who are sorrowing and many have said how God used these verses to encourage and comfort them.

Bible Verses the Lord gave me prior to surgery which encouraged my heart.

http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/christia/verses.htm   

Above is the link if you would like to print out your own copy. I carry a copy of these verses in my purse so I’m ready for the next time I encounter a difficult situation.

Since my mother died of breast cancer and my sister also had aggressive breast cancer several years ago, I decided to have the doctor remove my ovaries at the same time that she removed my uterus. The genetic counselor told me I had a 50% chance of having breast cancer. Many women who have breast cancer also have ovarian cancer.

About ten years later, I had repeat genetic counseling. They said because I had my ovaries removed, I reduced my chance of breast cancer to 3% and eliminated ever getting ovarian cancer.  Little did I know that I would lower my risk of cancer so much by having my ovaries removed at that time. Truly, God’s ways are higher than my ways. My sister, Marsha Swinehart, later developed ovarian cancer and the Lord took her home to be with Him nearly two years ago. I miss her so much, but am thankful she is no longer suffering and experiencing wonderful fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ. That will be a wonderful day when we are reunited at His throne!

I thank God that He has given me a number of spiritual children over the years, and I pray that He will give me many more before He calls me home to heaven. It is so wonderful that I am never too old to bear spiritual children!

 

The Psychiatric Hospital

December, 1998 – New England, USA

I have now completed my first six months as a Nurse Practitioner in a 120 bed psychiatric hospital. I thank God for my boss, Dr. T., who is a Family Practice Physician and an excellent teacher. The hospital has an adult unit for acute psychiatric problems, a second adult unit for detoxification of patients from alcohol and opioids (heroin and oxycontin mainly), a teen psychiatric unit, and a pediatric unit for ages 5-12. I thank the Lord that He closed the door four years ago to the Adult Nurse Practitioner (ANP) program and redirected me to a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) program. Otherwise,  I would not be qualified for this job since I need to treat the medical problems of the children and teens.

When patients are admitted here, Dr. T. or I must do their admission physical examination and record it in their chart within twelve hours. We have a full time MD who works all night and does the exams of patients who are admitted after we leave. I am becoming an expert at doing a neurological exam of the twelve cranial nerves. I am also improving in my examination of ears and eyes with the otoscope and opthalmoscope.

Image result for nurse using otoscope

I developed my skill in using an otoscope for ear, nose, and mouth exams.

In addition to being certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), I also had to be certified in handling violent patients without hurting them (Nonviolent Crisis Intervention). I learned how to break a strangle hold in case a patient tries to choke me. I never wear a necklace or scarf to work since a patient could use it to strangle me. If I feel uncomfortable about being alone with a patient in the exam room, I request one of the aides to be present with me for safety. I always keep myself between the patient and the door so I can escape the room if I feel threatened.

The hospital is under investigation from the state because a child died last year. The staff did a face down restraint when the child came violent, and he suffocated. Tragically, they were unable to revive the child. So the state investigators come every day and read each providers’ progress notes, including mine. How I ask God for wisdom in my job! It is sometimes difficult to work under such scrutiny.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” James 1:5

Dr. T. and I write the admission orders for the patients going through alcohol and opioid detoxification. The nurses use a scale to measure the patient’s withdrawal symptoms which guides them to administer the correct amount of medications to prevent the patient from having a seizure or dying.

It is so sad to see patients’ lives wrecked by alcohol and drugs. Only the person who receives Jesus Christ as his Savior can truly be delivered from these deadly addictions.  I pray for each of them to look unto Jesus Christ and be saved. How I thank God that He has put a song in my heart and prevented me from ever using alcohol or drugs by His grace. By following Him, He has spared me so much heartache and grief.

“And be not drunk with wine, in which is excess, but be filled with the Spirit, Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:18-19

Reflection

I thank the Lord for all I learned while working in psychiatry for those four years. It was sometimes difficult to see lives so broken. But my experience with psychiatric assessments was  extremely helpful in every other job I had the remainder of my nursing career. A person’s mental condition often strongly impacts his physical condition.

 

My Nursing Thesis Published!

September, 1998 – New England, USA

After I completed my thesis in graduate school, my advisers encouraged me to submit an article summarizing my research findings for publication. The unwieldy title of my thesis was, “Coping Strategies of Successful Caregivers of Nonambulatory Family Members”. Nonambulatory means that the person is unable to walk.

My parents and one of my patients that I had followed as a visiting nurse inspired me to do the research. After my mother had a major stroke which left her paralyzed on one side and with the mind of a ten year old, my dad stepped up to the plate and cheerfully became her full time caregiver. He had to assist her in the shower, dress her, learn to style her hair, do the grocery shopping, cooking, driving, and pay the bills. Prior to her stroke, my mother was an avid artist and gardener. She grieved that she could no longer do these hobbies. The Lord took her home to heaven to be with Him five years after her stroke. I thanked God that she was no longer suffering.

“…Death is swallowed up in victory….But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I Corinthians 15:54, 57

My parents were my inspiration for my research.

Another patient I visited at home was an elderly lady who was paralyzed from the waist down from a blood clot that went to her spine. Her husband faithfully learned how to provide all her care and purchased a van equipped with a wheel chair lift. He struggled at times with sadness over his wife’s loss of many abilities, but he did all the household tasks and driving. Other patients with similar disabilities ended up being admitted to a nursing home because their caregiver simply couldn’t cope with all the extra responsibilities.

During my research, I interviewed nine caregivers of family members who were unable to walk and then summarized their problems and coping strategies. I repeated similar research that was done with caregivers of home hospice patients to see if they had the same problems and used the same or different coping strategies. Comparison of the two groups showed they only had one problem in common (stress) and three coping strategies (social support, cognitive reformulation, and respite). I developed an educational handout for nurses to give new caregivers of family members who were unable to walk.

I submitted my research article to The Nurse Practitioner journal and was thrilled when they accepted part of it for publication.  They condensed my year of research and 48 page thesis into THREE paragraphs. Such is the world of publishing… They included it under Practice Pointers and named it Lending a hand to caregivers.

If you need to counsel a caregiver of a family member who has recently lost the ability to walk, use these suggestions to ease the load. First, tell him not to try to give care alone, but to ask for and accept help from family, friends, and health care professionals. To relieve stress, suggest that he try exercise, massage, eating out, music, prayer, reading, and napping.

Make sure he asks a physical therapist for assistance in choosing a wheelchair, if his family member can use one. Suggest using cordless and cellular phones, a lifeline necklace, and a pager to communicate with his loved ones when the caregiver is out of the house.

Finally, when traveling, recommend the caregiver pack a travel kit with a list of medications, provider phone numbers, straws, wipes, and other supplies.”

Reflection

I can’t recall the last time I saw a lay person use a pager, and cordless land lines are disappearing rapidly. Cell phones are commonplace now, but they were rare in 1998.

After I entered the full time work world as a nurse practitioner, life seemed to become too busy to continue to do research. However, I have participated in the Nurse’s Health Study 2 since 1989 conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health. Their findings collected from surveys every two years of thousands of nurses have contributed significantly to women’s health. http://nurseshealthstudy.org If you are a nurse and you were born after 1964 and live in the USA, they are looking for participants to join Nurse’s Health Study 3. I hope you will do so and continue this wonderful research that was begun in 1979!

Blog Update – May, 2017

“For I am the Lord, I change not.” Malachi 3:6

“…He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” Hebrews 13:5-6

This past year has been a whirlwind of change for me during my first year of retirement from nursing. In the midst of all the changes, God was my solid Rock, the only One who never changes. The Lord laid a desire on my heart to try and learn Spanish so I could minister to Spanish speaking people here in the USA and in other countries. I knew some survival Spanish from my travels and took one semester of Spanish at the local college many years ago. I have wanted to be fluent in another language for many years, so God gave me peace about selling my home in New England, getting rid of most of my belongings, and putting the rest in a storage container while I went to full-time language school in the USA near the Mexican border. I made some progress there, but the extreme heat exhausted me. My professors suggested I would make more progress through immersion.

So the end of December, I moved to Central America to attend another language school. I enjoyed the school there and was doing well learning Spanish, but I found the culture challenging. The home stay with a family was not acceptable, so I moved to a tiny studio apartment after ten days. Several students were robbed at gunpoint near my apartment, and another student was stabbed in the park in front of his children last year. Thankfully, none of them were seriously injured, but it took an emotional toll on them. Sadly, the drug cartels are taking over Central America as they have most of Mexico.

After seven months of full-time language school which consisted of 4 hours of class every morning and 2 to 4 hours of homework every evening, I was so exhausted that I could no longer concentrate. I also felt very isolated since I had to lock myself behind iron window bars and gates with electric razor wire every evening from dusk to dawn. I had to walk to and from school with my pepper spray in my hand in case I was attacked by people or stray dogs. After praying and talking with the school counselors, God gave me peace that it was time to return to the USA.

I have now resettled in the southern USA, unpacked my container, and am getting settled in a lovely rental home. I hope to resume my Spanish studies with a tutor in a few weeks. I have met a number of native Spanish speakers at several churches I have visited and enjoyed chatting with them in Spanish.

I now realize that there are degrees of “fluency”. One missionary who lived in Panama for five years said, “You never really become fluent.” I wish I was further along than I am with Spanish, but I have to realize that I have age working against me. My brain just doesn’t function quite as quickly or remember new words as readily as when I was younger. One teacher told me that your vocal cords are set at the age of 12, so it’s extremely difficult so sound like a native speaker if you learn a language after that. For any of you who are parents of young children, I definitely recommend having them learn another language at a young age. The first opportunity I had to learn another language was when I was a freshman in high school, 15 years old, which is way too late to begin in my opinion. I’m thankful that the public schools in the USA now often offer foreign languages in elementary school. For any of you who desire to learn a language as an adult, download the fun free app called Duolingo. They have over 15 languages available there and use games to help you learn.

So I have unpacked my journals and am getting my office organized. I plan to resume writing about the final 18 years of my nursing career next week. Thank you for your patience as I repeated the early part of my blog while I was busy in school. I will close with a few photos from the past year.

Sand dunes along the Gulf of Mexico

Port Isabel lighthouse, Texas

Great blue heron

 

Orchids in Central America

Hummingbird at work