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God's Gardener

Mary Moffat stood in silence in the doorway to her home. The baby, her namesake,* whimpered in her arms, aware of a tension she was too young to understand. Mary jiggled her gently and the child fell silent, calmed by the familiar gesture.

The barren landscape shimmered under a blazing sun, heat radiating from the hard, baked ground. It hadn’t rained for a very long time—too long. Like mirages in the desert, the scrub and stunted trees seemed to wave and roll in the rising heat, but the delegation of Bechwana warriors confronting her was all too real.

They were not happy.

“You must leave. Because of you, there is no rain. The cattle are dying, the springs are dry, and there are no crops to harvest. If you do not leave our land right now, we will kill you where you stand,” threatened the leader of the group, his spear pointed at her husband’s chest.

Mary shifted the baby to her left side, out of sight of the men now threatening them. Robert stood just in front of her, facing their visitors and partially blocking her from their view.

He had urged her to go inside when the intentions of the Bechwanas had become obvious, to which Mary had replied: “Robert, God made us one, and as one we will face whatever happens.”

She and her husband had been at Bechwana station at Lattakoo in the interior for several years. Robert, along with other co-workers, had arrived in South Africa in 1817, under the auspices of the London Missionary Society. Mary had followed in 1819 when her parents had finally relented, given her their blessing, and allowed her to travel to Cape Town to marry her fiancé.

Robert slowly began to unbutton his waistcoat. Throwing it open, he said: “If you will, drive your spear to my heart.”

For a moment, time stood still. In that brief space, as the implications of her husband’s solemn words settled, Mary remembered her father’s nursery garden near Manchester, where she had first met Robert Moffat. Even then he had been preparing himself for missionary work, convinced that God wanted him to nurture a spiritual garden rather than the physical ones that he first put his hand to at the age of fourteen.

From behind the relative safety of her husband’s body, Mary heard the shuffling of feet and murmuring.


Anticipating the question, Moffat turned slightly. Keeping his eyes on the warriors now huddled in conference, he spoke softly to his wife.

“I don’t know. I think they were startled by my answer.”

Mary allowed herself a small smile.

“Or your state of undress?”

The threat of death had often hung over Robert Moffat’s head. As a youth he’d gone to sea, causing his mother great anxiety. On his first trip across South Africa, he’d been stranded in the desert without water. In one of his letters to her after that experience he had commented: “I feared that my first trip would be my last; that my dream of planting a garden for God in Africa would end before it had begun.”

Later, Robert had terrified his friends when he mentioned that he was going to move to the kraal of the infamous Afrikaner, a man whose name was hated and feared across the countryside. Not only had God protected Moffat but Africaner, his brothers, and others, became ardent believers under his ministry.

However, the Bechwanas had not been such easy ground to work. They laughed at the concept of salvation. Love didn’t exist in their vocabulary. The only softening they had shown was some moderation in how they went about stealing cattle. They had also gone without the services of their rainmaker—the results of which they now blamed on the missionaries.

Robert had despaired at the lack of response, only to be gently reminded by his wife that the Bechwanas needed to hear God’s Word in their own language before they would be convinced. Robert immediately dedicated himself to that task.

“Mary, look.”

She left the shelter of the doorway to stand beside her husband. The warriors had finished their discussion. As one man, they lowered their spears and turned away. As they moved off, the Moffats heard their leader say to his companions: “This man must have ten lives, since he is so fearless when he is faced with losing this one.”

Once more faith and courage watered a corner of Africa’s garden.

*This Mary would later become the wife of David Livingstone.

Image by svklimkin from Pixabay

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