Mary Slessor

by Avery Foley on October 9, 2017

Mary Mitchell Slessor was born in 1848 in Scotland to a poor family. Her father constantly drank alcohol and did not provide for his wife and seven children. They lived in a one-room house in a slum. When she was 11 Mary worked 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, in a factory, attending school after work.

Mary Slessor

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Mary Slessor

David Livingstone, a well-known missionary of Mary’s time, encouraged other Christians to come to Africa to share the gospel. Responding to his call, Mary applied to become a missionary in Calabar, Nigeria. She was accepted and, after three months of training, was on a ship bound for Africa.

Mary joined the mission in Calabar and started learning the native Efik language. But she was restless at the mission. She wanted to go farther into Africa—where no missionaries had gone before and lived to tell about it. Other missionaries told her this was very dangerous because the people were violent and practiced all kinds of terrible things such as cannibalism, drunkenness, and human sacrifice. The African people believed that, when twins were born, an evil spirit lived in one of the twins; since they didn’t know which one it was, both twins were killed and their mother was sent away with no way to care for herself. Mary wanted to share the gospel with these people.

Eventually Mary was allowed to go farther into Africa to the dangerous Okoyong people. Her work among these people focused on saving children, especially twins, and their mothers. She even adopted several babies and raised them herself. She urged the people to treat women and children better and to put an end to all the killing. By her deep love, she showed the people God’s love, and slowly many of these practices stopped.

Nigeria would never be the same after Mary arrived and shared Jesus with the people. She never stopped pushing farther into Africa, sharing the gospel with everyone and putting an end to killing and other horrible practices. The Africans regarded her as a loving and wise woman who would often settle their arguments. The government even gave her the role of magistrate, the first woman to ever hold such a position, so she could continue to help the people solve their problems without killing one another.

By her love and respect for the African people and her willingness to go where no one else would, Mary helped open that part of Africa, build schools and churches, and put an end to many terrible practices. Mary died in Africa in 1915 and was buried in Calabar, near the mission where she first served.

Fun Facts About Mary Slessor

  • Mary had blue eyes and red hair, which she wore very short.
  • Mary was known as “Ma” and “the White Queen of Okoyong.”
  • Mary refused to wear the British clothes and eat the expensive imported food the other missionaries wore and ate. Instead she lived like the African people she came to serve and they loved her for it. Her attitude helped shape missions and changed the way missionaries lived and served.