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Friday December 17 2021

Looking Back: Christmas with Mary Slessor

Memories of the legendary Scottish missionary, printed in December 1948 - the centenary of her birth.


She laid the foundations of much that is now taking shape in Government policy and in the development of the Christian Church. Dr. A. W. WILKIE, who knew her well, has been prevailed upon to give a few personal recollections.

MY own personal contact began in 1901 when I arrived in Calabar, a young and very inexperienced missionary. Her kindness to a young missionary greatly touched me, and we had many talks together, mainly in regard to the possibility of new advances of the Mission.

The more intimate friendship began a year later when I undertook a long trek into the then less known Ekoi District to the upper stretch of the Cross River, then across country to Akunakuna (an abandoned station of the Mission below Unwana). Then inland again south – studying always the possibilities of new centres for mission work.

On the day before Christmas I abandoned my carriers and set off alone through the forest to reach Unive, on the Qua River, which I reached near midnight. All houses were in darkness, and the only place of shelter was a rough grass shed in the possession of some cows and sheep. There, appropriately, I spent Christmas Eve.

Next morning early I trudged on to Akpap, and arrived, tired, dirty, hungry but very happy. I can never forget my reception by Miss Slessor, who received me literally with open arms.

After a bath and some breakfast I sat on the floor of her little kitchen and smoked my pipe, while she went on with her morning work, washing the baby twins and talking to me all the time, wanting to hear all I could tell her of my travelling experiences. There were, I think, four babies, each in a separate pot filled with warm water on the top of the stove. So interested was she in our conversation that I assured her that she had washed some of the babies twice and neglected the others. But all were at last safely sponged and tucked away in milk-boxes for cots.

Then we retired to her simple sitting room where the older children were gathered together. She led a most unusual type of worship, very simple but beautiful in its sincerity. She partly read, partly told in her own way, the lovely Christmas story and sang with them the old Christmas hymns. And then we all knelt in thanksgiving. The simple service was sometimes broken by unconventional interruptions when some of the children were getting tired. On one occasion she rebuked lovingly one of them, “Come here, Maggie, while I pull your lugs for ye.” But somehow there never seemed to me to be the least trace of irreverence.

There were little presents for all the children, and then they were seen safely into their beds – and we talked till late at night.

"Mother of All the Peoples": tributes and memories of Mary Slessor written in 1915
More memories of Mary Slessor, printed in January 1965

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