Robert Moffat was a strong, healthy, young man who loved working outdoors. He was hired by James Smith, owner of Dukinfield Nurseries; but Smith had misgivings, for he knew two things: first, that Robert’s good looks would appeal to his only daughter Mary; second, that Robert wanted to be a missionary.

It happened just as Smith feared. As Robert worked in the gardens, he met Mary and discovered that she, too, was a Christian with an interest in missions (having been educated in a Moravian school). Unknown to her parents, she had secretly prayed two years before that God would send her to Africa.

An intense attachment formed quickly, but when the young couple announced to family members their plans to marry and leave England as missionaries to South Africa, the reaction was violent. Robert’s parents seemed resigned, but the Smiths refused to give their consent. All pleading and imploring failed. At last, with his heart breaking, Robert decided to abandon hope of marriage and leave for the field alone. “From the clearest indications of his providence,” he wrote his parents, “he bids me go out alone. It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good.” So on October 18, 1816, Robert Moffat sailed for South Africa, leaving his heart behind.

He arrived in the field suffering deep loneliness. “I have many difficulties to encounter, being alone,” he wrote his parents. Meanwhile in England, Mary, too, was miserable. Three long years passed, and she finally told Robert in a letter that she had given up all prospect of joining him.

But her next letter a month later contained different news: “They both yesterday calmly resigned me into the hands of the Lord,” she wrote, “declaring they durst no longer withhold me.” Mary quickly packed her trunks, told her anguished parents goodbye with no expectation of ever seeing them again, and left for South Africa. There she and Robert were married before a handful of friends on December 27, 1819. And there they labored side by side for 53 years, becoming one of the greatest husband-wife teams in missionary history.

Do what the Lord wants,
And he will give you your heart’s desire.
Let the Lord lead you and trust him to help.
Then it will be as clear as the noonday sun
That you were right.
Be patient and trust the Lord.
(Psalm 37:4-7a)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Dec. 27.

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