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Along the edge of western Africa sits Liberia, black Africa’s first independent state. It was established in the early 1800s through the efforts of the American Colonization Society, an organization devoted to repatriating American ex-slaves in colonies along the African coast.
The first missionary of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Melville Beveridge Cox, was directed there in 1833. He was a young widower, pale and prostrated with grief and planning for missions service in South America. “Why not go to Liberia?” asked his bishop, seeking someone to send to that land of fatal fevers.
“If the Lord wills,” replied Cox. “I have no lingering fear. A grave in Africa shall be sweet if he sustain me.” To a friend, Cox wrote, “I know I cannot live long in Africa, but I hope to live long enough to get there; and if it please God that my bones shall lie in an African grave, I shall have established such a bond between Africa and the church at home as shall not be broken until Africa be redeemed.”
To students of Connecticut’s Wesleyan University, he said, “If I die in Africa, you must come over and write my epitaph.” When a student asked what they should write, Cox replied, “Write, Let a thousand fall before Africa be given up.”
He made a final visit to the graves of his wife and small child, then on November 6, 1832, Cox boarded the Jupiter and set sail. The seas were rough, and at first, he doubled over in seasickness. But by mid-ocean, he was at work, planning a mission house, school, and farm. Glimpsing the coast, he wrote, “I have seen Liberia and live! It rises up like a cloud of heaven!” He disembarked at Monrovia on March 7, 1833, and threw himself into the work. But on July 21 he awoke from a fitful sleep, bathed in sweat and shouting, “Come, come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!” He died in a fever, having served less than four months.
There were 999 left to go; and because of Cox’s example, five other youths were already on their way.
I know what it is to be poor or to have plenty, and I have lived under all kinds of conditions. I know what it means to be full or to be hungry, to have too much or too little. Christ gives me strength to face anything. (Philippians 4:12,13)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day: 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). November 6.
ALSO ON THIS DAY
1193 – Barlaam of Khutyn, who had been born to wealth but gave it all away to become a hermit on the Volga River; died. He gained such a following that he founded the Khutyn Monastery of Saviour’s Transfiguration. His fame increased even more after he healed Grand Prince Vasily. After his death, his tomb will become a popular pilgrimage destination.
1789 – The election of the Rt. Rev. John Carroll to be the first Roman Catholic bishop in the United States (the diocese of Baltimore) was confirmed by Pope Pius VI. He was consecrated in England in 1790 and became archbishop in 1808.
1905 – George Williams, founder of the YMCA, through which he had sought to give young men an alternative to the soul-destroying recreations in London; died. His endeavor had spread to the whole world.
1935 – American revivalist Billy Sunday, a baseball player who had become one of America’s most famous evangelists; dies.