On a high hill overlooking the town of Luanza, nestled on the shores of Lake Mweru, there is a cemetery containing the last remains of a number of brave missionaries who gave their lives for the cause of Christ in what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Among those graves is that of Dan Crawford, who is often referred to as the one who most closely followed in the footsteps of David Livingstone. Crawford had requested that his body be buried as that of an African—wrapped in a blanket and then with a grass mat. But his body was also placed in a roughly made wooden casket.
Crawford was born into a Scottish family of seafaring men from the island of Arron, just off the west coast of Scotland opposite Glasgow. He entered the world in a small village of Greenock on the banks of the Clyde River on December 7, 1870. His father died at an early age and left him as the only son to his mother. She had one other child, a daughter, living at that time. Dan grew up in a Christian home that was part of the Church of Scotland. Even as a young man, he recognized that he must do something to please God. He was active in various aspects of the church, such as Sunday school. However, under the preaching of some followers of the outstanding Henry Drummand, he came under severe conviction of sin and was troubled for months about his spiritual condition before God. He found little help in the kirk (church) he was attending, but a friend invited him to a small assembly of the Brethren persuasion that met in what was called the "dairy hall." There, under sound Gospel preaching and following a severe spiritual battle, he finally came to know Christ as his Saviour and Lord in his sixteenth year.
From the onset Crawford was a very outspoken witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. His biographer said, "‘This one thing I do' was the spirit of Dan Crawford. He had a God-given message to proclaim, and he did it with all his heart. He was reckless with regard to his own life and health, but all was for the purpose of exalting the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." He at once became a very active witness to all those he encountered. Any place and every place he could, he witnessed of the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Four months after his conversion, he was baptized.
He came to know Christ at a time when missionary activity was greatly encouraged. Livingstone had died only a decade earlier. The China Inland Mission was growing rapidly at this time, and a great deal of notoriety was being given to the Cambridge Seven, who went to China in 1884–1885. C.T. Studd is one of the best known of that group. In addition, the news of Hannington's 1885 martyrdom in Uganda had recently reached England. All of these influenced the young Crawford to a vision for missionary service, particularly regarding China.
Crawford was very active in Bible studies and had an insatiable longing to know the Word of God and to preach the message of redeeming love wherever he had the opportunity.
In September of 1888, Crawford met F. S. Arnot, who had just returned from Africa. Mr. Arnot, of the Plymouth Brethren, had made a number of trips into the heartland of Africa and was recruiting people to join him in evangelizing central Africa. It was through Arnot's influence that Crawford was challenged to take the Gospel to the dark continent. In March of 1889, at the age of 19, Dan Crawford left for Africa under the leadership of Mr. Arnot. He went out very much in the spirit of Mueller of Bristol—putting his faith and confidence entirely on the Lord to supply his every need. He first touched foot on African soil in present-day Angola, and the party went east into the very heart of Africa. To quote Livingstone, "He who is to represent Christ before heathenism should be Christ-loving and Christ-like, should have a passion for the salvation of souls, should not hesitate to give up luxury and life as his Master did in order that the world may come to a knowledge of the Gospel that saves." This is exactly what Dan Crawford did. He buried himself in the heart of Africa and came to know the mind of Africa as few have done before or after. Very much in the spirit of Livingstone, he gave himself to making Christ known to those who were bound by paganism.
Dan Crawford is remembered for being a tremendous linguist who learned well a number of African languages. He was able to translate the entire Bible into the Luba language, a most difficult Bantu tongue that has nouns with 12 genders and verbs with 32 tenses. He spent most of his life in getting the Word of God into the language of the Luba people. He stated, "The happiest times of my life have been the evening hours of Gospel chats across the fagots of fire." It was this close association with the Africans in his village and along the trails that gave him such a deep insight into the African heart and mind.
In the year 1897, he and his wife made a very arduous and interesting journey. Mr. Crawford had long desired to visit the Ilala (the spot where Susi and Chuma buried the heart of their master, David Livingstone, and where in the bark of the Mupundu tree Jacob Wainwright had carved the immortal name and the date of the burial: 4th May 1873). Mr. Crawford and his wife made this long journey by foot from the northern part of Lake Mweru down to the south and east of Lake Bangweula. He describes this in great detail in his book, Back to the Long Grass, My Link with Livingstone. A great admirer of Livingstone, he brings to light (in his book) many outstanding facts about that great African missionary.
After 22 years in Central Africa, he took his one and only furlough. He traveled extensively in Great Britain, relating his experiences and challenging the living church to take the Gospel to Africa. It was during this time that he wrote one of the greatest classics of missionary literature, Thinking Black. While on furlough, he also traveled to America, Australia, and South Africa before returning to Luba land.
As the year 1926 began, he took as his motto "Hats off to the past. Coats off to the future." He completed the final revision of the entire Bible into the Luba language, and it was in the printer's hands. He was looking forward to the day when he could give the complete volume to his dear Luba people. He had said that if he were to die, he wanted to pillow his head on the Luba Bible.
Sometime during the night of May 29, 1926, he was restless. Having turned roughly and quickly in his cot, he knocked the back of his hand against the shelf near his bed. Nothing was done at the time. The next day he began to notice swelling and inflammation of this seemingly insignificant wound. Gangrene set in very quickly. In his own words, "This week I suffer under a grave disability. My left arm is poisoned, and this poison is knifing me very hard. So, we are in God's hand, and all is well. It is harrowing and might have been avoided, only I was sleeping in my little den in a deep sleep. This made me forget the iodine, which is the panacea of my life. To say that it is harrowing is only to remind you that it is the harrow that produces the smiling lands of corn, and this explains that ‘we glory in tribulation' verse—but do we? Goodbye dear friends. We will meet at the ‘appearing in excellent glory'." The infection continued to spread rapidly up his arm, and he recognized that it was a fatal illness. He slipped into a coma and died about 6:30 p.m. on June 23, 1926, at 57 years of age. "Konga Vantu," the name the Africans gave him, literally means "the gatherer of the people." This name was given because he gathered together thousands of people to the foot of the cross, where they found cleansing from their sins by faith in the blood of Jesus Christ.
I want to be a Konga Vantu, and I'm sure you do also. So, "hats off to the past; coats off to the future."