Bature Mai Magani (The White Doctor)
Very little is known of the early life of Dr. Andrew P. Stirrett, other than that he was born into a Scottish Presbyterian family in Canada on September 30, 1865, and at a very early age came to know Jesus Christ as his own personal Savior. Very little is given of his life up until the year 1901, but sometime prior to that he had studied to become a pharmacist and had owned two drugstores in the city of Toronto with apartments over these places of business. He apparently was a very successful businessman.
During this time, he also began to study medicine. In the year 1900, he came across a little pamphlet entitled The Burden of the Sudan by R. V. Bingham, the founder and director of the Sudan Interior Mission. Dr. Stirrett had considered yielding himself to the cause of missions, but this little pamphlet was the capstone that spoke to his heart. He made an appointment to meet with Dr. Bingham, and through that meeting began the life story of this great man of God.
He met with the committee of Sudan Interior Mission in Canada but was not thought to be an appropriate candidate for missionary service in West Africa. Since he was already in his late 30s, the committee believed he was too old to go to the mission field; but this did not deter this determined man of God. He sold his businesses, put the money in trust under the name of the mission, and proceeded to England. He had nothing in the way of cash since he had given it all to the mission; but in the spirit of Mueller, he set out by faith.
He had a friend who was in the business of exporting cattle to England and procured a post with a ship that was taking cattle to Liverpool. He was hired on as a crewmember and took a very rough voyage across the Atlantic while tending cattle. He eventually ended up being the cook for the other roustabouts on board. In Liverpool he met with the English council of SIM. They, likewise, had grave doubts as to whether this man, because of his age and stature, was a suitable candidate. He was a very short man (barely over five feet tall) and was balding, but he had a heavy beard. Again, this devoted man who had felt the hand of God upon him was not deterred.
In Liverpool he took a course in tropical medicine and then proceeded on to West Africa, arriving in November of 1902. He labored there for the next 46 years with only infrequent and brief furloughs back to Canada. During his first furlough, he completed his studies to be a medical doctor. He felt a tremendous burden to reach the Muslim Hausa-speaking people in the northern part of Nigeria, and he could very well be called the "Apostle to the Hausa of West Africa." He learned their language exceptionally well and was one of the main translators of the Bible into the language. He was a man of indomitable spirit and a tremendous burden to reach the Hausa-speaking people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
He never missed an opportunity to give out the Gospel. For many years at his headquarters in Jos, Nigeria, he would daily go to the large market place, stand upon a rock so that he could better be seen, hold up a large picture of Jesus, and preach Christ to those who would give him audience.
One day as he was preaching, an angry Muslim picked up a rock and threw it, knocking his helmet off; but the doctor never missed a beat and kept on preaching. However, an African from a different tribe followed the angry Muslim and argued with him saying, "Why did you do that? If you don't want to listen to the Bature Mai Magani, the market is large. Go some place else." Seeing there was about to be an altercation, the doctor stopped preaching, walked over and spoke to the man saying, "Son, don't bother talking to this man. You are only speaking to a corpse-one dead in trespasses and in sin. Don't speak to a corpse. Why don't you come and speak to the Lord of Life, the Lord Jesus Christ?" The Muslim turned and slunk away. It was learned that he died three days later without any previous warning or sickness. The doctor's words, "You are speaking to a corpse," were prophetic words indeed.
Stirrett also traveled extensively over northern Nigeria, usually by foot or by bicycle. Many stories are related of how he outdistanced many missionaries half his age in his long treks through the savannas of Nigeria. He walked with a short, stiff-legged, choppy gait-a run that exhausted many of his companions. One of those contemporaries was Mr. Stanley. He was a young Canadian gentleman who arrived on the field of Nigeria during the "winter months." He had left a very cold Canada, had had a very rough ocean voyage to Nigeria, and was still wearing the heavy winter clothing he had worn when he left frigid Canada. He had met Dr. Stirrett, and they were beginning a long trek to the location where Mr. Stanley was to be stationed. Stanley, still wearing his winter clothing including his long winter underwear, became very hot in the African heat. He was very much awed by this little man who could out-walk him even though he was much more than twice his age. Being extremely warm in these heavy clothes, he very timidly asked Dr. Stirrett whether he could take off his winter underwear. Dr. Stirrett replied, "Yes son, but take them off slowly."Stanley told this story on the fiftieth anniversary of his ministry in Nigeria. He spoke with great admiration of the Bature Mai Magani, the White Doctor. Stanleyalso related Dr. Stirrett's dietary habits. He often would eat only one food for a while, and then another at a later date. When Mr. Stanley first met him, the diet was yam cooked in palm oil. Stirrett was a very strict Presbyterian and would not build a fire on the Lord's day, so he would have cold yam and cold palm oil on Sundays. This became very unpalatable to Mr. Stanley, but there was no way Dr. Stirrett would alter his routine. Stanley told the story of that first trek in Nigeria. He was soon worn out and could not keep up the very quick pace of the short Dr. Stirrett. Finally he asked whether he could please rest. Dr. Stirrett gave him leave to rest in the shade of a large tree. During the time Stanley was recuperating, Stirrett was pacing back and forth in an impatient manner. All Stanley could do was get up and push himself on throughout the remainder of that day. There is hardly a place in the northern part of that country where Stirrett is not still referred to as the Bature Mai Magani, the White Doctor. His influence was tremendous.
He never married but said on one occasion that he was engaged to a woman named Button who became an invalid and had to go home. Jokingly, he would say that he had a "button" missing ever since. As is the case with many single men, he did have his eccentricities, and many a humorous story has been told about him. One of the oldest stations of the SIM in Nigeria is at a place called Wushishi. For many years there were three single ladies on the station. At one time, Dr. Stirrett thought there ought to be a man on the station, so he built himself a simple house. Then he thought it was improper for him to be so close to these single ladies, so he had a wall built between the two houses. When my wife and I were visiting the station, we saw the wall. Dr. Stirrett had long since gone to his reward. We asked what the purpose of that wall was, and these rather elderly ladies smiled and said, "Dr. Stirrett had that wall built so that he could not see us nor we see him." They went on to say, "Any fool could tell that it would take only a few additional steps to walk around the end of the wall." But they thought it was a great joke that he had had that wall built for privacy between the two houses. My wife and I never personally met Dr. Stirrett. He diedJuly 9, 1948-about three weeks after our arrival in Nigeria. He served his Lord and Nigeria very well.
Dr. Stirrett was a man of great devotion to his God. He arose every morning at 3:45 for his time of communion with the Lord. He said he never wanted to see the sunrise until he had had two hours with his Master. One missionary who was sharing a room with him, hearing the alarm go off and Dr. Stirrett getting up at 3:45 for his devotion, mumbled under his breath, "What an unearthly hour." It is an apt expression, for it is a heavenly hour; and he spent it thus on his knees before God to receive his orders for the day.
As mentioned earlier, he was one of the main translators of the Hausa Bible. The greatest joy of his life was when he was able to hold a complete Hausa Bible in his hand and then give it out to the people he loved so dearly. Up until the time of his death, he continued to produce Hausa literature that would be of aid to the Hausa church. He also wrote a number of Hausa hymns. A few days before his death, he had to allow someone to drive him to the Jos market; but he never stopped his preaching and continued his translation work until his last day. On July 8 his houseboy came at the regular time and found the door still shut, which was most unusual. Upon entering, he found the doctor unconscious, kneeling beside his bed, and summoned help. The 82-year-old Stirrett was carried to the mission hospital. He revived briefly and then slipped into a sleep of death. He was soon in the presence of the Lord he had served so faithfully for almost 47 years. The date was July 9, 1948.
My wife and I arrived in Nigeria about three weeks prior to Dr. Stirrett's death and never met him, but we felt the impact of his life in our early years of ministry in Nigeria. His stature was short, but his shadow of influence over the work of the Lord in all of Nigeria is profound. There is no monument to his life, but his great legacy is that of the Hausa Bible.
Would to God that we had more men and women of the spiritual stature of Dr. Andrew P. Stirrett.