Mary Moffat :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

Mary Moffat

Ever since my wife went to be with the Lord in November, 2000, I have not slept well.  This is not uncommon when one loses a spouse, particularly one of 53½ years.  Many are the nights that I twist and turn all night with very little, if any, real sleep.  The other side of the bed seems so very empty.  Often I'll get up and read for an hour or so. 

On one such night I finally got up around 2:30 in the morning and went to the family room where, at the time, many of our books were kept.  As I was looking at the shelves, my eyes and hands fell on one book with the title Beloved Partner.  This book had graced our library shelf for a number of years, but I had never read it.  It is the biography of Mary Moffat, the wife of the renowned Dr. Robert Moffat.  He was a pioneer missionary of the London Missionary Society who ministered in South Africa from 1816 to 1870.  As I browsed through that book, I knew the Lord had directed my attention to it; for so much in it paralleled the experience of my dear wife and me—although in no way did we undergo the difficulties of travel that they did with covered wagon and lumbering oxen, oftentimes four and five span, that made only ten to fifteen miles a day.  Their living conditions were very primitive:  carrying water from the river to their house, cooking in a homemade fireplace and oven, planting and gardening, tending cows, and many other such chores.  During our first term water was brought to our house by a lumbering oxcart as well.  Where we lived and served in the Sahara Desert, I made a brick oven.

For the Moffats there were long years of fruitlessness, of reducing an unwritten language, and of translating the Bible into that difficult tongue.  Other duties took time from the all-important task of evangelism:  planting, building, carrying, creating, butchering, salting, storing, sewing, cobbling, carpentering, blacksmithing, preaching, teaching, exhorting, pacifying, supporting, cleaning, feeding, doctoring, praying, writing, etc.

Let me briefly relate their history. 

Robert ("wee Bobby") Moffat, of Ormiston, Scotland, had a limited education and an apprenticeship as a gardener.  He was employed by Mr. James Smith, a nurseryman in Dunkinfield, England, and became very well liked by this family and particularly found delight in the eyes of their only daughter Mary. 

At a missionary meeting in a local church, Robert was called to the mission field and  assigned, by the London Missionary Society, to a pioneer work in South Africa.

Mary Smith Moffat was born into a well-to-do, deeply religious, English family and sent to a Moravian school where she caught the vision of missions. 

A growing love had developed between these two young people, but Mary's parents refused to allow her to go with Robert when he departed for Kuruman, South Africa, in 1816.  Three years later the family relented, and Mary went to Cape Town to meet and marry her beloved Robert.  She wrote to her parents that "About 1 o'clock, I went ashore and clasped my Robert in my arms.  I was tolerably composed!  To the last I was kept so by endeavoring to soothe his feelings which were very strongly manifest.  But, oh, my cup of happiness seems almost full; here I have found in him all my heart could desire. . . ." 

Their trip from Cape Town north, some 700 miles with all their belongings in a covered oxcart being pulled by six span of oxen, took seven weeks.  This was their honeymoon, and she said it was one long picnic. 

In an age when marriage was often a contract with severe lines of demarcation between husband and wife, Mary was fortunate that hers was not only a love match but also a partnership.  She had said, "I trust that the Lord will not disappoint my hopes but will grant me the honor of doing something for Him in Africa."  The Lord did indeed grant her that request as she labored by her husband's side.

Robert was an independent individual given to moods, both visionary and of depression.  Mary was steady, disciplined, patient, and organized. She had a faith in the future that never wavered.  She was always ready to comfort and support Robert. They eventually served for over 52 years with only one furlough during that period of time.

Mary was Robert's "beloved partner," a true helpmeet.  Their goal was to see the Bechuana come to Christ, a church planted, and the Word of God available in the language of the people.  Their love for the national was one, and their arms and home were open to the nationals.  Mary was wife, mother, and true missionary.  She was a great encourager to Robert in the tedious task of learning the language and translating the Bible, which took many years of plodding word by word, verse by verse.  Robert was self-taught in Greek. They were truly one flesh, one mind, and with one purpose—all to the glory of God.  Africa became their home. 

There were times when Robert was very discouraged and depressed; but Mary, at his side as a true companion and a true partner in the work, saw him through these difficult times (Ephesians 5:31-33).  She was a woman of great faith. 

After many years of faithful, dedicated service, Robert began to wonder whether any of the Bechuanas would ever come to faith in Jesus Christ. But Mary was ever confident that indeed some would kneel at the foot of the cross and accept Christ as personal Savior. Unbeknown to Robert, she had written to England and ordered a communion service set, but it seemed as though it would never arrive. In that long waiting period, there were several who came to true faith in Jesus Christ. Just two days before they were to be baptized and observe the Lord's Supper, the parcel containing that communion set arrived at Kuruman. Mary's faith was vindicated! That communion set is still in the house Robert built at Kuruman. I had the joy of viewing that silver tankard and communion cup.

Why do I take so much time in relating the story of Robert and Mary Moffat?  I want to stress the vital importance of being sure that your spouse is a "beloved partner."  I know my dear Betsy was a "beloved partner" indeed to me, and I covet the same relationship will be yours with your spouse.

This does not just happen of its own accord.  It takes deliberate effort, and I feel it is by and large the responsibility of the husband to see that this partnership develops.  Share with her the joys and sorrows of your work.  Let her be your confidante, but also let it be in confidentiality.  Remember you are one; be one.  Let nothing—no one—come between.  Ask for and welcome her input.  Your spouse may, and often does, have insights into situations that you do not have.  Don't belittle her advice.  Make sure that she has a vital part in the home.  It will no doubt be different from yours, but it can and should be a very vital one.  She will not be fulfilled if she is left out or does not feel a sense of your work or ministry.  If your ministry means learning another language, see to it that she has equal opportunity to learn.

There was a missionary family that we frequently saw in passing their town as we proceeded much further into the Sahara Desert, where we were ministering at that time. This woman had great fear of the national, and if anyone knocked at their compound gate, she went and hid and didn't respond to the typical salutation. She made no attempt to learn the local language. Her home was a prison to her. She was locked into her house, and she locked out any of the nationals who may have wanted to have companionship with her. It was a very sad situation. As you can well imagine, that family did not stay long on the field.

Keep the lines of communication open.  Never be so busy that you do not have quality time with your wife daily.  Take time—make time—to be alone with her away from family responsibilities, if at all possible. On occasion the work was so pressing that Robert felt they needed to get away from Kuruman for a few days. They would take their oxcart and a span or two of oxen and go into the bush for several days. Alone together, they could renew their vision of the mission and, in a very special way, draw closer one to the other.

Make sure you remember special occasions—birthday, wedding anniversary, etc.  Do something special if at all possible. The mission we were with in our early days required that the missionaries take a holiday every year. They had prepared a really nice vacation spot on a high plateau that was much cooler and isolated than most of the country. We would take our holiday at the time of our wedding anniversary.  Where we lived, there were no restaurants or places we could go and have a meal for just the two of us. But on the plateau there was a government rest house with a lovely dining service. During that time, I took my wife to that government rest house, and we had our anniversary meal. It seemed that the menu was always the same: steak and kidney pie. It was not my first choice of a meal out, but it was a good meal. I could take my dear wife out for a special anniversary dinner. In a very real way it bonded us together.

Tell your wife you love her and show it by a hug, a kiss—be mushy—or a compliment of the dinner or the way she has ordered the house.  Tell her what you dare not tell any other woman—that you like her hair, her dress, etc.  Spend time alone with your wife in Bible study, reading of good books, in prayer.  Never criticize her in public.  If you are the king of the house, make her the queen.  Show proper respect—open the doors, seat her at the table, and help her get in and out of a vehicle.  Make her feel special.  She is.  Help with the children and household duties. She helps you.  You need to help her.

There are not many good Bible examples of husbands and wives.

Old Testament:

  • Adam and Eve—Eve sinned and led Adam into sin.
  • Abraham and Sarah—Abraham gave in to Sarah and went in to Hagar.
  • Rebecca and Isaac—She taught her son Jacob to deceive her blind       husband.
  • Jacob with two wives and two concubines.
  • David, Solomon, and others—all poor examples.

New Testament:

  • Joseph and Mary
  • Aquilla and Priscilla (Acts 18:2 and 26; Romans 16:3; I Cor. 16:19)

Robert did itinerate, and Mary went with him.  So Bettie went with me.  Mary said "It is a rule of mine that when my husband goes with the wagon for more than two days, I go with him unless circumstances render it very improper." 

Robert was often filled with frustration and the gloom of a man left alone to fight against overwhelming odds.  It was Mary, with a long disciplined and patient faith, who supported him during these moods and gave him the strength to carry on, to keep plodding.

Their marriage had ripened into a partnership of mutual dependence, and trust developed through years of shared hardship and danger. Robert trusted Mary implicitly and had absolute confidence in her judgment and abilities. 

In surgery Bettie gave me what I needed-not what I asked for.

Robert and Mary Moffat had shown that while they might in many ways despise the Bechuana (because of their lifestyle), yet they loved them.  "Evangelize before civilizing," Robert Moffat believed.  Neither Robert nor Mary was going to accept conversion based on emotion alone.  They needed more than that; they looked for proof, evidence of a changed life, which is not arrived at quickly but sustained over months.

In February of 1829, they held their first baptismal service and communion.  There were 12 participants. 

Mary was worried about Robert's health, but she made no effort to divert him from the task ahead.  As long as he was engaged in the Lord's work, she would support him to the utmost in it.  So was true of my Betsy.

On those rare occasions when Robert had to be away from the station, he would write notes to Mary almost daily and send them back by whatever means he had available. 

Mary was a private person.  Her desire was not to receive recognition but to be of assistance.  She lived a lifetime in harmony and partnership with her husband.  When she was with him, she saw life less rigorous, just as he found support in her constant faith and unyielding optimism.

With Mary's health failing, in 1870, the London Missionary Society felt they should retire.

On January 10, 1871, five months after setting foot in Britain, Mary Moffat died quietly and peacefully at Brixton.  She was 75.  Robert mourned:  "For 53 years I have had her to pray for me.  The wife of my youth, the partaker of my joys and sorrows for more than half a century has been taken from me."  He called her his "beloved partner."  Their life had not only been a love match but also a partnership.


JAD 11/1/01