My first full-length novel, All The Day Allows, was inspired by research about real-life Canadian missionaries during the early 1900s. It was a decade in the writing, and, with a major move from Collingwood to Muskoka in 2015, my protagonist’s hometown moved with me. The early versions had Marjory McAllister born and raised on Manitoulin Island, where the stark and stunning terrain felt exactly right for Marjory’s solitary nature. However, when I relocated to Muskoka, I realized that here, where much of the rugged landscape remains barely touched by civilization, is where Marjory’s life should begin. And so, Marjory McAllister was born and raised in Port Sydney, not far from my own real-life home.
The Founding of The Sudan Interior Mission—Part 2
In the previous post, Part 1, you read about the disastrous first attempt by the young Thomas Kent, Walter Gowans and Roland Bingham to found the Sudan Interior Mission. Only Roland Bingham survived, and in April 1895, weakened by a nearly fatal brush with malaria, Bingham returned to England, and thence to Canada. In spite of all he had endured and the loss of his dear friends, Bingham wasn’t ready to give up on the dream. Deciding that further training might improve his chances of eliciting support from an established mission society, Bingham enrolled in medical courses in Cleveland, Ohio and theological studies at the same bible college in New York City from which his companions Kent and Gowans had graduated. In May 1898 he married a Canadian, Helen E. Blair, at Guelph, Ontario.
Helen was the daughter of his major financial supporter in the original failed enterprise. Three days after their marriage, with the new Mrs. Bingham firmly behind his cause, the Sudan Interior Mission was officially chartered as an interdenominational mission, headquartered in Toronto. In January 1899 Bingham left his ministry at a small church in Newburgh, NY, where he earned $12 a week, to establish himself in Toronto and begin the business of the Sudan Interior Mission in earnest.
As the century rolled over, Bingham enlisted two more evangelists to pursue with renewed fervour the drive into Africa’s interior. Mr. Moline and Mr. Taylor had received some training in East Africa and had studied the Hausa language common to many of the tribal communities in Nigeria at the time. When Bingham landed once again in Lagos, this time with Moline and Taylor in tow, he was met, again, with resistance from Lagos missionaries to his plans to try to proceed into the interior. They didn’t need to protest too vigourously, since Bingham was back in hospital within three weeks, suffering from a recurrence of malaria. Soon after, he was carried on a stretcher to a boat and rowed out to where a ship lay anchored off the Lagos coast. The doctor at the Lagos hospital, ignoring Bingham’s objections, had taken matters into his own hands and sent him home. His companions followed on the next ship out of Lagos.
When Bingham returned to Toronto, Mrs. Bingham and their infant child were waiting, as well as a thoroughly discouraged mission board. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Bingham, four missionaries had set up operations in Girku, the same village where Walter Gowans had died years before, and where his body was buried. Despite such an unlikely centre of operations, with few inhabitants to preach to and virtually no visitors, the mission took hold. The organization underwent one or two changes in name, and lost a number of its adherents to death or resignation, but by 1905 there were five missionaries in the field.
A new centre of operations was established at the larger town of Bida; when the Bida station burned to the ground it was rebuilt, but by 1906 it, too, was abandoned. At this time, only one of the original four still remained, two having been invalided home to England, and one dying at Bida, laid to rest next to Walter Gowans. But new members filled out the number for four, who, with the last of the original group, A. W. Banfield, persisted in their evangelistic work at the larger town of Patigi, under the banner of the African Evangelistic Mission.
Fertile ground at last
Finally, in 1908, the indomitable Tommie Titcombe arrived in Nigeria and opened a new station at Egbe, an historic settlement in south-central Nigeria, a few hours from Lagos. (I would love to tell you more about Tommie Titcombe. Perhaps when our immediate story is done).
Although Banfield ultimately left SIM to found a new mission, his cooperation with SIM led to the establishment of the Niger Press, the first publisher to produce the Bible in the Nupe language, making it accessible to the indigenous population. In subsequent years, the Bible was translated into numerous indigenous languages used in Nigeria, including Hausa, Yoruba and Ibo. Banfield, unfortunately, did not escape the grip of tropical disease, and some years after his return to Toronto, he died from an illness contracted in Nigeria.
Despite its many losses and the sacrifice of so many of its early adherents, a thin sliver of the Sudan Interior Mission took root in Patigi in 1901. In A Flame of Fire, SIM missionary and author J. H. Hunter recorded its many successes and failures, in language that typifies evangelistic attitudes of the time. This can be difficult reading for those of us living in a more enlightened time, but I share an excerpt here to offer some insight into the passion with which these men and women pursued their religious beliefs, and what they viewed as a call from God to spread those beliefs to those who had never heard of Jesus Christ.
Bear in mind this excerpt, describing the “fertile ground” in West Africa, ripe for Christianity, was written in 1961. The writer describes West Africa in 1901, when cannibalism and infanticide were still commonly practiced by some tribal communities.
It was a land where no Bible could be found, where none knew that God had ever spoken to man or revealed Himself to human view. Their gods were made of wood and stone, their worship connected with unspeakable abominations, and heaven to those who believe in such a place, a brothel. One must never forget that the missionary lives, moves and has his being amongst a people psychologically and emotionally removed from our Western civilization…
These pagans lived…in a world controlled by the dead…ruled by the witch-doctor—their going out and coming in, their sleeping and their waking, their eating and drinking…disaster and death, failure of crops, sickness and misfortune are [their] evidence that the spirits are displeased and must be propitiated. Again and again as one made brief contact with paganism in its untouched state and learned of the magic, sorcery and inhuman rites practised to placate the devil and enrich the witch-doctor, one felt as it were a sense of the presence of evil, and in the midst of wounds, bruises, putrefying sores and rotting limbs the very stench of death. It was in the midst of such conditions unrelieved by one gleam of spiritual light that the early missionaries lived and worked.”
On that note, I’ll leave you to your own thoughts and conclusions regarding the impulse of so many young men and women to abandon comfortable lives, dedicating themselves to missionary life, and suffering incredible hardships, even death.
One of those was Edward Rice, whose description of his first day in Africa might have served as a cautionary tale to anyone considering missionary service in Africa.
Edward Rice, missionary to Nigeria, 1904 – 1939
In an earlier post, you read about the Rice family, whose children were the first siblings to be left in the care of SIM’s Gowans Home for Missionaries’ Children, in Collingwood.
Edward (Ed) Rice has an intriguing story to tell, one which typifies the tales of missionaries who responded to the call during the two decades that straddled the turn of the 20th century. Ed’s Irish parents met in the US after they had emigrated, and Ed, the youngest of nine children, was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1878. His mother, a devout Irish Catholic, died when Ed was 2 ½ years old. His father remarried when Ed was four to a woman Ed describes as “not competent for the position.” After his stepmother had children of her own, Ed was left largely to his own devices. He fell in with a street gang, and by the age of nine had already developed a taste for alcohol. When Ed was eleven his father died, and the boy was taken out of school and put to work. At twelve, he had a nasty encounter with a rusty needle while delivering newspapers door-to-door. The needle had gone through his foot; he removed it, but inadvertently damaged a bone in the process. He neglected the injury for days before falling into a fever. He was bedridden for three months. Finally, a doctor visiting the home for other purposes, examined his wounded leg, and said he needed an operation if he were ever to walk again. Ed eventually recovered, though the injury left lingering affects for the rest of his life.
As a teenager, Ed gravitated once again toward the “wild life” of street survival he had known as a child and, by his own admission, was headed toward a life likely to land him in prison, or worse. One day, selling newspapers at a street corner, he was drawn by the sound of singing to the Salvation Army mission across the street. Ed had always loved music and his natural tenor voice drew many compliments. He returned again and again to the mission to join in the singing. Eventually, imperceptibly, Ed began to turn away from the lure of street life in favour of a life of abstinence, prayer and Christian fellowship.
W. R. Newell, a celebrated evangelist, had a great influence on Ed, and a period of study at Moody Bible Institute prepared him for a life in mission service. In 1903 he responded to an appeal by the Africa Evangelistic Mission, later known as the Sudan Interior Mission. Ed relocated to Toronto and became a candidate of the mission, studying with Miss S. E. Barrington in preparation for service in Africa. There he met another of Miss Barrington’s students, Annie Bartlett, who later became his wife.
Destination Africa with the Sudan Interior Mission
In 1904 Ed sailed with fellow candidate E. F. Lang, first to England and then to Lagos, to take up their first posting in Bida, Nigeria. In the early days of SIM, there was no funding available, and as was customary, Ed had raised whatever funds he could to finance his voyage. He arrived in Africa with barely any money, and not knowing a word of any African language. Here, in Ed’s own words, is the story of his first arrival in Africa.
“A great many people were down to see us off. We left Toronto September 1, 1904…We sailed from Montreal on September 3rd…No one met us in Liverpool. A letter told us where we might find lodgings and told us the meetings [i.e., fundraising deputations] we had to take. We were astonished as there were eighteen in thirteen days, and declared it was impossible to take them. After a great deal of trouble and difficulty we walked to a tram and got to the lodging place.
“The meetings were a blessing…When we got on the boat after thirteen days in Liverpool we found we had had not eighteen, but twenty-five.
“We went out to Africa on the Sobo. It was about 2800 ton. Our first port was Grand Bassa in Liberia where we took on Kroo boys. We anchored outside and the Kroo boys came out in canoes. The passengers on the whole, or some, were not very friendly to us. It was a rough crowd in second class. We called at Axim Secondi, Cape Coast Castle, Accra, at the mouth of the Volta, Lagos and Forcados. We were transferred from the Sobo on to the Branch boat miles from land and were taken in to Burutu. Here we were put on the old Empire. A man called “Yankee” Williams was captain. It took us only four days from Burutu to Lokoja. Some years later I was making this same trip and was reading the schedule when the captain, a white man, came along and said, “That is nonsense. It is impossible to make Lokoja in four days from Burutu.” When I told him that I had done, he almost called me a liar.
“We went on to Bida though we had gone in to Patigi for a meal while the boat was at Maragi. The boat, of course, would only go to the port of Bida, which was fourteen miles away. We got off and arranged our loads and next day started out to walk the fourteen miles. Why our guide—a white man—did what he did I don’t know. He sent Mr. Lang on to catch up to the carriers who were ahead. He went alone. Then he sent me back to come with the other loads. We neither of us had water bottles nor did we know a word of the language. He had a water bottle and knew the language.
“The carriers went into a village and Mr. Lang passed them not knowing it. Of course, he got lost. He, however, got to the Government Quarters and then met the Mission boys who took him to the Station. He had walked about four miles out of his way. I went back, but I could not stay with the carriers. I had no food or water and the carriers would not come along. I could not talk to them. Some did not come along until the next day. I had no water bottle and the sun was hot.
“I waited and walked. I had to drink out of creeks. At last I had to leave the carriers and go on. I knew the road branched off some place, but there were a dozen places it branched off and I did not know which branch to take. I could not ask. I arrived at Wiya Gate, Bida, and a boy took me in charge. I could not speak to him but I felt sure he knew where he was directing. To my surprise we arrived at the Residency. I was nearly dead from thirst. I had walked three miles out of my way in the hot African sun. The Resident, Mr. Goldsmith, took me in and told me the boys would get me anything I wanted. I drank three sparkling bottles of water and then water besides. I could not eat. The Resident gave me a policeman to direct me, but told me to rest awhile. I was directed by the policeman to the Mission Station tired out. This was my first day on shore in Africa.”
Soon after his arrival, Ed Rice relocated to Wushishi, in central Nigeria, to work with one of SIM’s most renowned missionaries, Dr. Andrew Stirrett, a Scottish-Canadian. Ed had a natural affinity for languages, and was soon fluent enough to preach the gospel in Hausa, the predominant indigenous language of Gbari country.
Ed returned to Canada after his first term in Nigeria, and married Annie, who vowed never to stand between her husband and his ministry. After his one-year furlough, the couple travelled to Nigeria together, picking up where Ed had left off in Paiko, in Gbari country. Ed excelled in local languages, preaching and providing Bible instruction to a wide territory. He returned home to Canada many times, attempting to settle permanently after Annie’s poor health kept her rooted to Canada. Despite his own failing health from recurrent bouts of malaria, his passion for Christian ministry drew him to return to Nigeria again and again, pressing ever further into the interior, eagerly staking new territory for Christianity.
In the fall of 1939, against doctor’s orders and without the mission’s approval, Ed returned to Nigeria, determined to continue his work. Once again, he fell ill. Deciding he must return home, he travelled 700 miles from Kano to Lagos, only to be refused passage by the ship’s doctor who judged him too ill to board. On October 22, 1939 Ed Rice died, at Minna, Nigeria.
Annie Rice never recovered full health, but remained a faithful supporter of the Sudan Interior Mission until her death at London, Ontario on June 30, 1961.
 Kroo boys were the term used for the indigenous who made their living ferrying passengers from ship to shore in ports where the sandy ocean floor made ship moorings impossible to construct. Ships dropped anchor off-shore, unloading freight and passengers into large dug-out canoes paddled into shore.
 Buildings of the governing British administration.
 Gbari, or Gbagyi, are an ethnic group of Central Nigeria. Loosely called Gwari by pre-Colonial Europeans and the other ethnic group of the area, the Hausa-speaking Falani, the group calls themselves Gbagyi/Gbari. Today, the population numbers about 5 million.