Facing a task unfinished: Jessie Rowland

DSCF6609 (1280x973)The hymn “Facing a task unfinished” – recently revitalised by Keith and Kristyn Getty – has always been a favourite of ours, with its emotive call that as disciples:

We bear the torch that flaming
Fell from the hands of those
Who gave their lives proclaiming
That Jesus died and rose

However, the words have become all the more moving and challenging for us in the last few years as, wandering across modern Malawi in comparative luxury, we have repeatedly stumbled on the graves of long-gone missionaries. And, browsing the libraries and second-hand bookshops of Blantyre, we have been able to read humble vibrant first-hand accounts of missionaries in the 19th and early 20th century who gave so much that others might hear the Gospel.

So over the next few weeks, as we find time, we want to share some of their stories …

It was in 1905 that the young American couple Jessie and David Rowland joined Zambezi Industrial Mission (now Zambesi Mission) and made the long journey  to their new home at Muluma in the British Central Africa Protectorate (later Nyasaland and now the Republic of Malawi).

Their journey would have been a lot more arduous than our visit there by wide-bodied jet and 4×4 truck in September 2013. Instead they would have spent months travelling on steam ships to the mouth of the Zambezi in Mozambique. Then it would have been a week or two by river steamer up the Zambezi and Shire rivers, and a transfer at Chiromo to ox carts and ‘bush cars’ for the 3,000 ft ascent of the rift-valley escarpment (no railway for this assent until 1909) to finally reach ZIM headquarters at Mitsidi near Blantyre. We can but hope that they then had a bit of a rest before travelling the 100+ km onwards  to Muluma.

We know so little of this young couple, with most of the pre-1940 records of ZIM/ZM destroyed that year in the London Blitz.

What did they think as they travelled the dirt track over 100 years before we did in 2013? When they crested the same rise that we did, did they see in the distance a red brick church sitting proud on a large natural wooded ‘motte’ that erupts out of the vast dusty African plain stretching between Blantyre and the lake? Or was that their work, and they walk up to their new hill-top home and decide to place there the classic mission house, church and clinic that still sit with phenomenal 360 degree views?

And above all, what did David think when, that very same year, so soon after arrival, he laid to rest his 23 year old wife in the red clay of Africa, so many miles from home?

We don’t know how she died, we don’t know whether she left any children, we don’t know if David bravely stayed on at Muluma or left a broken man.

DSCF6621 (2) (1280x913)But standing there in 2013 by her grave; wandering through the church where a plaque still brightly commemorates her death; looking out over the plain from the mound of rubble that is all that remains of the mission house; we were left pondering …

We were left pondering what an amazing faith God must have given Jessie to travel for months by sea and land to this small hill; must have given to that generation of early missionaries as they built these imposing structures on the crown of a hill surrounded by a sea of bush; must have given to those Christians as they poured out their lives for the lost around them. And all this done in the name of love, of God’s ultimate love on the cross.

We were left pondering: was it her grieving husband or her newly acquired African church family, who chose the poignant epitaph on the plaque, so reminiscent of Philipians Ch1 v21:-

With Christ which is far better

 

Facing a task unfinished
That drives us to our knees
A need that, undiminished
Rebukes our slothful ease
We, who rejoice to know Thee
Renew before Thy throne
The solemn pledge we owe Thee
To go and make Thee known

Where other lords beside Thee
Hold their unhindered sway
Where forces that defied Thee
Defy Thee still today
With none to heed their crying
For life, and love, and light
Unnumbered souls are dying
And pass into the night

We go to all the world
With kingdom hope unfurled
No other name has power to save
But Jesus Christ The Lord

We bear the torch that flaming
Fell from the hands of those
Who gave their lives proclaiming
That Jesus died and rose
Ours is the same commission
The same glad message ours
Fired by the same ambition
To Thee we yield our powers

We go to all the world
With kingdom hope unfurled
No other name has power to save
But Jesus Christ The Lord

O Father who sustained them
O Spirit who inspired
Saviour, whose love constrained them
To toil with zeal untired
From cowardice defend us
From lethargy awake!
Forth on Thine errands send us
To labour for Thy sake

We go to all the world
With kingdom hope unfurled
No other name has power to save
But Jesus Christ The Lord

We go to all the world
His kingdom hope unfurled
No other name has power to save
But Jesus Christ The Lord

Original Words by Frank Houghton, Music by Samuel Wesley.

New Words and Music by Keith Getty, Kristyn

4 thoughts on “Facing a task unfinished: Jessie Rowland

  1. Thank you Myles for telling this wonderful story. God could not have given the increase unless saints such as these had planted the seed and watered it, 1 Corinthians 3. I very much look forward to future stories.

  2. Pingback: Facing a task unfinished (2): Where there is love there is no fear | Stepping Out With God

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