The nineteenth century missions movement affords us many lessons in a myriad of arenas. But one episode from that great epoch seems to particularly stands out--even as American troops sweep across southern Iraq and toward Baghdad and we begin to ponder the task of rebuilding a shattered nation. Today, teaching in Louisiana, I will share the remarkable story of a similarly grave challenge:
In 1824, the Glasgow Missionary Society founded the Lovedale mission station deep in the Cape Province of South Africa. The hardy pioneers who staffed the station devoted themselves to evangelistic work for nearly four decades. Alas, their efforts bore little fruit and the Society eventually decided to cut its losses and close Lovedale. On this day in 1867 however, a young and ambitious educator, James Stewart, proposed turning the mission station into a mission school.
Stewart had come to South Africa to work with David Livingstone in an effort to establish new industrial enterprises along the Mabotsa frontier on the headwaters of the Limpopo River. Like Livingstone, he believed he was called to help “open up” Africa's interior to the broader influences of Western civilization. Once that occurred, he was certain that commerce and Christianity would work hand-in-hand to end the evils of slave trading, tribal warfare, and primitive barbarism.
He conceived of the idea of transforming the old failed mission station into a fully integrated institution of learning as a first step toward that goal of liberating Africa from the pagan bonds of oppression, ignorance, and brutality. He served as principal of Lovedale for most of the next thirty-eight years and succeeded in transforming it into the premiere school for indigenous peoples in the region. Stewart’s emphasis on combining a substantive classical Christian curriculum with practical vocational training made his students indispensable to the burgeoning development of Africa.
Tellingly, Stewart called his philosophy of education the “Adullam Strategy.” He appropriately took the name from descriptions of the life of David: like David, Stewart willingly served as the captain to a distressed, indebted, and embittered people only to see them transformed into “mighty men.” He did not despise the day of small beginnings. Rather, he invested himself in the lives of a motley crew of the least and the last. And by God’s grace they eventually became giant-killers.
Today, if there is to be any hope of restoring Iraq, removing the specter of tyranny and barbarism, and pointing the way for future generations in the Persian Gulf region to peace, prosperity, and freedom, we'd best not simply rely on shock-and-awe. We'd best consider something akin to the “Adullam Strategy.” After all, there are still giants in the land.