Mary Mitchell Slessor, a catalyst of change

Having listened to Hope Masterton Waddell, an Irish clergyman urge colleagues and congregants to establish a mission in Africa, coupled with the death of the famous missionary explorer, David Livingstone, Mary Mitchell Slessor at 27 made up her mind to explore the African continent. She applied to the United Presbyterian Church’s Foreign Mission Board and after training in Edinburgh; she sailed to Calabar on August 5, 1876 and arrived over a month later.

Born December 2, 1848, in Gilcomston, Aberdeen, Scotland, Slessor was on mission work to Calabar, where she learned Efik and gained the people’s trust and acceptance, which enabled her to evangelize the area.

Known as Eka kpukpru owo (everybody’s mother), among Efik speaking people, Slessor adopted every abandoned child she picked up. She even sent twins’ missioners to find, protect and care for abandoned twins and bring them to the Mission House. The Mission House was home to babies and infants.

She saved hundreds of twins from death. She healed the sick, stopped the sacrifice of wives and slaves upon the death of a chief and also stopped the practice of determining guilt by forcing suspects to drink poison.

She was a driving force behind the establishment of Hope Waddell Training Institute in Calabar, which provided practical vocational training to the people. She abhorred the practices of twin-murder and elevated the status of women within the Calabar and Arochukwu regions.

In 1892, the British Consul General, Major Claude MacDonald, appointed Slessor Vice Consul of the Okoyong territory and in 1905, Vice President of the native court.

Slessor encouraged the education of children, participated in settling disputes, whether as an agent of the British government or on an informal, personal basis. She brought peace to communities where there were social and political upheavals.

She died in January 1915 at Use Ikot Oku, near Calabar and was buried in Missionaries Grave in Calabar.

In 2000, she was chosen as one of the millennium persons of Calabar. She is honored in the area with statues, each a likeness of Slessor holding twin babies, while in Scotland a 10-pound note bears her picture. The museum in Dundee displays stained glass windows that depict events from her life.

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