The early life of Mary Slessor in Scotland was horrific but fairly typical of the times. Her father was continually drunk and unable to hold down a job. The conditions that the family lived in were terrible and, at the age of eleven, she was working in awful conditions in a cotton mill. The one positive thing was that the mill provided schooling for her. She also helped at a local Sunday school and found herself drawn towards the stories of missionaries, especially David Livingstone.
By the time she was twenty-five, her father had died and so had two of her sisters and both her brothers. However Mary still harboured the desire to go to Africa as a missionary. In 1876 she got her wish and was assigned to a post as a teacher in Calabar. After three months of training she set sail. However she was not prepared for the way in which the natives were controlled by superstition and their fear of evil spirits. They were happy to hear the gospel and respond in the way that they knew that the missionary wanted, but they were not prepared to actually change anything in their lives (much like people today really!). Mary did not feel that her first three years accomplished much. She then caught malaria and went back to Scotland to recuperate.
On her return to Africa, Mary moved out of the missionary compound to live amongst the natives. This was partly to be more accepted by the people and partly to save money to keep her mother back in Scotland. She set up a classroom, looked after the sick and went around the area preaching the Gospel. She was also given many newly born orphans to look after. As time went on she spread her influence over a much wider area and confronted the natives, in particular the chiefs, in the way they treated people.
Mary had a deep desire to preach the Gospel inland. Very few missionaries had gone away from the coast deep into the jungle and in 1888, twelve years after she first arrived in Africa, Mary set up camp in Ekenge and continued much as she had already done. The one thing that she became known for was in the way that she stood up against many of the cruel local customs. Life was cheap and punishments were severe. People were often maimed or killed for trivial reasons.
For thirty-nine years Mary Slessor worked amongst the tribes of this part of Africa. She turned down an offer of marriage because she would not be allowed to stay amongst the people if she were married. She was one of a kind dedicated to preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the process of doing this, she changed the customs and superstitions of the tribes. She died in 1915 at the age of sixty-seven, in a tiny mud hut amongst the people she reached with the Christian Gospel.