What does Mary Crickmore, a CRC missionary in Mali, West Africa, for over 30 years, have in common with Robert Moffat, a 19th century Scotsman who arrived in what is now Botswana, Southern Africa, in 1821 as a missionary from the London Missionary Society?
You might be surprised.
Ten years ago, Mary Crickmore took on the Malian and US governments by standing with the Fulani people of the Malian Sahel to seek land justice. She, her husband Scott and their family, lived, worked, and witnessed among the Fulani, sharing their village life. The materially poor Fulani were far more than mission “targets” to the Crickmores; they were equals, friends, neighbors, teachers, and eternally important people.
Scots missionary Robert Moffat lived among the people of Bechuanaland for 50 years. Moffat put unwritten local languages to paper and invested in education. He, like Mary, was big on literacy and willingly helped the indigenous people struggle for justice against rapacious and corrupt colonial forces – first the Boers and then Cecil Rhodes and the British South Africa Company.
In 1895 Moffat and other missionaries accompanied King Khama and lesser chiefs of Bechuanaland on a lobbying visit to London and Queen Victoria. The organized missionary lobby in London and the grace and authority of the African delegation won the battle of public opinion. Cecil Rhodes’ juggernaut was stopped in its tracks. The world was spared another Rhodesia. In its place we have a free and independent Botswana with one of the highest standards of living in sub-Saharan Africa.
One hundred years later, Mary Crickmore and the CRC church agencies she worked with (including World Renew and the Office of Social Justice) were similarly engaged as advocates. Through literacy and awareness raising she and others had helped to empower the Fulani. When it became clear that a massive and corrupt grab for Fulani land was underway, the Fulani resisted. Mary and others amplified their voices and helped them carry their message to those with power.
When it became clear that a massive and corrupt grab for Fulani land was underway, the Fulani resisted. Mary and others amplified their voices and helped them carry their message to those with power.
In the end, Mary was instrumental in mobilizing a US Senator, a good chunk of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, and the Malian government to do the right thing. The result: thousands of Fulani received title to farm land and access to precious irrigation water – people who otherwise would have been run off their ancestral lands. And jail terms for those local officials who had tried to do it!
So what do Mary Crickmore and Robert Moffat have in common? They both were instruments of justice – and changed the lives of thousands who were being oppressed by the empires of the times. For them mission work was and is “bringing good news to the poor” – and that good news includes “proclaiming freedom for the prisoner, recovery of sight for the blind, and freeing the oppressed” (Luke 4:18).
There are many things to be ashamed of in the history of missionary complicity in death-dealing colonial enterprises. But since the early resistance of Spain’s Father Bartolomé de las Casas to the destruction of indigenous populations in the Caribbean, there has always been a small but distinct counter-current of the mission enterprise that worked for justice, missionaries who saw clearly the empire’s systematic dehumanization of those they had grown to respect and love.
There has always been a small but distinct counter-current of the mission enterprise that worked for justice, missionaries who saw clearly the empire’s systematic dehumanization of those they had grown to respect and love.
The Christian call to do justice, as a vocation in ministry and missions, has deep roots. There is nothing new under the sun. We work for justice, as Martin Luther King said, “standing on the shoulders of those who came before us.”
Let’s claim our roots and connect the dots! We need to see and celebrate those groups and individuals who seek justice as an integral part of their ministry today. They are not only in faraway places but working with the abused, the scape-goats, and the disenfranchised among us here and now. Look for them. Celebrate them. Support them.
I celebrate Robert Moffat – one of the pairs of shoulders on which you and I stand.
I celebrate Mary Crickmore – and all the others I know who are cracking open the door in my time and beyond for a little more of God’s Good News – God’s Justice – to enter this world.
[Image: Sean Hawkey, from World Renew's media library]