Livingstone's astonishing commitment - his
virtue of relentless application of Gospel
truths - was a compulsion to many who did not
sympathize with his goals. His commitment was
even considered a compulsion to some - like
Dr. Kirk - who did sympathize. Livingstone's
perilous journeys up and down the Zambesi
River were alluded to in 'warts'. But not
explained there was what was at stake. Africa
south of the Nile River was remarkable in that
it had very few navigable rivers. Livingstone
reasoned that if only he could find a river
route into the heart of Africa it would invite
commerce into the interior. Thus the slave
trade would die because local chiefs would no
longer have to cooperate with slave traders to
get trade goods. Knowing this was his goal
justified what Livingstone did. Not knowing it
or knowing it but not believing it made
Livingstone seem like a crackpot, just as Dr.
Kirk often thought.
The Zambesi was the most
promising river Livingstone had found. Other
than Victoria Falls - which could be detoured
by river traders without great difficulty -
the Zambesi had only one major obstacle:
the Kebrabasa Rapids. The miles of rapids
could not be easily detoured. Livingstone was
determined to find out if they were navigable
at least during high water. The result was one
of the most grueling journeys ever taken by
explorers. December 2, 1858, during low water
Livingstone proceeded on foot up the rapids
with Kirk, local guides and four Makalolo
warriors fiercely loyal to Livingstone. By
noon the African sun made the boulders
sizzling hot. The feet of the Makalolos
The streambed was a nightmarish
chaos of boulders, many so enormous they
actually had to be climbed! It was often
necessary to leap from rock to rock or squirm
through gaps or slide perilously down boulder
surfaces before gaining a sure footing.
Yet Livingstone would not stop until
nightfall. The next day his traveling
companions were mutinous. The guides quit. The
raw-footed Makalolos, who revered him, said he
had no heart, then declared him insane! Yet
Livingstone continued. At one locality on the
second day the party had to scale a 300-foot
rock face. Livingstone wrote, "The heat was
excessive…(and there) we were, clambering up
the face of a slippery promontory, certain
that, if one of the foremost lost his hold, he
would knock all the others down who came
Kirk could not believe
what Livingstone concluded at the end of the
nightmare. Yes, declared the irrepressible
Livingstone, at high water one might just be
able to get a boat through the Kebrabasa
So Kirk, a loyal
colleague, often believed Livingstone, a
crackpot. And similarly many otherwise decent
clerics considered Mother Teresa a crackpot.
In 1948 - at 38, not five feet tall, not 100
pounds - she ventured alone from the convent
onto the streets of Calcutta, murderous
streets since the open feud between Hindus and
Muslims began in 1946. Here she began her
mission to help the poorest of the poor.
Everything she did was something that was said
to be impossible. How could she leave the
cloister? The archbishop would never let her
go. How could she start a new order? The
Vatican would never approve another new order.
How could she dress in a sari like a native?
No one would respect her. How could she live?
She had no money, nothing to eat, no place to
stay. How could she survive? Either the Hindus
or the Muslims would kill her. How could she
start a school? She had nothing. Besides, the
poor people were suspicious and would oppose
her. How could she offer them medical help?
She had no resources. How could she ever
attract other Sisters? The work was far too
dangerous to appeal to young women. On
and on went the objections...
Yes, even the most
well-intentioned occasionally forgot what
Mother Teresa knew in her heart: 'I can do
everything through Him who gives me strength.'
(Philippians 4:13 NIV).
Why is the virtue of
commitment so important to heroes?