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Mary Slessor Issue 1: The Worst Place on Earth

In Mary Slessor's time, Calabar was called the most dangerous location in Africa. So why did she go there as a missionary?

Updated Aug 25, 2023
Mary Slessor Issue 1: The Worst Place on Earth

"I want the job," I said to the Sunday school superintendent.

He peered down at me over his wire-rimmed glasses. "You're quite small, Mary, and I'm not sure--"

"I'm fourteen!" I said. "I can read and write, and I know my Bible stories, too. I can teach them."

The superintendent cleared his throat. "I know you mean well, Mary, but the street children run wild here. The gangs of boys are rough and they don't want us teaching here on Queen Street. You could get hurt!"

"I can do it," I answered. "Besides, I think God wants me to teach. I'm not afraid."

I tried desperately to sound as brave as my brother Robert.

The superintendent stroked his moustache, staring at my red hair.

"Well, I guess you can give it a try. Can you start this Friday night?"

"Yes!" I exclaimed. "Thank you!"

Dreams of Calabar, Africa

I ran to Mother, who was standing outside the front door of the church.

"Mother!" I shouted. "I can have the job!"

"You'll be a wonderful teacher, Mary," Mother said. "Just be careful. The gangs are mean to outsiders."

"I know," I answered. "It's a little dangerous. But it's not as bad as Calabar!"

Mother laughed. "No, not as bad as Calabar!"

As we walked home, I felt as though my heart would burst! Mother used to tell Robert and me about a place called Calabar in Africa. Calabar was the worst spot on earth--with headhunters, witchcraft, and deadly sicknesses. I was too young to go to the worst spot on earth, but at least I could be a missionary on Queen Street, the worst spot in Dundee, Scotland.

"Robert would be proud of you, Mary," Mother said, smiling.

A tear came to my eye. "Robert was always brave."

My older brother, Robert, was with Jesus now. When we were small, Robert's eyes would grow as wide as tea saucers whenever Mother read missionary stories.

Sometimes he'd say, "When I grow up, Mary, I am going to be a missionary. And I'm going to take you with me."

After Robert became sick and died, I felt doubly sad. Not only had I lost my big brother, I had also lost the dream of serving in missions with him. I think that Robert would have become a great missionary, maybe even as great as David Livingstone.

Mud Balls on Queen Street

Friday came quickly. I walked down to Queen Street with my Bible in hand, eager to share God's word with the street kids.

"Hello," I greeted the first two children as they entered the building. They were dirty and their coats were torn.

Three more children came, and I started teaching at 7 o'clock sharp.

"I want to begin with the story of how God created the world," I said. "I'll pass these papers out--"

Suddenly, the door in the back opened and a tall boy ducked inside and hurled a mud ball at me.

"Ouch!" I yelled, rubbing my arm. The rock hidden inside the mud ball really hurt!

"What should I do?" I wondered.

"We don't want you here!" the boy yelled. There was a clamor outside the door as the gang yelled for me to get out.

"Let's get out of here!" cried my students as they ran out of the classroom.

The gang finally left, too, and I shut the door and slumped to the floor. My legs were shaking, but my heart was determined--these mean bullies and their mud balls would not stop me from teaching.

The mudslingers came week after week, but I kept teaching and more and more children kept coming!


One night, I walked outside on Queen Street feeling discouraged. The street gang had beaten up one of my students and knocked over my lantern lights.

I trudged home, lost in thought. The alley was dark and foggy so I didn't notice the gang of boys that had circled around me until it was too late. I stopped, praying while my heart raced.

"What do you want?" I asked.

"We want you to leave," the leader answered.

The boys closed in the circle around me and the leader stepped forward. He carried a large piece of metal with razor-sharp edges. The metal was tied to a string and he started swinging it around and around over his head.

"This will fix your pretty face," the boy sneered. "Move back."

I refused to budge. I was scared, but this boy wasn't going to make me run.

The boy kept swinging the string while the sharp metal came closer and closer to my face. I swallowed hard and bit my lower lip.

"Give in," the leader demanded.

Another swing. The metal grazed my forehead. I kept staring at him as the warm blood oozed down my forehead.

The boy suddenly dropped the metal weight onto the street. Amazingly, his heart had changed.

"You're brave for a girl," he said, laughing. "You can walk anywhere and we won't let anybody hurt you!"

I took out a handkerchief and wiped my forehead. "Then why don't you come to my mission meeting tomorrow night?" I asked boldly.

The boys laughed. One joked, "Yeah, we'll come to your mission meeting."


I was thrilled the next night when all of them came. One of them even asked Jesus into his heart!

My mission meetings on Queen Street helped me to get accepted as a foreign missionary after I grew up. I was so surprised when one of the people who appointed me said, "You have proven you can be a good missionary on Queen Street. We'd like to send you to Calabar, Africa."

Calabar! Wow!

My heart pounded with excitement the afternoon in 1876 when I boarded the ship for Calabar. Even though my dear brother Robert couldn't go with me, I thought about him as the gangway was lowered onto the dock and the ship noisily pushed away from the shore. One day I would see Robert in heaven and then I'd tell him all about my missionary adventures.

And I wasn't afraid! Jesus was right beside me as I traveled to the worst spot on earth--Calabar, Africa.

The Continuing Story

Mary's adventures were just beginning when she headed for Africa. You can get a glimpse into her Africa years in next month's Glimpses for Kids.

Make It Real! Questions to make you dig a little deeper and think a little harder.

1. Mary had to stand up to some bullies while trying to share Bible stories on Queen Street. Why do you think they left her alone when they saw that she wasn't afraid?

2. Mary didn't let her young age stop her from sharing God's Word with others. Do you have someone that you can share Bible stories with? Maybe it's someone in your family, your neighborhood or even your school or church.

3. Mary wanted a specific job with all her heart. She wanted to teach the street children on Queen Street. What job do you want?

Suggested reading:

Mary Slessor: Forward into Calabar by Janet & Geoff Benge (Christian Heroes Then and Now series, YWAM Pub.)

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Mary Slessor Unit Study Curriculum Guide by Janet & Geoff Benge (YWAM Pub.)

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Click here to read Mary Slessor Issue 2: White Ma of Calabar

Photo Credit: Public domain photo via University of Edingburgh archives, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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