This is the day that … George Grenfell (not to be confused with Wilfred Grenfell of Labrador!) was born in 1849, near Land’s End in Cornwall, England.
At fifteen years of age, in the spiritual aftermath of the great revival of 1859, he was soundly converted and baptized. His first job, apprenticed in a large hardware and machinery plant, was to prove an important resource for his future ministry.
He kept company with a devout group of young men who spent each Sunday in strenuous activity, involving seven services along with tract distribution. Then on Monday mornings they would study Greek and Bible from 6.30am. George edited their paper, called Missionary Work, sharing missionary stories from around the world.
At age 24 he entered the Baptist College at Bristol to prepare for missionary service in Africa. He first went to Cameroon, in January 1875, married there and suffered the death of his bride less than a year later. His next objective was to take the gospel up the mighty Congo River.
Henry M Stanley, following the efforts of David Livingstone, gave impetus to Grenfell’s dream with the publication of his own journeys.
It was a one thousand pounds (Sterling) donation in 1882 from eccentric Robert Arthington, the “Miser of Headingley” (England), which was given to the Baptists for work in the Belgian Congo. As a result a steamboat, “the length of a cricket pitch” was especially constructed and shipped to Africa in 800 sections … then carried inland “by a vast army of porters.”
The boat was named “Peace” and it was George Grenfell who would sail her up and down the Congo in six eventful missionary trips. For that matter, he, along with native helpers, had to assemble the boat in the first place, the three engineers coming from England to oversee the task having died shortly after arriving in Africa.
The “Peace” was even surrounded by wire screens as a protection from poisoned arrows … “There was a time when 50 war canoes attacked the steamer and the protective blinds proved their value” (The Missionaries, by G. Moorhouse, page 200).
The Royal Geographical Society (England) awarded Grenfell a “Founder’s Medal” because of his exploratory work, and King Leopold of Belgium made him “Commander of the Royal Order of the Lion” due to the blessings this man of God had brought to the heart of Africa.
But Grenfell and King Leopold ‘fell out’. The Congo state government confiscated the “Peace” to carry guns and soldiers on a war expedition!
Ruth Tucker writes: “Despite the overwhelming obstacles, Grenfell saw surprising success during his years in the Congo … he supervised Baptist missions (there) for 20 years and witnessed a great spiritual awakening at his own mission station in Boloko” (From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, page 156).
George had buried two wives and several children in Africa, to add to his pains. He also confronted horrific practices of murder, cannibalism, slave trading, gross immorality, atrocities and heart-breaking cruelty. His driving passion was his conviction that the he was bringing light into the dark heart of Africa. After 20 years he saw many evidences of the new attitudes and practices along the Congo.
George Grenfell died up the Congo River on July 1, 1906.
This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.