Dan Crawford was born in Greenock, near Glasgow, Scotland on December 7, 1870.
His father died from tuberculosis when Dan was but four years old … but he grew up in his home town to be ‘a guid laddie’, eventually working as a bookkeeper. He too contracted tuberculosis, soon after starting his trade, being given only a year to live. But he recovered and maintained good health, even in Africa.
Sundays found him regularly at the United Free Church teaching Sunday-School. A fellow teacher, John Storer, would often speak of the joys of salvation to him. But of this Dan Crawford knew nothing. His was a mere head knowledge of the eternal truths.
Nevertheless, his friend’s testimony seemed to stir within him a sense of conviction.
On Sunday 15 May, 1887, with John Storer, Dan Crawford attended an old-fashioned gospel meeting. The meeting closed and still Dan Crawford had not responded. But John Storer brought the issue to a head by “drawing a thick line with a carpenter’s pencil” on the floor. “Dan,” he said, “you’ll not step over that line until you have trusted Christ. Will you trust Him now?” (Twelve Mighty Missionaries, by E. Enock, page 82).
Dan signified his commitment to Christ by stepping across the line.
He never looked back. Baptised on 15 September, 1887, he fellowshipped with the Brethren Assembly, fell in love with Grace Tilsley, and felt the call to missionary service. He was not disobedient to the Heavenly Vision, initially planning to go to China.
Soon after his conversion, however, Crawford heard returned African missionary F. S. Arnot tell of the challenge to reach the African tribes which Livingstone had dreamed of reaching, beyond the Lualaba River. Young Crawford responded to the “call” to Africa, joined Arnot’s party and sailed for Angola on 23 March 1889. He eventually arrived at Bunkeya, the capital of the kingdom of Garenganze (now Katanga), ruled by the despotic Msidi, in November 1890.
His arrival occurred at the time of the Belgian expansion of the Congo Free State. Brethren missionaries steered well clear of politics. The assassination of Msidi in 1891 led to disintegration of his empire, which played into the hands of the new colonial masters.
For his part Crawford was highly individual and opinionated. He was difficult to work with as testified by how quickly people gave up working with him through the years. One opinion which he changed was that missionaries should remain single. He once remarked that “a missionary married is a missionary marred”.
Many in those days referred to Africa as the “white man’s grave”. Scores of pioneer missionaries succumbed to disease or death within months of their arrival. But Dan Crawford’s health even prospered in these harsh conditions.
He ventured out on his own in 1893, creating a new mission station near Lake Mweru. His base attracted many natives who were displaced by the various tribal struggles. He also travelled extensively, taking the gospel on his exploratory travels.
Seeing better wisdom than his anti-marriage stance, he wrote to Miss Tilsley, telling of his love for her. Before long she was en route to Africa … and they married on 14 September, 1898.
Crawford proved himself to be a gifted linguist, mastering the local African languages, teaching himself both Greek and Hebrew and translating the Scriptures into the Luba dialect, which translation he used in his village “Bible schools”. His converts were encouraged to participate in preaching, teaching and church administration.
Not only did he achieve remarkable results among those with whom he worked for 22 years in the Congo, but he wrote Thinking Back (1912), a book that caused a stir by challenging some contemporary missionary methods, as did his later book Back to the Long Grass. He considered himself to be of no fixed nationality, but a brother to all men. “I am de-nationalized – a brother to all men; Arab, African, Mongol, Aryan, Jew; seeing in the Incarnation a link that binds us up with all men”. He identified with the Africans, which was contrary to the European thinking of his day.
On the night of 29 May, 1926, he accidentally knocked the back of his hand on a rough wooden shelf. Being sleepy, he failed to apply iodine – and later treatment proved useless. As a result of that simple accident blood poisoning set in and he died on 3 June, 1926, at the age of 55 years.
Again … “he stepped over the line”, into the very presence of his Lord.
This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com