A Missionary Doctor's Autobiography
Lesotho, which means "the country of the Sotho people", has been called the Switzerland of Southern Africa, for it lies between five and twelve thousand feet above sea level and is very mountainous. From Emmanuel Mission we used to look across to the blue Maluti mountains, which were snow covered for about half the year. We often had snow on the mission but it rarely lay on the ground for over a week. In winter, the nights were usually bitterly cold but the days often bright and sunny. It was these cold winters which enabled us to grow cherries and apples.
Besides its mountains, the country was also famous for its Basuto ponies. This was a stocky, sure-footed, rather long-haired mountain pony that seemed capable of going anywhere. Dad used to keep at least two horses most of the time we were there, as they were an ideal form of transport on the rugged rocky trails. We learned to ride at an early age - not the elegant trotting of the English riding schools but what I think of as the practical way of the Basuto people.
Once we went on a pony-trekking holiday up into the Maluti mountains, to a river called Madibamatso (which means Dark Caverns), where we camped for a few days. It took one and a half day's riding to get there, zig-zagging up and down the mountain passes. We had packhorses to carry our tents and other camping gear and so had to go at a leisurely pace. Some of our group were "city people" and thought it was great to go galloping along the trail, imitating the cowboys in western films, but by the first afternoon they were so saddle-sore that they preferred to walk.
Dad was Mission Director, which meant that he was in charge of the mission station, including the primary school, as well as the church groups, called "companies" scattered over an area almost 100 miles long. Each of these companies had a pastor/teacher in charge, who cared for the church company, ran a small school (usually held in the church building), as well as conducting evangelistic meetings. He would come at each month-end to give his statistical report and collect his wages. Once a teacher was rather concerned when his calculations showed that the average attendance was 7.5 students. He insisted that he could not have half a student!
Many of these teachers had only completed 8 to 10 years of school but they did faithful service and many present-day leaders in Lesotho were taught in these "out-schools". The primary school (up to 8th grade) at the mission of which Dad was in charge, later had a local Principal and was upgraded to include a secondary school. It is now known as Emmanuel High School.
When I was about 6, Dad held a tent effort at Chief Ledingoana’s village, some 4 miles away. We used to walk over there on the footpath in the late afternoon in time to set up our equipment. At dusk there would be singing and then a slide show. The large glass slides were shown on a projector powered by a carbide lamp. Then Dad would preach, while I usually slept on the grass at the side of the platform. Most nights I got a piggy-back ride home.
Many years later, a camp-meeting for the Berea company provided a memorable weekend. Dad and I took our food, bedding, etc. on the truck for the 70-odd mile trip, part of which was on a cart track through thick mud. Dad reckoned that the church would be the best place to sleep, as it would be the least likely to have non-human inhabitants! We parked the truck close to the church so that we could get electric power for our slide projector by passing a cord through the window to the truck battery. We set up our camp beds in a corner of the church, which meant that we had to be up early, as there were no curtains on the windows and little heads appeared over the sills before sunrise. When Dad lathered his face with shaving cream, there were shouts of "Come and see this strange white man! He's washing his face in milk!"
Meetings were held the whole weekend and included a baptism in the Caledon River on Sabbath afternoon. After the new members had been officially welcomed into the church there was a communion service, so that the new members could partake.
The truck also served as ambulance on occasions. It seemed that every month, on the day Dad chose to do the book keeping for the mission, someone would arrive with a serious medical case, needing transport to the government hospital, twelve miles away.
After obtaining my driving license at age 17, I became "ambulance driver", when I was home, a job I enjoyed -- most of the time. There was the day when, with frantic shouts, the women on the back of the truck told me that the patient who had been in labour for two days was about to deliver. The village midwives did a good job, tying the cord with a bit of string, then cutting the umbilical cord with a sharp blade of grass.
"Shall we go home now?" I asked.
"No, the after-birth hasn't come yet. Go on to the hospital."
A few miles farther - "Stop! Stop, the after-birth is coming" and then, "All right, we can go home now."
I suggested they name the newborn girl, "Lorina", as she was born on the back of the lorry (truck)!
Once, when Dad applied for permission to open a new school, he was asked, "What are the distances to the three nearest schools?" There being no detailed ordinance maps, Dad had to step out the distance, through gullies and over ridges.
Mission life was not all work; our family did have holidays and time off, although not on a regular basis. Our favourite picnic site was a waterfall, about 5 miles away, which involved hand-carrying our food the last mile. Another was the Leribe dam, twelve miles away, where we could swim and fish.