I was reading recently about Mary Slessor, a Scottish missionary to Nigeria in Africa. The daughter of a shoemaker by trade, Mary went to work as a “half-timer” at the age of eleven. This meant she worked in the mill half a day and the other half-day she went to a school provided by the mill. Her father and her two brothers died of pneumonia, leaving her mother and two sisters. Mary became a skilled jute laborer, working from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

She heard about the death of David Livingstone, the famous missionary and explorer and decided she would become a missionary and take his place. After applying to a mission board and receiving training, she left for Africa in 1876 at the age of 28. With red hair and bright blue eyes, she presented a dramatic contrast to the dark-skinned Nigerians.

Hard-working and ambitious, she became known not only for spreading Christianity but for protecting children and advocating for the rights of women. Among certain tribes, the belief prevailed that the birth of twins was a curse. They feared the father was an evil spirit and the mother was guilty of some great sin. Unable to determine which twin was fathered by an evil spirit, they often abandoned both babies. Mary Slessor adopted every child she found abandoned.

On one occasion, while proposing to an African chief some things she would like to do, he blurted, “You, you do all of this? Why, you are only a woman!” She replied, “Yes, but you have forgotten the woman’s God!”

Her hero, David Livingstone, who suffered one African fever after another, said courageously, “I will go anywhere, provided it is forward!”

How do you account for people having such courage, such determination, such focused energy to accomplish great things? Paul Rees, in one of his books, suggested such people were empowered by the Holy Spirit. He believes such people were “cleansed of their selfish ambition for place and preferment, cleansed of their resentments, cleansed of their self-righteous pride, cleansed of their crippling fears.”

It is amazing what people can do when they set aside their personal preferences and give themselves to a holy agenda. The first Christians were “filled with the Spirit” (Acts 2:4). What would happen if you were cleansed of self-centeredness and filled with God-given love for others?