Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

Frank William Boreham 1871-1959
A photo F W Boreham took of himself in 1911

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Man Who Saved Gandhi: Part 9

The amazing thing is that, in defiance of the physical frailty that had dogged his days, Mr. Doke laid his bones in a missionary grave after all! His brother's resting-place on the banks of the Congo always held a conspicuous place in the landscape of his life. I cannot stifle a suspicion that it was one of the factors that lured him to the adventure that glorified the close of his career.

He conceived the idea that it would enormously enrich the spirituality and increase the effectiveness of his own church at Johannesburg, and of all the South African churches, if they had a specific missionary objective, and especially an African objective. He talked it over with Fred Arnot, the renowned explorer and evangelist. Arnot told him of a lonely mission-station away up in the interior‑not far from the upper reaches of the Congo‑that might be taken over by the South African churches and made the centre from which a vast unevangelized territory might be worked. The idea captivated Mr. Doke's imagination, and he felt sure that it would appeal to all the heroic instincts in the young men and women of the churches. With boyish excitement he resolved to set out on a great trek into the heart of the continent. Clement, his son, agreed to, accompany him. “We are off for the Congo Border,” he wrote enthusiastically. “Is it a holiday trip? It seems a long way to go for a holiday. I would claim that we are prospectors, but it would be misunderstood. Yet that is really what we are‑prospecting for missions.” They set out on July 2, 1913. Infected by his ardour, his people crowded down to wave their affectionate farewells, and eagerly anticipated the stirring story that he would have to tell on his return.

His journal, carefully kept to the last, reads like a section of Livingstone's Missionary Travels or Stanley's In Darkest Africa. Here, as in those classics, we have the swamp and the jungle, the long grass and the winding trails, the lions and the hyenas, the zebras and the impalas, the mosquitoes and the tse-tse flies. His attempts to make the natives of the various villages understand his message are strangely reminiscent of Livingstone. The travellers reached their objective and were given a boisterous welcome: “Clement was almost overpowered and our ears tingled with the noise.” They spent some days in conference with the missionaries; explored the entire area; and Mr. Doke formulated his plans for the establishment of his new scheme.

The return journey was more trying. But they bravely survived the ordeal of the long march, and, on August 5, reached the railway. Here father and son separated. Mr. Doke had promised, before terminating his travels, to visit a mission-station at Umtali, in Eastern Rhodesia. At Bulawayo, therefore, the two reluctantly parted, Clement taking the train home to Johannesburg and Mr. Doke turning his face towards Umtali.

And at Umtali he suddenly collapsed and died. “This is the time,” he murmured, “when a man wants his wife.” “Yes,” replied Mr. Wodehouse, his missionary-host, “but One is near you who is better than wife or mother.” “Yes,” he replied. “I know that the Everlasting Arms are around me.” He asked Mr. Wodehouse to pray with him; then to stroke his hair; and, later still, to hold his hand. And on Friday evening, August 15, 1913, he quietly and peacefully passed away.

His life-work was, however, splendidly complete. His dream was more than realized. The work of that mission-station in the far north‑to which his own children were among the first to dedicate their lives has prospered and developed in most unexpected ways. And, to this day, his memory, like a fragrance, pervades hundreds of homes on all five of the world's great continents.

F W Boreham