(English Missionary to China, India and Africa)
Although he was back in England, Charles’ thoughts were still on the foreign mission field. Two years later, in 1908, “God called C T Studd to his greatest task which would engage him till his dying day.”
o Call to Africa
When visiting Liverpool one day, an interesting poster caught his eye: “Cannibals want Missionaries.” “Cannibals” – nothing sounded more inviting to Charles! What a challenge to “take the gospel into the stronghold of the devil”! Attending the advertised meeting, Charles heard German missionary, Dr Karl Kumm speak of the many savage tribes in Africa who had never heard of Christ. Deeply stirred, Charles cried out: “God why have no Christians answered the call?” Swiftly, the reply came: “Why don’t you go?”
Charles’ first thought was of his poor health – that he was too sick to pioneer a new work in a foreign land. But God gave His servant an immediate answer: “I am the God that heals you. Can’t you trust me? I will go with you and keep you.” For Charles, the issue of obedience had been settled many years ago. It was clear that God had spoken, and He must now obey.
Brushing aside the many formidable issues that stood in his way – his poor health, lack of funds, Priscilla’s serious heart condition and his unmarried daughters – Charles decided to sail with Dr Kumm to Africa. But God intervened. On the day of his supposed departure, Charles did not board the ship – he had come down with malaria and a high fever.
Yet Charles was not deterred. At a World Missionary Conference in 1910, Dr Kumm’s “powerful words fanned the flame of devotion in Studd’s heart”. Once again, he fixed his eyes on Africa. When his doctors declared him unfit for mission work, Charles was unfazed. In response to his defiance, the Missionary Committee withdrew their support. He answered them: “Gentlemen, God has called me to go and I will go. I will blaze the trail, though my grave may only become a stepping stone that younger men may follow.” On 15th December, 1910, Charles departed for Africa, leaving behind a sick and grieving wife, and four daughters.
o Ministry in Africa
Arriving in Africa, Charles started his ministry in the city of Khartoum, where a large British contingent of soldiers were stationed. Later, he made an exploratory trip to southern Sudan. Travelling back to Khartoum, he came down with malaria once again and returned to England to recuperate in the summer of 1911.
Back home, he resumed his itinerant preaching ministry in the campuses. Among the many students who were challenged by his call to Africa was a young medical undergraduate from Cambridge, Alfred Buxton who later married Charles’ daughter, Edith.
On 13th January 1913, Charles sailed with his team of missionaries (including Alfred Buxton) to East Africa. The two men, Charles and Alfred, headed for the Belgian Congo region (Zaire) where they settled in the town of Kilo. It was in this gold mining town that they experienced great trials and many dark days of suffering – Charles’ serious illness, loneliness, the lack of basic comforts, uncertainties and spiritual battles. But both men stood firm in their faith and God gave them the victory. Overcoming their many struggles in the Belgian Congo region, the two pioneers “established four mission stations in an area then inhabited by eight different tribes” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Studd).
o Priscilla’s support and ministry
When Priscilla fell seriously ill, Charles went back to England before returning to Africa in 1916. By then, Priscilla had recovered sufficiently to undertake the expansion of the mission into the Worldwide Evangelisation Crusade with workers in South America, Central Asia and the Middle East as well as Africa” (ibid). At home in England, Priscilla “soldiered on alone, carrying the main burden of the home end of the work. Stormy years had passed since she had seen her husband. Differences, difficulties and heartbreak had come between, but she permitted none of these to divert her from her calling. United with her husband in vision and zeal, she gave her whole life to take the gospel to the unevangelised world.” With his wife’s capable support at home, Charles established an extensive mission outreach from his mission base at Ibambi, Belgian Congo.
In 1928, Priscilla visited her husband whom she had not seen for twelve years. Whilst there, she persuaded him to return home “but he refused every entreaty. He would die in the Congo”. That was the last time the couple saw one another – Priscilla passed away the following year while on holiday in Spain.
While in Africa, Charles was plagued by ill-health – recurring bouts of malaria, heart problems, dysentery and asthma. Despite his poor physical state, Charles toiled on, working 18 hours each day. He went on long trips, often ministering to congregations of 2,000. His health deteriorated, and on 16th July 1931, Charles went Home to be with His Saviour Whom he had served so faithfully. He died in Ibambi, at the age of seventy. “In 1931, in the Ituri forest where he had once been entertained by cannibals, he died … surrounded by the African people he loved and whose lives he had done so much to change. It was a stormy day when they laid him to rest. 2,000 people including chiefs from the surrounding forests came to his funeral.”
Charles Studd was a zealous and passionate servant of the Lord. When called to serve God in foreign lands, he obeyed wholeheartedly, despite great opposition from his family and friends. His answer to critics who said he had gone overboard in his zeal was simple. “How could I spend the best years of my life in living for the honours of this world, when thousands of souls are perishing every day?” (www. Christianity.com).
Charles was a powerful evangelist whom the Lord used mightily to win many souls. He was single-minded and courageous. However, he had many weaknesses. In his “fanatical” zeal to obey God’s call, he went to the other extreme – he “seemed to overlook his own flesh and blood”. His sickly wife, Priscilla, had to endure great trials – loneliness, heartaches and disappointments during their many painful years apart. His daughters grew up without their father’s presence and support. “People were not sure what to make of a man, who in his 50s, could leave behind an ailing wife, while he went to be a missionary in the most inaccessible part of earth. His love for Jesus Christ was supreme, and to many of his contemporaries, he was a fanatic” (http://www.reformationsa.org/index.php/history/133-ct-studd-cricketer-for-christ).
A stubborn and inflexible man, Charles would not tolerate any kind of disagreement. This resulted in bitter conflicts with his own family, co-workers and fellow missionaries until his death. “It seems Charles Studd knew no different way of dealing with disagreements other than strongly defending himself to every interested party and, in the process, spreading the problem. His ‘straight talk’ and warring accusations isolated him … Confrontational situations only sharpened Studd; he would never give in. The tougher the situation, the more he fought” (ibid). His two sons-in-law who co-laboured with him in Africa, “recognized that his energy, earnestness and singlemindedness made him a most difficult person to work with”.
We thank God for this enlightening study into the life of Charles Studd. We end with the thought-provoking words of Eileen Vincent who wrote the Studds’ biography: “Charles’ life is the most powerful rebuke to half-hearted Christians. Who could sit at ease when an asthmatic, plagued with numerous other ailments and at the age when most settle down, was willing to go, alone if necessary, to the heart of Africa for the sake of Christ and lost souls?” May the life of this faithful and devoted missionary pioneer challenge us to obey the Gospel call. Amen.
(Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from C T Studd and Priscilla by Eileen Vincent.)