July 2008

Missionaries to Congo, Africa

One of the intriguing items in Arnott Harrison’s Harrison History was his cryptic notation after Emma Harrison’s name “Mrs. Broome P. Smith, Missionary at Congo, Africa deceased no children.”

Now I would not have had a clue where to begin looking for more information if it had not been for my visit to Dundas last month and coming across that small news article in the Dundas Star about Broome P. Smith giving a talk about his work in the Congo.

I wondered if they married in Canada and went to the Congo together, or if she had been a single missionary to Congo and they had married there.

I was able to access the 1891 census in Hamilton, Ontario, and there included in Thomas D. Harrison’s family was Emma, 31, single. At least that answered one question. Smith had been on the mission field for many years and was in Dundas at his brother-in-law’s in 1899, so there was a good chance that they married in Canada. Perhaps Emma wrote to Broome on the mission field; she could have met him before he left for the Congo.

The Christian and Missionary Alliance website on the internet was set up well and easy to use. I sent an email and asked if their archives might have information on a Broome P. Smith who had come home from the Congo mission field in 1899. From their website I had already learned that the first C&MA missionaries had gone out not under the C&MA but under a couple of smaller missionary groups which became Christian and Missionary Alliance about 1885. In a short time I got an email telling me they had researched and found a few notes regarding Broome Smith and his wife, but more importantly they gave me the web addresses for their archived annual reports and magazine going back to 1885. These could be searched by every word.

I went to the library to use their computer because their’s is much faster than mine and I found several significant items. By the time I had finished my sleuthing, I knew that Emma had not gone out as a single missionary but had gone out in 1899 as Mrs. Broome Smith, a new missionary.

Now comes an interesting series of events. There was a fairly long article in the C&MA magazine about Broome Smith arriving in California from the Congo on July 31, 1898 and then spending four months talking about his missionary work to the churches in California. He spoke 150 times in the four months. He left there Dec. 5th, “for the east and England” hoping to return to the Congo by April 1st.

In January 1899, when he spoke in Dundas, he was married. That was a whirlwind courtship if he left California in December and was married in January. Of course, we do not know if Emma and Broome knew each other and had planned a wedding but Dundas was obviously “east” and I figured out why “England” before he returned to the Congo. He was born in England and likely his parents still lived there. So he married Emma, they went to England to see his folks and then to the Congo, all between July 31, 1898 and April 1, 1899.

Then, in The Christian and Missionary Alliance magazine, Dec. 30, 1899:

“Death on the Mission Field

We regret to learn that Mrs. Broome Smith, of our Congo Mission, recently married and sent out to this field, died from fever on the Congo on the twenty-fourth of October. Our prayerful sympathy is with our dear brother in his severe bereavement after so short and happy a union in the service of their common Lord.”

We do not know if he brought Emma’s body back to Canada. I suspect she is buried in Africa. There would not have been money to bring her back. The cryptic Congo ledger record that the archivist found for me said simply “Broome left the field Dec. 12, 1899.”

I found no further record of him in the C&MA archives. He either left missionary work or he went to work for a different mission. All comments about Broome’s dedication and passion for the work leads one to suspect he continued somewhere. There was also this comment in the 1899-1900 Annual Report from Dr. Cramer, superintendent of Congo mission:

“The mission sustained a severe loss during the year in the death of Mrs. Broome P. Smith, of whose character and work the brethren on the field speak in the highest terms.”

(Lineage: Emma-5, Thomas D.-4, Catharine Harrison-3, John-2, Alexander Douglass-1)

In the annual reports of the Christian & Missionary Alliance, there were indications that some missionaries were unhappy with their lot at their station, but that did not appear to be the case in the Congo mission where Dr. Reid had nothing but praise for his work and his people and they for him. Some people questioned the C&MA for not providing financial reports of where the money went and they tried to supply reports accordingly. The Congo mission received more than the Sudan mission, their only two missions in Africa, but the Congo mission must have been much larger, at one time having 40 missionaries there, scattered among seven stations on the north bank of the Congo River. Missionaries did not receive money directly from C&MA. Money was sent to the Superintendent of the mission who allocated it pro rata to various members of the mission. It must have been a very hard life.

During the years 1895 – 1916 things in Congo were very bad. King Leopold of Belgium had claimed the area as his personal domain and was stripping the country of its natural resources. While he never visited Congo himself, he maintained an armed force there who were rewarded for their success in forcing the natives to work extracting rubber. The army was brutal and there have been calls recently that the period during which the population was greatly diminished by murder and dreadful working conditions should be considered genocide. By the time the truth came out to the world, the competition by other rubber companies who could produce rubber cheaper, and the world demand for King Leopold to be accountable for his actions, stopped the devastation as no longer worth the effort.

During this time missionaries were allowed in by suffrage only; in other words keep your mouth shut about what goes on or you will be kicked out of the country. Nothing in the annual reports of the C&MA spoke to the horrible situation in the country except occasionally an allusion to “troubled times” or “we thought our mission was completely lost.” Even in these trying conditions or perhaps because of them, the missionaries were able to win converts. I explored enough reports to learn that the Congo mission did not shut down at the time of Broome Smith’s departure, but it was severely hurt for lack of workers and had to withdraw from some of its outlying areas.

If you would like to explore the Christian and Missionary Alliance archives for yourself, here are the websites I looked at: http://www.cmalliance.org/whoweare/archives/alifepdf.jsp


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