Senior Orations Dickinson College 
An African Missionary's Qualifications and Work.
A senior oration given by Walter G. Steel1 in June 1896
Transcribed and annotated by Daniel Fleischman, October 1999
I will not discuss the manners and customs of the Africans in this oration, but the missionary qualifications necessary to lead them to a state of civilization.

The way the people of Africa are to be christianized is through intellectual and industrial schools and homes, schools for the old and working classes, and homes for the children.  The greatest results are to be accomplished through the children and young people; and to make the work successful, you must have complete control of the children.  All this can be done by adoption or purchase.  This is the work of the missionary and to do this he has to be taught trades as well as to be educated, and the very first start to this end is to know their language2, and to study them so as to know best to help them.  He must fit them for teachers and preachers to their own people, and through them the older ones will be brought to Jesus.

You see this is not the work of a short time, or of a few years, but of many years or a lifetime.  It is not to be
accomplished by ignorance, no matter how zealous, but will only be done by educated and trained christians, who are converted, wholly sanctified3, called, and set apart for the Master's use.

The missionary should not only be qualified and fitted out, but they should be well supported, I mean clothed, housed, and fed; and if they are such as I have described, they do not want any salary but such as is needed for the above necessities. Their time, talents, life, and all are the Lords, willingly given as a loving offer of obedience and not a sacrifice.

I have, from inquiry and observation, come to the conclusion that fully one half, if not more, of the time of a self
supporting missionary is devoted, and fully taken up in trying to obtain his self-support, and then not accomplish it, and it cannot be accomplished from the native resources4 of Africa for years to come, if ever.  There are strings that are not raised there, such as cereals, sugars, meats, and many other things that must be had to sustain life and health5.  But there is another great and very important objection to the theory of self-support.  The hard labor is exhausting and antagonistic to his real work, and distracts his mind from studying and teaching.  What little time he has for mental labor, he is entirely unfit to work, very often he too tired to fix his mind on it even when trying and wishing to, this latter being the greatest hindrance to some of the missionary work in Africa.

There are a number of missionaries, who went there and put up with the lack of proper food, of the blood producing
kind, and who even suffered from the scarcity of such food as they had, and endured it even to the loss of health.  They do nothave the time or are not fit physically to learn the language, or teach and do the work they came out for, which they see is absolutely necessary to their success.  They seems? prospect ahead, and they know they have left fields of usefulness.  All these things, in some cases, send home true missionaries.  In other cases, they struggle along not accomplishing much apparently, but doing what little they can.

I believe one station well equipped and supported, having their whole time to devote to their missionary work, would accomplish more than five self-supporting stations6 with equal advantages in other ways.  The loss in poor health, death-rate,  and expense considering outfits, fares, and so forth, would be much less.  Of course every mission should and would have its garden, not as a necessity on account of health, for such a missionary as I have described will find plenty of hard work to do, but because he will want a place to raise some things the natives do not, and which the white man wants.

This is an age of active and aggressive movements in all lines of Christian work, and there is none more important than the missionary work and cause.7  At the door of the work stands the missionary and to have him fully qualified and equipped, so that he may do good work for God and humanity, is the essential need.

As qualification and character constitute the sum of all human attainments in the realm of temporal as well as spiritual life, and as they are the powers that mould our dispositions, how necessary it is then that we should seek for the best, that we may be co-laborers with God and sharers of his kingdom.  We should not remain satisfied as babes in the initial experience of justification, but go on to the fulness of the blessing of gospel of Christ and, "Press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."8  We should make a complete consecration of ourselves to God, and ask for a clean heart, that he may sanctify us wholly.  This is the qualification, and this only, for all effectual Christian work, and this is the qualification that builds character, and moulds dispositions, tempers and transforms the whole life.

The great difficulty with some missionaries is to make the heathen9 understand the love of God and his mercy as
combined with his justice, and this is the one cause of the lack of converts.  Why is it?  Because they do not understand it themselves, they have not the experience and they cannot teach what they do not know.  Jesus told his disciples, "He is with you but he shall be in you."10  Which was fulfilled at the day of Pentecost and ever after they preached a different gospel and with marked results.

A justified believer has the spirits light as far as the privileges of that experience go, but the wholly sanctified have the full blaze of the gospel light abiding within.  He that wrote the word and is the only infallible interpeter, He that inspires human thought, quickens human intelligence, and gives power to human work making it aggressive and successful, the abiding presence of the Holy Ghost, not only makes us humble and self-denying, but fills us with zeal, governed by temperance and patience.

The Holy Ghost breaks down all party lines, creeds, nationalities, color, degradation, and all prejudices.11  We can take a blackman or woman by the hand, and call them brother or sister as easy as we can a white one.

Talk these matters over, think over them, pray over them, and be sure to get the experience, and help others into it.  Thus you will do more for the cause of missions by sending the proper persons and having them properly cared for, and thus save much time, health, and life.  Which will advance the cause of Christ's kingdom on earth, and help on that day when all nations and peoples and tongues shall know the Lord, and so hasten the day when he shall come and claim his own, "And many people shall go and say come ye to the house of God and all nations shall flow into it.12

Walter G. Steel
        Dickinson College
Class 1896


1.  The author of this oration, Reverand Walter Greenough Steel, was a Dickinson student from 1892 to 1896.  He was born August 20, 1866 in Concord, NH, and died July 15,1949.  Prior to writing this oration, Walter and his wife did missionary work in Africa from 1887 to 1888, when they contracted African fever and had to return to this country.  He spent his life as a pastor in Pennsylvania,  retired from the ministry in 1937 and moved to New Jersey, where he would live until his death in 1949.  (1895-96 Dickinson College Catalogue, page 90,  1905 Dickinson College Alumni Record page 340, Microcosm 1897 pages 38 and 160, Dickinson Alumnus. Vol. 28, No.3.  Feb, 1951:  29-3 )
*note to the reader - Steel wrote much of this oration based on individual experience and knowledge, obtained through his own experience as a missionary in Africa through his observation.  Good luck to the next historian who attempts to tackle the contents of this oration.  The hope is that these sources and notes may be helpful in your search for the past.

2.  "know their language"- the language of those being christianized, missionaries needed to learn languages.
"[I]n order to plant the Gospel in the language and culture ... many missionaries worked as linguists." Henkel, Reinhard, Christian Missions in Africa.  Berlin:  Dietrich Reimer Verlag, 1989, p.16

3.  the term "wholly sanctified"- a dictionary would classify this term as a complete dedication to religious duties, in this case referring to a dedication to spreading Christianity.  (Webster's New World College Dictionary)

4.  Missionaries often fail at trying to obtain "self-support".  Steel observed what he estimates to be half the time, or more, spent trying to find ways "to sustain life and health."  Most Europeans "unaccustomed" to the climate
contracted diseases, though Steel is trying to cite a lack of resources as the problem. Henke, Christian Missions in Africa, page 28

5.  "things that are not raised there, such as cereals, sugars, meats, and many other things..."  The 1875 edition of
Encyclopedia Britannica explains the crops that were in Africa in the late 19th century (Volume I. pg. 231, under Africa)

6.  "self-supporting stations"- unsure if "self-supporting stations" = "mission stations";  mission stations being defined at one time as " a place of residence for one or more missionaries from Christendom."  Henkel, page 24

7.  "An age of aggressive movements in all lines of Christian work."- There was a large growth in the number of missionary societies from the mid-nineteenth century to the end of the nineteenth century.  Authors have noted "the sheer momentum attained in that period."  see Hutchison, William R.  Errand to the World.  Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 1987, page 91

8. Philippians 3:14

9.  "heathen"- common reference given to  non-Christian peoples;  i.e. those the missionaries were trying to convert (Encyclopedia Britannica Volume XVI.  pgs. 534-541, under Missions)

10.  An adaptation from the Gospels. Searches were ineffective in locating this particular exact quote.

11.  "Holy Ghost breaks down prejudices"- one source suggests that missionaries were trying to continue the work of Christ "to build up "one People of God", "one body of Christ", one temple of the Holy Spirit out of the multiplicity of mankind." Schuster, Heinz, ed.  Re-Thinking the Church's Mission.  New York: Paulist Press, 1966 page 25 All people should be able to follow Christ by learning his religion, no matter what their race, creed, nationality, color, etc.

12. Unable to obtain this Biblical source exactly.