George James: pioneer Seventh-day Adventist missionary to Malawi, 1893–1894

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This paper examines the brief but nevertheless important story of George James, the first Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) missionary who set foot in present-day Malawi in 1893, and where a decade later (1902) Malamulo, the church’s earliest flagship mission station in all Africa was established (Matemba 2002:1). What is remarkable about James is that not only was he a recent SDA convert who self-sponsored his missionary work to Malawi, but also that he was representing what at that time was a little-known USA-based evangelical denomination with roots to the 1830s apocalyptic Millerite movement (Hoeschele 2004:11). In Malawi, the British colonial government would later unfairly mischaracterize the church as a “nondescript” religious movement bent on unsettling the “native” mind, apparently because of its premillennial teachings, strict adherence to the Seventh-day Sabbath, and eschatological beliefs, including remnant ecclesiology (Shepperson and Price 1987:328-330). Despite James’ pioneer missionary status in Africa, his story has received cursory attention in the discourse, and in cases where information about him exist, there are factual discrepancies and often the narrative is presented uncritically. Although James’ activities during his short missionary sojourn did not result in the direct establishment of the SDA church in Malawi, his story is significant in two ways. First, it provides an important starting point towards a critical understanding of the earliest SDA missionary attempts to evangelize Africa. Second, while the narrative is set within the narrow confines of a single missionary from a historically “smaller” evangelical church (Fiedler 1995:31, 32), it highlights the difficulties and personal sacrifices pioneer missionaries faced in the early years of Christian evangelization of Africa.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-87
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Adventist Mission Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 23 Apr 2021


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