Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | October 22, 2009

Hannington’s Dust

James Hannington   In 1882, Oxford-educated James Hannington heard of two missionaries martyred on the shores of Lake Victoria in East Africa. Moved by their extreme devotion, Hannington offered himself to the Church Missionary Society to serve as a replacement. He departed England in 1882 and sailed for Uganda via Zanzibar in the Indian Ocean. However, he was so weakened by fever and dysentery that he was forced to return to England to recover. In 1884, Hannington was consecrated Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa and set sail again for Africa in January 1885. After arriving in Kenya, Hannington decided to blaze a new route to Uganda. The trek was difficult and risky. On July 22 Hannington wrote these words in his diary:

“The outlook is gloomy. … Starvation, desertion, treachery, and a few other nightmares and furies hover over one’s head in ghostly forms, and yet in spite of it all, I feel in capital spirits. Let me beg every mite of spare prayer. You must uphold my hands, lest they fall. If this is the last chapter of earthly history, the next will be the first page of the heavenly — no blots and smudges, no incoherence, but sweet converse in the presence of the Lamb.”

   Hannington and his team reached Lake Victoria in October of that year. However, their presence did not go unnoticed. On October 21, Hannington and his party were seized, imprisoned, and brutally treated by the soldiers of a regional ruler named Mwanga. Hannington continued to read the Scriptures and to take notes in his diary. On the seventh day of his imprisonment he wrote:

“A terrible night; first with noisy, drunken guards, and secondly with vermin, which have found out my tent and swarm. I don’t think I got one hour’s sleep, and woke with fever fast developing. O Lord, do have mercy on me, and release me! I am quite broken down and brought low. Comforted by reading 27th Psalm.”

   On the following morning, October 29, Hannington wrote in his diary that he had read and found comfort in the 30th Psalm. Later that day, Mwanga’s men escorted Hannington and his fifty porters toward the banks of the Victoria Nile. Mwanga’s men executed Hannington’s porters and then stabbed Hannington with their spears. As he died, the thirty-eight year old Hannington allegedly told his executioners, “Go, tell Mwanga I have purchased the road to Uganda with my blood.”

   Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” He was right! England was so stirred by Hannington’s ultimate sacrifice that scores of volunteers enlisted to take his place, and within five years twelve thousand East Africans had become Christians. In the 30th Psalm, the Psalm that Hannington had read before he died, the Psalmist complained, “What will you gain if I die, if I sink down into the grave? Can my dust praise you from the grave? Can it tell the world of your faithfulness?”  (30:9). In Hannington’s case, his dust continues to praise God from the grave and to tell the world of God’s faithfulness. Our dust will speak for us after we die. So, like Hannington, let’s write a good script for our dust.


  1. Amen!

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