The life journey of missionary Peter Cameron Scott (1867-1896) was remarkable as much as it was short. It is a story of commitment, resilience, courage and absolute selflessness.
Peter was born on March 7, 1867 in Glasgow, Scotland to a devout Christian family. At the age of three he was run over by a handcart, making the general condition of his health to be unpredictable throughout his life. While he was still young, his family migrated to America where they settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. By this time, one of his sisters had died and her grave was one of the main things they had left behind in Scotland.
Peter had a good singing voice and as he matured, he began to show interest in becoming a professional singer. But the type of lifestyle that was associated with that career was frowned upon in strict Christian circles of the time, so his parents opposed the idea. He ended up settling for a more acceptable job in the printing industry.
At the age of 20, while working as a printer, his health broke down and his doctor advised that a change of climate would help improve his condition. The doctor recommended that Peter return to Scotland to help his health recover. When he returned, one of the things he did was to visit his sister’s grave in Glasgow. As he stood by the grave, he experienced an epiphany, thinking about the possibility of his own death. This led him to dedicate his life to Jesus Christ as he promised God that if He saved his life, he would serve Him faithfully from then henceforth.
Soon, his health began to improve and he returned to America where he developed an interest in going to work in Africa as a missionary. He was concerned that Africans were dying without knowledge of Christ.
After completing his training at the New York Missionary Training College and receiving blessings from his parents, Peter was accepted by the International Missionary Alliance and ordained by Rev. A.B. Simpson in November 1890. Impatient to begin missionary work in Africa, he gathered together seven eager young men and they set sail for Congo.
Arriving on the western coast of Congo in January, 1891, the team landed at Banana on the mouth of River Congo, proceeding inland where the International Missionary Alliance was working. A few months later, Peter was joined by his brother but, before long, his brother died and Peter himself contracted malaria which forced him to return home after barely two years in Congo.
On his way back to America, he passed through England where he stayed with his friends Mr and Mrs Brodie in London. But his health deteriorated and he was forced to extend his stay as he recuperated.
One day while kneeling before the grave of David Livingstone in Westminster Abbey he prayed in meditation and his interest in Africa was rekindled. He dreamt of a chain of missions stretching from the coast in East Africa to Lake Chad in the central part of Africa.
Peter arose with new determination and returned to America where he founded the American Inland Mission (AIM) early in 1895. With a new team he landed at the port city of Mombasa on October 7, 1895, proceeding inland to Kibwezi where the East Africa Scottish Mission had established a station. After eight days the team left Kibwezi travelling into the interior of Ukambani and arriving at Kalamba, Nzaui, approximately 250 miles (400 kms) from Mombasa on December 12, 1895.
Kalamba was considered a sacred ground by the Kamba people but when Peter convinced them that his team wanted to establish a place for the worship of God, the hosts allowed them to set up their mission there. By December 23, 1895, the team had built their first house at Kalamba measuring 30 ft by 14 ft which the five of them occupied.
Despite his poor health, Peter’s faith was strong and within seven months of his arrival at Kalamba, he had set up three other missions at Sakai, Kilungu and Kangundo through very challenging situations. They managed to recruit a number of converts among the Kamba community.
Unfortunately, Peter died of black-water fever on December 4 1896 and he was buried at Kalamba. His death had a very demoralising effect on the mission team and many of them returned home because of ill health while others resigned and joined government or private agencies.
Nevertheless, Peter’s efforts were not in vain. When the new General Director of the Mission Charles E. Hurlburt took over, the mission headquarters was moved to Kijabe in 1903 from where the work of AIM evangelists would multiply to plant over 3,000 church communities in the East African region.
I had the opportunity to visit Kalamba where Peter is buried. A church that was built in 1932 in his memory stands here built on a rock outcrop. It is of a polygonal shape and looks like it was designed by a committee with no apparent architectural style. Walls are built of burned clay bricks under a corrugated iron sheets roof with arched door and window openings. The floor is made of compacted stone. One portion of the pitched roof is occupied by “friendly” bees which I am told have been at this site since time immemorial as if to guard this sacred ground.
Peter’s grave lies to the west of the church in a mausoleum forming part of a museum supported by the Makueni County government. There is also a modern church, a primary school and dispensary within this centre.
Travelling from Emali to Kalamba, I was surprised to note the large number of church-supported schools which clearly demonstrates the role of faith-based organisations in the history of our education system.
Kalamba has also been in the news recently with a modern mango processing plant which is providing livelihoods to many residents and has been labelled a success story of devolution. Peter Cameron Scott’s choice of Kalamba must have been divine.