“Then three of the thirty chief men went down … and came to David at the cave of Adullam” (2 Sam. 23:13).
In 1824, the Glasgow Missionary Society founded the Lovedale mission station along the Tyumie tributary of the Keiskama River, deep in the Cape province of South Africa. The hardy Scots Presbyterians who￼staffed the station devoted themselves almost entirely to evangelistic work for nearly four decades. Alas, their sacrificial efforts bore little fruit, and the society began to consider cutting its losses and closing Lovedale. In 1867, however, a young and ambitious Scottish educator, James Stewart (1831–1905), proposed turning the mission station into a mission school.
Stewart had arrived at Cape Town in South Africa some six years earlier in the company of Mary Livingstone, who was joining her husband, David Livingstone. Stewart intended to spend the rest of his life working with the Livingstones in an effort to establish new industrial enterprises along the Mabotsa frontier on the headwaters of the Limpopo River.
Like Livingstone, he believed he was called to help “open up” Africa’s interior to the broader influences of Western civilization. Once that occurred, he was certain that commerce and Christianity would work hand in hand to end the evils of slave trading, tribal warfare, and primitive barbarism. After several wrenching false starts however, he concluded that before his dreams of indigenous development could be realized, the impoverished tribal peoples would have to be much more substantively trained, discipled, and educated.
Thus, he conceived the idea of transforming the old failed mission station into a fully integrated institution of learning. Irrepressibly passionate but always gentle, stunningly brilliant but always accessible, racked by malaria but “compelled by the love of Christ,” Stewart was one of the most productive, effective, and tireless men in the history of missions. He served as principal of Lovedale for most of the next 38 years and succeeded in making the school into the premier educational establishment for indigenous peoples in southern Africa. In addition to a general education, Lovedale offered practical training in sundry industrial arts to those who had, heretofore, been exploited only for unskilled labor: printing, blacksmithing, carpentry, masonry, and wagon-making. The students built roads, watercourses, and dams. They not only built all the buildings on the Lovedale campus, they actually fabricated all the building materials themselves.
During his long and productive years of ministry, Stewart helped to establish two other mission stations, a satellite school, and a fully equipped hospital—and he left a blueprint for a college that was built after his death. He was lauded as the “educator to a race” and the “father of native African enterprise.” More than a century later, Nelson Mandela hailed him as the “model Christian” and South Africa’s “founder of freedom.” Likewise, South African President Thabo Mbeki recently asserted that the impact of Lovedale graduates on South Africa was “incalculable in terms of helping us to get to where we are today.”
Tellingly, Stewart called his philosophy of education “The Adullam Strategy.” He took the name from two odd descriptions from the life of David—one when the ruddy shepherd boy had just begun his career, the other when the old king was ready to lay down his mantle.
The first description is found in 1 Samuel 22:1–2, where David is hiding in the cave of Adullam. There he becomes the “captain” to all the distressed, indebted, and embittered men of the land. There seems to be little nobility in the vagabonds, brigands, and renegades who attach themselves to David’s cause.
The second description is found in 2 Samuel 23:8–39. It has been quite some time since the men joined David’s cause, but many of them are still with him. Somehow, though, in the intervening years, they have been transformed from the distressed, indebted, and embittered into the king’s “mighty men.” Their exploits are now the stuff of legend.
Their story is a kind of “David-and-Goliath experience” repeated again and again. Following their giant-killing mentor, they have learned to transcend their physical limitations. By the grace of God, they all have become giant killers.
Like David, James Stewart willingly served as the captain to a distressed, indebted, and embittered people only to see them transformed into “mighty men.” He did not despise the day of small beginnings. Rather, he invested himself in the lives of a motley crew of the least and the last. And by God’s grace, they too eventually became giant killers.
The Adullam Strategy is hardly the way we would choose to undertake the great task of cultural transformation. But more often than not, it is the way God, in His good providence, chooses for us.