On this date in 1844, Johann Ludwig Krapf visited the city of Mombasa, which is nestled along the coast of Kenya. He decided that this spot would be ideal to start his mission and, after arranging for his family to join him, set about establishing the first mission along the East African coast.
This venture was not Krapf’s first attempt to start a mission along the Eastern coast. He had tried several times in Ethiopia, but had been blocked by the unfriendly chiefs and rulers if the tribes. But finally, he found favor with Sultan Said-Said, who gave him a letter which read: “This comes from Said-Said, Sultan; greeting all our subjects, friends, and governors. This letter is written on behalf of Dr. Krapf, a German, a good man who wishes to convert the world to God. Behave well to him, and be everywhere serviceable to him.” With this royal favor, the coast of Kenya was opened to him.
Almost at once, Krapf plunged into the study of the Swahili language, of which there was neither grammar nor dictionary. He also studied several of the tribal languages, including Kiswahili, Kiduruma, and Kigiriama. He became fluent in all these languages and produced a Swahili dictionary and several Biblical translations in these languages.
However, disaster struck Krapf in the midst of his work. Just two months after his wife and son arrived, they both died from fever. These deaths crushed Krapf and he wrote, “My heart and body wept for many days.” But he continued on. When writing to other missionaries encouraging them to join him in his work, he wrote, in regards to his loss:
Tell our friends that there is on the East African coast a lonely grave of a member of the Mission cause connected with your Society. This is a sign that you have commenced the struggle with this part of the world; and as the victories of the Church are gained by stepping over the graves of many of her members, you may be the more convinced that the hour is at hand when you are summoned to the conversion of Africa from its eastern shore.