In the story of the Mission Africa, letters play a significant role. In June 1887, it was the letter written on behalf of the Ibuno Chiefs and read aloud to the students at Harley College that made clear God’s plan for Samuel Bill. It was a prayer letter telling of the young missionary’s call that prompted a gift of £100 towards his passage to Africa.

In the lonely months ahead, it was the occasional mail, announced by the toot of the passing steamer that sent the missionary scurrying up-river in a canoe to exchange his own envelopes for precious letters from his mother, his fiancée Gracie, and his childhood friend Archie.

Although when Samuel Bill began his private diary 130 years ago, he had no thought of his words being read by anyone but himself, we believe that they have been preserved to help us understand something of humility, humanity and spiritual integrity of the man who would go on to found Mission Africa and plant the Qua Iboe Church. To celebrate 130 years since he set sail, we have published some excerpts.

14th September, 1887

Left Liverpool today for Old Calabar. Afternoon cold and wet. Feel rather lonely just now, however all will soon be well. I have got a cabin all to myself and that is something to be thankful for. Better still, ‘all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose’.

Route To Calabar

18th September, Sunday

No Churches or meeting houses, and worst of all none who know or love the Lord with whom to have fellowship. Spoke to one of the passengers this evening about his soul, and was astonished to discover that he is an agnostic. Did not attempt to argue with him, but simply told him the story of my own conversion and that what to him was a myth or an uncertainty was the greatest reality, in fact the moving power of my life. May the Lord indeed show him the path of wisdom.

25th September

Have enjoyed very much today the reading of some hymns out of the Baptist Hymnbook given to my by Mary. I suppose that just now Father and Mother at home are thinking of me. I suppose Gracie is thinking of the same subject somewhere in the North of England. O God do Thou bless them all this afternoon wherever they are and grant that their thoughts may be peaceful and blessed. The weather is very warm today. Have taken to my white clothes.

26th September

Samuel Bill As Young Man

Got up this morning before 5 o’clock, went up on deck, and just as the sun was rising got my first glimpse of the coast of Africa. I have got into loggerheads with some of the passengers with regard to the way in which [Africans] should be treated by white men. I am vexed to hear they way in which they speak of them. If they could they would deny that they spring from the same stock.

27th September

One thing impresses itself more deeply on my mind every day and that is the traders (at least those on board this vessel) have a decided dislike of missionaries. I suppose however that I must not complain. When I remember how the world treated the Lord Jesus and His Apostles, I must not expect to hear men such as are here speak well of His servants.

5th October

Nearing my new home. Can’t help wondering what it will bring. Feel rather downcast as I draw near the place in which it is probable I shall have a hard struggle to obtain a footing. However, He who is with me is more than all they who can be against me. In His love I can repose, on His wisdom I can depend and through His power and goodness I shall lack no good thing. I feel that it will take more faith and patience than I possess for this work, but He is able to supply it all.

6th October

Stanley Founding Of Congo Free State 232 Old Calabar Factories Near Duke Town

Within a few hours of Old Calabar. Praise the Lord for a safe journey thus far. In my systematic reading of the Bible, one of the passages which I read this morning was the 23rd Psalm. How precious the words seemed, coming as they did to one who is about to be thrown so directly for support on the mercy and providence of God. “The Lord is my Shepherd I’ll not want” Blessed be His name this has been my experience in the past and blessed be His name for the hope that this shall be my experience in the future. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”

Samuel Bill would indeed spend the next fifty-five years working for the cause of the Gospel. In 1942, on the occasion of his passing, the Qua Iboe Quarterly noted, “He gave himself without reserve to the service of Christ in that land“