Alexander Mackay was born in Scotland in 1849 and surrendered his heart to Christ as a young boy. Reports of David Livingstone, a fellow Scotsman and missionary in Africa, inspired young Mackay. He was interested in mechanics and building and went to engineering school, but he longed to serve God, too. In 1875, a letter published in the local paper spurred Mackay to action. The letter was written from Uganda by Henry Stanley: “King M’tesa has been asking me about the white man’s God… Oh that some practical missionary would come here…who can cure their diseases, build dwellings, and turn his hand to anything.”
Four months later, Mackay was on a ship for Africa. The first thing he did was build a road 230 miles through the jungle to Lake Victoria. Mackay identified his pioneer ministry with that of John the Baptist, preparing the way for the coming of the Savior. The road he built through the dense jungle was symbolic of the spiritual inroads he would make into the dark land of spirit worship. Mackay wrote: “This will certainly yet be a highway for the King Himself; and all that pass this way will come to know His Name.”
Uganda was one of the larger kingdoms in Africa. Mackay was welcomed into the court and invited to preach before King M’tesa himself. The king wanted to learn about the white man’s God because, in contrast to the Muslim slave traders, the white men he met did not exploit the Ugandans. The king and his court were impressed by Mackay’s skills such as carpentry and basic medicine. Men, women, and children began to repent and believe in Christ. Mackay began translating and printing portions of the New Testament. The king spoke of being baptized. But Mackay knew there was no repentance in his life as he was unwilling to give up his 300 wives, involvement in slave trade, and other cruel vices.
Opposition began to mount against Mackay because he preached against the king’s vices; and the Arab slave traders—who hated Mackay for interfering with their business—flattered the king and spread lies about Mackay. An era of persecution began with the beating and torturing of Mackay’s converts. King M’tesa died, but his son M’wanga was even more wicked.
Mackay toiled on and a few years later, at the age of 41, he succumbed to a tropical fever. But within thirty years of his death, the king and tens of thousands of Ugandans were Christians, and the slave trade was abolished.