1860 - 1897
George James appears to have been first Seventh-day Adventist missionary to work with indigenous Africans. He was also a violinist who used his instrument, singing, and a small organ as tools to assist in his work. Born in England, he played violin in concerts and other venues before coming to the United States in his twenties.
Shortly after he arrived, he attended evangelistic meetings and was baptized into the Adventist church. Wanting to further his knowledge in the Bible, he attended Battle Creek College, now Andrews University, in Battle Creek, Michigan, where the church's headquarters was also located. Inspired by the first persons leaving to serve as missionaries in Australia and Oceania, he joined the recently formed foreign mission group at the college and eventually became its leader.
In 1890, James asked church leaders to support him in traveling to Africa to spread the gospel. When his request was denied for lack of funds and a belief that outreach to this continent was premature, he sold all he had except for his violin and paid his own way.
Upon arrival at Cape Town, he traveled inland to Central Africa, where he reached a Scottish mission that welcomed him. For the next four years he traveled about the country, sharing the gospel, providing care for the sick, and playing his violin. A close bond developed between James, who quickly learned their languages, and the natives who were taken with his "box that could sing" and his keeping the "right day" as his day of rest.
In 1897, when he heard that the Adventist church was beginning mission work in another area of the continent, on the coast, he decided to go there after they sent him funds to make the trip, even though it was considered the worst part of the year to do so. At the time of James' departure, his converts wept openly, even though he assured them he would return with more missionaries. Tragically, during his trip on a steamer to the new mission he contracted Malaria and died. He is buried along the river in an unmarked grave.
Sources: The Review and Herald, 1 August 1893, 485; 11 November 1893, 518; 22 February 1898 (notice of death), 14; 29 April 1902, 24; Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, Volume 10, Second Revised Edition, 1996, (Review and Herald Publishing Association) 819; Letter to a friend from James, printed in theThe Home Missionary, July 1986, 162, 163.