Walter Fisher was born on 29th November, 1865 into a large family in Greenwich. His father was a successful businessman who owned a fleet of fishing smacks. It was a godly home, and the family attended the Baptist church where the son of Charles Spurgeon preached, later coming into fellowship in the assembly which met in George Street Hall, Greenwich. His parents had a deep interest in gospel work at home and abroad, and such men as Robert Chapman, Henry Dyer, and Henry Groves would often be guests in their home. Having been saved, Walter was baptised when he was fifteen.
In 1881 he entered Guys Hospital as a student, and in 1887 he completed his medical studies, qualifying as a surgeon and winning the gold medal for surgery. Even at this stage he was gaining an interest in missionary work, and there was growing in his heart the desire to be used of the Lord in this way, a feeling that was further encouraged by the departure of the "Cambridge Seven" to work in China. In 1888 he met Fred Stanley Arnot, who was home on furlough after spending seven momentous years in Africa. The story of these seven years gripped the heart of the young man and he enquired of Mr Arnot regarding medical conditions. "Conditions are appalling", was the reply. "The attitude to sickness and death is one of pure superstition." The two men met frequently as Mr Arnot was often a guest in the Fisher home, the link being strengthened when Walters elder sister married Mr Arnot. The news that twelve young men were preparing to return to Africa with Arnot caused Walter Fisher to face up to the decision with which he was confronted. To remain in England would allow him to complete his studies for the highest surgical qualification, Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons. After some time of anxious and prayerful consideration he decided that his future lay in Africa.
In March, 1889 Arnot sailed with some of the party, Walter Fisher and the others sailing on 22nd June, 1889. After an eventful voyage they arrived at their destination, Benguela in Angola, on 7th August. As the boat entered the harbour one of the party, 32 years of age, died of yellow fever. Arnot had gone ahead to their destination, Bihe, which lay 359 miles inland. They would find that travelling 5,000 miles by sea was easier than 359 miles by land! There were paths leading in all directions, and narrow foot tracks running in and out of the forest. These went through the territories of many chiefs and sub-chiefs and each demanded payment for the privilege of passing through their territory. Arnot had returned to the coast to assist them and by the end of December they reached Kwanjulala, having been helped on the last part of the journey by Dan Crawford after Arnot had gone ahead of them.
Kwanjulala would be the centre of Dr Fishers work until 1893. Apart from building accommodation, he established the pattern of his work which he would maintain during the long years of his service. This consisted of offering the local people medical treatment and then travelling around the area telling them of the Saviour. It soon became clear that the native people regarded the missionaries as being extremely wealthy and this disturbed Fisher who saw it as a barrier to the spread of the gospel. He determined, therefore, to live in a stout, but plain house, and to visit the local villages regularly, accepting offers of accommodation in native homes, buying food which could be obtained locally, spending the evenings sitting round the village camp fire, treating the ill, and, as a result, becoming more proficient in the local language and accepted by the people. Conditions were difficult and a number of missionaries gave their lives for the gospel in these early years.
But these trips introduced him to more than the local people. Malaria struck him and almost cost him his life. The devil took advantage of his weakness and assailed him with thoughts of the futility of the work in which he was engaged, but of this difficult time he wrote later, "I had a glorious time meditating on our blessed Lord Jesus. It seemed as if He revealed Himself in a special way to me just then".
In May, 1892 Dr Fisher married Miss Anna Darling of Northern Ireland, sister of Dr Singleton Darling, who had come to help in the work. For the next forty-three years she entered fully into her husbands labours. Their marriage was a happy union in the Lord and seven children were born to them, two of whom died in infancy.
In 1893 the newly married couple left Kwanjulala and moved to Kavungu to join Mr and Mrs Handley Bird in the work there. Here they remained for six years. Before leaving Kwanjulala their first child (May) was born, but their second child, born at Kavungu, died shortly after birth. This period was one of their most trying. The area was less healthy than that from which they had come and their physical wellbeing suffered as a result. Ignorance, witchcraft, superstition, and opposition were all around, but there were encouragements. Kamona, a slave to a brutal master, was redeemed for the price of 10 yards of calico cloth and such was her gratitude to the Fishers that she would not leave them and trusted the Lord Jesus as her Saviour. For thirty-five years she proved the reality of her conversion by being a faithful friend to Mrs Fisher.
The hospital work grew steadily and others were saved. Kavungu was a major centre for the slave traders, and these camps were visited and the gospel preached. Some were saved who became leaders in the assembly in Bihe. Mr Bird died of blackwater fever in 1896 and the Fishers children went down with that illness. After an anxious time they recovered, but it was decided that a furlough back home was necessary as in June, 1896 another daughter, named Katolo, after the local native queen, was born to them.
On their return they moved to Kazombo, the first Europeans to settle in that area. The work continued as before. One interesting event throws some light on conditions. Due to a disagreement on the treatment of two men suffering from smallpox, the local chief ordered that no food was to be sold to the mission station. There were in excess of thirty people in the station and the hospital attached to it, and there was only three weeks supply of provisions in store. Food was rationed very carefully, but at the end of six weeks there came the day when the store was bare. That very day a party of carriers was seen approaching the mission bringing food. Their leader, who lived outside the jurisdiction of the chief who had enforced the blockade, explained that they had brought food because of the kindness that had been shown to his great-granddaughter Kamona, the slave who had been redeemed. The cost of this work was seen again in the death of their young daughter Pearl who had been born at Kazombo and died there in 1902.
After a furlough the Fishers embarked on what was to be the great work of the remainder of their lives. The doctor had long wished to establish a permanent hospital which would also be a base for gospel witness. He found the site at Kalene, an area inhabited by the Lunda people, and there commenced construction. F S Arnot wrote, "The loss to the Kazombo district [by the departure of the Fishers] has been the gain, I trust eternally, of the Lunda who live in the more mountainous country on the east bank of the Zambesi". Before an operating room was built in 1908 surgery was carried out on the verandah of the Fishers house, but the new facilities greatly helped the work and Mrs Fisher continued to supervise the nursing of the patients. In the first five years no Lunda professed to be saved, although freed slaves and others did so. The first Lunda convert was a girl, Nyamavunda, who had been treated at the hospital and put her trust in the Lord. For many years she was in fellowship in the assembly at Kalene. Her conversion was the first of many and the pastoral work that became necessary because of the many believers in the area took up much of the Doctors time.
Even then, despite the thriving work at Kalene the Fishers did not rest. A school for local children and an orphanage were added to the work at Kalene. Another great burden to them had been the problem of educating the children of missionaries. For this purpose a site eleven miles south of Kalene, at Sakeji, was selected and the school was built.
Dr Fisher died on 30th December, 1935 and his wife three years later. For many years the work established by the Fishers has continued, a tribute to the faithfulness of these two servants of God who gave themselves wholeheartedly to the furtherance of the gospel in Africa.
Extracted from "Africa Looks Ahead - the Life Stories of Walter and Anna Fisher".