Short Stops

Friendships in Africa

Reverend Dave Simonson was a young Lutheran missionary working in Africa near Tanganyika in 1957 when he was asked if he would fill in as a guide for a hunting expedition that Walter O’Malley just happened to be taking. Respected hunting guide Johnny Fletcher had heard of Simonson’s reputation as a good hunter “with steady nerves on the shotgun trigger” and asked him if he would fill in. Once he decided to take the opportunity, Simonson and O’Malley became instant friends.

The book cover for the “The Cross Under The Acacia Tree”, a biography of Christian missionary David Simonson in Africa befriended by Walter O’Malley.

O’Malley and Simonson shared a tent and developed a rapport and respect for each other.

“I suppose he had a reputation as a hard-charging guy in the business of baseball,” said Simonson. “I don’t know about that. What I know about Walter O’Malley is what I learned on the hunt and in our talks in the tent and simply by watching how he conducted himself. It would be hard for me to respect a man more. Here was a guy who was super-rich, out in wild Africa, hunting big game. But before he would go to sleep each night, he went to his knees and said prayers, just as we had done when we were children. I learned enough about him to know that he wasn’t doing that because he had a minister under his roof. You knew this man did that every night of his life. After the day’s hunt, we’d talk for hours about our lives, about how we related God with our lives, about mistakes we’d made and tried to rectify. We’d also have those talks when the sun started going down and we were set up near the baits we’d prepared. During days in the Land Rover we’d play a kid’s game you have to remember from your young days if you were about as old as we were. It’s called “Battleship,” a board game back in the states. In the middle of Africa we didn’t have any board. We did have sheets of paper, though, and we made a grid like the margins of a map, and put our warships on that grid. Your opponent had to try to locate the ships by calling out the letters and numbers on the grid. We did that for hours — waiting for lion, or elephant or leopard, all of which Walter had on his license from the authorities.”

On their return from the hunting trip in Arusha, O’Malley asked Simonson what his wife missed most about living outside of the states. His reply was about friends and relatives mostly, but as to materials things it was “the piano we had to leave behind with her parents. She loves music and the piano.” O’Malley inquired if there was anything available in Tanganyika like that. A professor had brought a lovely piano with him from Minnesota to Arusha and left it for sale when he returned to the states. The price tag of $500 was too steep for the missionary to afford (he made $150 a month). As the hunters were preparing to return home, O’Malley wrote a check for $500 to Simonson and said, “Tell your wife that it’s the least I can do.” More than 40 years later, the piano still resides in the Simonson’s home.