African Americans In Missions: Setting The Historical Record Straight -- By: Ken L. Davis

Journal: Journal of Ministry and Theology
Volume: JMAT 06:1 (Spring 2002)
Article: African Americans In Missions: Setting The Historical Record Straight
Author: Ken L. Davis


African Americans In Missions:
Setting The Historical Record Straight

Ken L. Davis

Director of Project Jerusalem
Baptist Bible Seminary, Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania

In American historical studies the black church has traditionally been recognized as the leading black social, political, economic, and spiritual force. With the exception of the black church, however, the contributions that black Americans have made in our land have often been overlooked and ignored. Particularly unrecognized and often little investigated is the story of the many unsung black American heroes who risked their lives to take the gospel across cultural barriers in obedience to Christ’s Great Commission. These men and women who dared to step out by faith onto foreign mission fields have written their pages into the annals of world history. Yet sadly few American Christians—white or black—have read and appreciated their remarkable stories. This amazing reservoir of achievements in missionary endeavor, usually under harsh and unfavorable circumstances, should become a rich heritage of courage, faith, and self-sacrifice valued by every member of the body of Christ today. It is a lasting testimony that, by the sovereign grace of God, the missionary cause of Christ can be advanced in any generation under any condition.

Eighteenth-Century Missions

A careful and unbiased look at the historical record reveals that American blacks did not wait until the Emancipation Proclamation before attempting to carry the gospel to others. Incredibly as early as the late eighteenth century, blacks were active in cross-cultural missions. Amazingly, with one exception, their first efforts were all aimed overseas. Among black believers the foreign missions motif generally seems to have predated the home missions motif.

During the 1770s John Marrant, a free black from New York City, was already ministering the Word of God cross-culturally,

preaching to native Americans. By 1775 he had carried the gospel to the Cherokee, Creek, Catawar, and Housaw Indians.1 This was not quite thirty years after the death of the famed Indian missionary David Brainerd.

The foreign missions involvement of American blacks began in the West Indies about this same time. Rev. George Liele (or Lisle) is considered by some to be America’s first foreign missionary, certainly our first black overseas missionary. Though technically not officially “sent out” by any local church, he was an early “tentmaker.” In July of 1782 this freed slave departed for Jamaica, where he later established the first Baptist church on t...

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