by Howard O. Jones
Several years ago at the conclusion of a missionary meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, one of the speakers, a white lady missionary from Africa raised a common question:
"Howard, as pastor of this church, I know you have a real burden for the evangelization of your people both here in America and in Africa. God is blessing your radio ministry here and abroad. However, it is my opinion that your proposal personally to visit Africa for evangelistic work is good but not practical."
"Why?" I asked, although I was acquainted with the argument
"Because the Africans will not accept the Gospel from you is a Negro, as they accept it from us," was the sincere reply. `You see, Africans would resent your coming to tell them about Jesus Christ and their need of salvation because they consider themselves on the same plane as yourself. They would -xpect you to dress, eat and live as they do, and if you should -efuse there would be offense. But with the white missionary t is different because we are from another race and culture."
I could not accept this missionary’s appraisal of the situation. I had heard this line of reasoning from other white missionaries, mission officials, and once from a Bible professor. I disagreed with her, as I did with others, feeling that she was biased in her attitude toward the use of Negro missionaries in Africa or anvwhere else in the world. All meant well, I felt sure, but I was certain they were ignorant of certain facts. There was only one thing for me to do, namely, visit the mission fields of Africa and gain firsthand experience for myself.
God was blessing our radio ministry each week across the continent of Africa, over radio station ELWA in Monrovia, Liberia, West Africa. From this country I was sending regularly my taped messages abroad. Thousands of Africans listened regularly to my messages from the Word of God. From announcements on the broadcasts they knew that I was an American Negro, and the music presented was that of a Negro church. But how would my African listeners react toward me if I came to visit them? Would I be accepted as their brother from America, or rejected? A personal visit to Africa, I reasoned, would provide the answer.
The statement by my friend, the missionary, accomplished one good purpose. It caused me to do some research on the history of Negro missionaries on the mission fields of the world. Zealously I turned to books, and conversed with missionaries and mission officials of various denominations. The information I received was Heart-warming. Negro missionaries in the past had made a tremendous contribution to the foreign field. Such was the written record. But it was not one easily to be found on the surface. I had to search for it as for hid treasure.
A Southern Baptist publication, The Baptist Advance, directed my attention to one, Reverend George Lisle, a Baptist preacher born in Virginia about 1750. Under the searching words of Reverend Matthew Moore, Lisle was converted and baptized. The Advance says that in time Lisle became an immortal legend, that his name should rank with such missionary pioneers as William Carey, Adoniram Judson Robert Morrison, Robert Moffat, David Livingstone, and others. In fact, Lisle preceded all the above in missionary service.
Howard 0. Jones (Nyack) is associate evangelist, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Born in Cleveland, he was pastor of the Smoot Memorial Christian and Missionary Alliance Church there for seven years before joining the Graham organization in 1958. He held his first evangelistic crusades in Africa in 1957 under the auspices of the Sudan Interior Mission. He and his wife Wanda have five children. Mr. Jones’s ministry by radio goes not only to East and West Africa, but also to Latin America and Europe. Mrs. Jones has toured Nigeria at the invitation of the Christian Women’s Fellowship of West Africa, speaking to women’s groups and conferences ontheChristian home.
Lisle married early and into his home came three sons and a daughter. Lisle was a slave, but one who fortunately- had an understanding, magnanimous master. Recognizing Lisle’s gifts, the master set him free so that he might devote himself to preaching. A man’s gifts "maketh him room," regardless of color, and soon Lisle was preaching in the back country along the Savannah River, and at times to the white church where lie held membership. When the British occupied the Savannah area, Lisle and some of the members from the rural district sought refuge in the city, where they founded the First Negro Baptist Church in Savannah.
The war over, Lisle went to Jamaica, British West Indies, as an indentured servant of Colonel Kirkland, who had been the chief British occupation officer of Savannah. Colonel Kirkland had rescued Lisle from prison when the Sharp family attempted to reenslave him.
JAILED IN JAMAICA
Lisle reached Kingston in 1783, and at the recommendation of Colonel Kirkland was employed by the governor of Jamaica, General Campbell. Working hard and living frugally, Lisle was able to obtain his certificate of manumission the following year. Four men who had immigrated from the American colonies joined him in Kingston and with them he founded the first Negro Baptist church on the island. Lisle proved to be a fiery preacher, and his words were too hot for the established Church of England. Opposition and persecution followed. Services were interrupted and eventually there was imprisonment. The charge against him and his fellows was sedition, a capital offense under the law. Lisle escaped the death penalty, but a preacher companion was hanged.
Like the bold apostles Peter and John, freed from prison this servant of Christ returned to his calling. Within a few years his church grew to a membership of 500 and spread into the outlying districts. Men of influence, like Steven A. Cook who solicited funds in England, came to his aid and enough money was raised for a permanent church edifice.
Besides a warm heart and flaming words, Lisle possessed other gifts: a fair education, tact, and the ability to lead. And he was conscious of the fact that he was part of a larger world.
In 1842 more than fifty missionaries were sent from his church for missionary work in Africa. There were many "firsts" to his credit: first ordained Negro preacher in America, so far as is known, first Negro missionary of record, and first of his race to send missionaries back to the land of his origin.
LOTT CAREY TO LIBERIA
Another early pioneer Negro missionary was Lott Carey, who earned his freedom from slavery in 1813 and entered the Gospel ministry. Mindful of the land from which he came, he determined to return there with the light of the Gospel. But what would he use for money? Others must see the need if be was to go. He spent several years with the colored segment of the First Baptist Church of Richmond, Virginia, gaining its support. Then with Collin Teague as colaborer, in 1821 be sailed to Liberia with the blessing of the Triennial Convention at Richmond and a colonization society that was assisting free Negroes to return to Liberia.
As time passed Negro missionaries from various denominations were sent to Africa, Haiti, and Jamaica. During the years 1820-1890, we read of the ministry of Daniel Coker (African Methodist), Scipio Beanes (African Methodist Episcopal), Henry Garnett (Presbyterian), Joshua Day, A. I. Jones T. J. Bowen, and Henry Goodall (Southern Baptist), and W. H. Sheppard (Southern Presbyterian).
From the ranks of The Christian and Missionary Alliance the following Negro missionaries went to Sierra Leone West Africa, during 1913-1938: Miss Carrie E. Merriweatber, Reverend and Mrs. Eugene N. Thomley, Reverend and Mrs. Montrose A. Waite, Reverend and Mrs. Raymond H. Wilson, and Miss Anita Bolden. The list is by no means exhaustive. But enough have beenmentionedto establish the fact that Negro missionaries have throughout the years made a distinct contribution to foreign missionary work. God blessed their labors and though most of those mentioned have now passed from the earthly scene, "their works do follow them."
Today in this modern space age missionaries continue to serve the Lord on various fields, servants of Christ representing many churches, denominations, and interdenominational faith missions. In Liberia, for example, one sees the excellent missionary work American Negroes are doing. Theie is the Suehn Industrial Mission sponsored by the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc. For over forty years Mrs. Mattie Mae Davis has directed the work of this mission, one of the oldest in the country. "Mother Mae," as she is affectionately known by the people of Liberia, continues the work of missions and evangelism.
To this may be added the Lott Carey Mission, Carver Foreign Mission, Killingsworth Mission, Afro-American Mission, United Holy Church of America Mission, and that conducted by the Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Methodists, and others.
LIBERIA’S "OPEN DOOR" POLICY
Liberia has a larger percentage of American Negro missionaries than any other foreign country. This does not mean that Liberia’s spiritual needs are greater than that of other countries. But it does have some significance when we realize that it was the freed Negro slaves from America who returned home to establish the Republic of Liberia on the West Coast of Africa. Today the bonds of understanding and friendship are close between America and Liberia. Liberia’s "Open Door Policy," formulated by the President, Dr. William V. S. Tubman serves not only for the economic and industrial prosperity and development of the country, but also exists for the spiritual welfare of the Liberian people through the church and the ministry of evangelism and Christian missions. American Negro missionaries and white appreciate the many opportunities they have for Christ in Liberia. This country is unique for the work of the Lord. President Tubman realizes the worth of Christian missionaries, and this can also be said for the Vice-President, Dr. William R. Tolbert. This open door to the Gospel that one finds in Liberia, and the close proximity of the people to the American way of life, explain to some extent why more American Negro missionaries are laboring there than anywhere else.
Negro missionaries are currently working in Ghana, Nigeria, the Congo, Sudan, in parts of East Africa, and other places on the African continent. But we must not get the impression that the ministry of Negro missionaries today is confined to Africa. Recently Miss Eileen H. Murray was sent to South India by the Lutheran Church as a missionary teacher.
During a recent visit to Jamaica, W.I., for a series of evangelistic meetings, I observed the fine missionary work of Reverend and Mrs. James Massey. Reverend Massey took a three years’ leave from his church in Detroit to supervise the mission work of his denomination in Jamaica.
In Brazil Reverend Samuel Durant is laboring for Jesus Christ and the Gospel. Likely there are other countries unknown to me where Negro missionaries are serving.
NEGROES WELL RECEIVED
How do the nationals react to the ministry of Negro missionaries in their countries? Are Negro missionaries generally accepted or rejected by the people to whom they minister? The truth is that in all cases I have studied Negro missionaries are well received by the nationals. The missionaries themselves are enthusiastic about the ministry God has given them. The fact that they are Negro missionaries in a foreign country has not hindered their ministry but rather enhanced it. Certainly this has been the case in our ministry in Africa and other parts of the world.
In January, 1957, at the invitation of radio station ELWA, the radio voice of the Sudan Interior Mission,my wifeand I went to West Africa for a series of evangelistic crusades in Liberia, Ghana, and Nigeria. We were thrilled with the opportunity to carry the Gospel to the people on that continent. This visit came as a result of God’s blessing on our weekly broadcasts over ELWA to Africa.
I shall never forget the wonderful reception we received from the Liberian people. Members of government and people from all walks of life enthusiastically welcomed us. Our first meetings were held in the beautiful Centennial Pavilion in the capitol city of Monrovia, where in one week thousands gathered to hear the good news of the Gospel. God blessed His Word, and five hundred decisions were recorded. As a follow-up program for the new converts, a Youth for Christ organization was formed. This youth meeting still functions every Saturday evening and not long ago it became a member of Youth For Christ International.
While in the city of Monrovia we were cordially greeted by the President of Liberia, Dr. William V. S. Tubman. President and Mrs. Tubman tendered a state luncheon in our honor, during which the President expressed his joy at our presence in his country as a preacher of the Word of God.
From Monrovia our tour reached the interior of Liberia. At one place hundreds of people came running toward us. They sang chanted, and spoke in their native language. The sound of African drums pierced our ears. My wife and I were a little nervous about this unusual reception, because the people kept crowding around us. Some stretched forth their hands to touch us. Their friendly smiles greeted us. I turned to an accompanying missionary to ask the meaning.
"Oh," was the reply, "don’t be nervous. This is the way the people respond when visitors come to this country. In their native language they are praising God for the fact that He has brought their colored brother and sister from America to tell them about Jesus Christ."
THRILLED HE WAS THERE
The missionary continued: "Some of them are saying that for two years they have listened to your voice over the radio and now they have the privilege of looking into your face for the first time, and they are thrilled to know that you are in Liberia. They consider you to be not only a brother in the flesh but as one in Christ."
Such an experience naturally moved us deeply.
From Liberia we journeyed to Ghana. Again God gave many wonderful opportunities to proclaim the Word of God. Thousands heard the Word and hundreds responded to the call of Christ.
Two Ghanaian policemen met me one day and one said, "Pardon me, sir, are you an American Negro?"
"Yes, I am," I replied.
"Let me shake your hand," the policeman remarked. "This is the first time we have ever seen an American Negro, and we welcome you to our country."
Nigeria, with the largest population on the continent also afforded a marvelous opportunity in crusades to preach and testify to the saving grace of God. In answer to prayer, hundreds found new life in Christ. One Nigerian was so overjoyed at our visit that he wept and said:
praised God for the rich experiences He had granted. We had been pioneers in more ways than one, and the task had not been easy. However, God infused a great love and appreciation in our hearts for the people of Africa. They had graciously reciprocated this love. Their response to our ministry was most gratifying, the greatest we had ever received anywhere. People walked forty and fifty miles to the meetings. Many wept when they met us, and their spiritual hunger and response to God made an impact upon our lives. God captured our hearts for these people and as we left them we knew that someday God would bring us back.
The response on the part of Africans to our ministry has increased in subsequent years. In 1959 my family and I moved to Liberia, where we now have a home and headquarters at radio station ELWAas anassociate evangelist on the Billy Graham Team. Our "Operation Africa" ministry consists of Gospel broadcasting, Christian literature, Christian films, and evangelistic crusades and Bible conferences. Each year we divide our time for crusade and Bible conference work between Africa, the United States, and other countries.
We conducted a Bible conference in Ethiopia sponsored by the Sudan Interior Mission. Every morning and evening it was my privilege to speak to crowds of from two to four thousand Ethiopian Christians. One morning at one of the mission stations, the American Negro singer Jimmie McDonald and I were in our room preparing for the next meeting. We glanced out the window and there saw a great crowd of people staring at us. Taken by surprise, Jimmie said: "Say, what’s this? Why are these people standing outside our window?"
"Oh, it is all right, Jimmie," I replied. "Perhaps this is a little unusual for you, since this is your first visit to Africa. But these people are just happy to see us. Most of them have never seen American Negroes, and this is their way of showing that we are welcome in their country."
We had a similar experience in Nairobi, Kenya. Jimmie McDonald, Bob Harrison and I were walking down the street, when three African young men approached us and said: "We are glad to have you American Negroes in our country." They left and told others. A great crowd gathered around us. A policeman drew near, thinking that a riot would break out, but such was not the case. These people were happy to know that we had come to minister to them in song and in the Word of God. Later that same day at a Bible conference in the interior of Kenya, a few Christians after meeting us remarked: "Thank God for your coming. The prodigal sons have returned home."
These personal experiences confirm the fact that the Negro’s ministry for Christ is generally accepted and greatly appreciated by people abroad. God’s choice of a man or woman for Christian service is never based on color or race, but rather upon His sovereign grace and upon a person’s willingness to respond to the call of God. Too long many white Christians have overlooked this truth. They act at times as though their white skin guarantees them a priority with God in Christian work. But God is not prejudiced in His dealings with the races of men. The Apostle Peter had to learn this lesson. He confessed: "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him" (Acts 10:34, 35).
The rise of nationalism in Africa and around the world creates a situation in which more Negro missionaries are needed on the mission fields today. While we are thankful for the few that are scattered here and there in different parts of the world, there is an increasing demand for more.
However, as we endeavor to secure additional Negroes for missionary work, there are certain problems we encounter. First, there are those problems that relate to white people themselves. For instance, we still meet the old problem of race prejudice in the hearts of some white missionaries toward Negroes. On the mission fields there are those white missionaries from various parts of the United States, who are not able to hide their deep-seated racial feelings against the black man. Naturally these missionaries are opposed to the idea of American Negroes serving as missionaries on the mission field.
This virus of racial prejudice is also projected in the lives of mission officials. One director of a missionary organization said:
"Personally, I am in favor of using Negro missionaries on the mission field. Bue we have some men on our board who bitterly oppose the idea. My hands are tied because of those who, unfortunately, do not share my point of view."
Then there is the problem of a critical attitudeon thepart of white missionaries. There are missionaries on the field who question the African’s ability to do first-class missionary work. This same attitude holds true in regard to work performed by American Negro missionaries. Many white missionaries still believe that if anything is going to be done and done properly they must do it. They have a tendency to judge everything according to the standards that they themselves have set, and freely criticize the work of other races. Such an attitude makes it difficult at times for missionaries of color to work with them on the mission field.
INTERRACIAL MARRIAGE "EXCUSE"
Some white Christians today also fear that an increase of Negro missionaries on the field will result in interracial marriages. I have frankly discussed this problem with missionaries of both races and mission officials, both home and abroad, and it is a very sensitive problem with many. Some use it as an excuse for not sending additional Negro missionaries to the fields.
I recall an experience with a few other Negro minister friends. We met with the foreign secretary of one of the large missionary organizations. We spoke to him about the need of his denomination using Negro missionaries on their stations in various parts of the world. After we presented our case, he said:
"Yes, I know that our denomination should have Negro missionaries on our fields, but brethren, I do not believe in interracial marriages."
I must confess that his statement irritated me. I felt that he was using the problem of interracial marriage as a means of "passing the buck." Later I endeavored to assure him that I had not come to discuss interracial marriage on the mission field among missionaries, but rather to discuss the urgent matter of thrusting Negro missionaries out to the mission fields of the world, that these Christians might also have the opportunity to make their contributions for Jesus Christ.
NEGROES NOT RESPONDING
Tunes are changing. Missionary organizations like the Sudan Interior Mission and others have dropped their "lily white" policies of racial discrimination against Negroes, and are now ready to receive qualified Negroes as missionary candidates, but Negroes are not responding too well to invitations extended to them from the mission boards. This fact is frustrating to mission officials. One said:
"I don’t understand. Our organization has opened its doors now to Negroes. We want them to serve with our white missionaries on the fields. But where are the Negro young people? We have not been able to get a good response from them. We have had only a few applications, mostly from Negroes without the necessary qualifications. What can we do?"
"Well," I said, "for many years your organization bad a policy not to accept Negroes. In the past there were qualified Negroes who applied but were turned down purely on the basis of their race and nothing else. Consequently, Negroes have not been favorably impressed with your testimony and work as a Christian organization."
I continued: "I am glad you have changed your policy and now stand ready to accept qualified Negroes as missionaries. But since you are not getting a good response from the Negro people you must not be discouraged. Remember, it is going to take time. You will have to exercise love and patience if you are to win Negroes to your program.
"Let me state further that the adoption of a mission policy to accept Negro missionary candidates is not sufficient. You must put your policy into action by devising an effective program of recruitment in regard to Negro missionary candidates. You must approach Negro ministers and outline your program. Inform these ministers and their congregations of your desire for Negro missionaries to serve with your mission.
"Seek opportunities for your missionaries to speak in Negro churches and present missionary films and slides of theirworkabroad. Let these missionaries strive to challenge Negro young men and women to dedicate their lives for missionary service.
"Another suggestion I would like to make is that you use your regular mission publications as a means to reach the Negro constituency H with tic news about your misison and the lived for Negro missionaries. If you are faithful in your efforts, in time results will come, and there will be a gratifying response from the Negro people."
PROBLEM OF FINANCE
As one talks with Christians about the employment of Negro missionaries, the problem of finance always arises. As I have stated, more and more missionary organizations are scouting for Negro missionary candidates. But will these mission boards faithfully work and be just as sincere in raising money and other support for Negroes as they do for their own missionaries? Will our many fine white evangelical churches continue to give liberally of their missionary money to faith missions and denominations if these organizations begin to recruit Negro missionaries for work on the mission fields?
Not only do we have certain problems that face the white Christians in their quest of the Negro missionary, but there are problems that arise among the Negro people as well. There is the problem of getting more Negro people interested in missions. In the past, one’s experience in trying to interest more Negro young people in missions was frustrating. There were two extremes. First, there were young people who were really converted, loved the Lord, and wanted to work anywhere for Him in Christian service, but who lacked sufficient education and training for effective Christian work.
On the other hand there were Negro young men and women who possessed the necessary academic training and other qualifications, but were not real born-again Christians. But the picture is changing. It is possible now to find Negro young people who qualify both spiritually and academically, that is, they have a proper balance in their lives.
In recent years I have been greatly encouraged in visits to formerly all-white evangelical Bible schools, colleges, and seminaries to find a number of Negro students preparing themselves for fulltime Christian service. There are Negroes who have graduated from the higher schools of learning and are seeking the Lord for His will in their lives as far as missions are concerned. In Cleveland, Ohio, I talked with a young Negro doctor, an outstanding Christian. He said:
"I am deeply interested in medical missionary work in Africa, and if the Loid directs, my wife and I are willing to go and do what we can to help our people on that continent."
In New York City I spoke to a young Negro woman who had just finished her medical training about the great need for doctors on the mission field. She said:
"I am praying and looking to the Lord for His will for my life. I know about the wonderful opportunities for service for Christ on the mission field."
A Negro teacher in the New York public school system remarked: "I feel that the Lord is leading me to be a missionary teacher in Africa."
MORE AND MORE FEEL CALL OF GOD
These are just some of the testimonies one hears today on the part of Christian Negro young men and women. God is moving upon their hearts, and more and more of them feel the call of God for Christian missions. It is incumbent upon us, therefore, that we pray that the Spirit of God may soon thrust them out to the regions beyond.
It is also a fact that a large percentage of our Christian young people today are suspicious of the kind overtures that are coming to them from white Christians. These young people are aware of the change of policy that some white missionary organizations have in regard to Negro missionaries, and they are happy about the change. However, in my conversations with them I have been challenged with this question: "Well, Howard, do you really believethatthese white people are sincere? You know that for years they have closed the doors in our faces because of our race, and now they are beginning to invite us to join their organizations and serve with them. Do they mean business, or are they just fooling around?"
In this current trend toward total integration in America, I sincerely believe that the Negro people need, whenever the occasion and opportunity arises, to work together with people of all races in the work of evangelism and missions. An integrated team of Christians, working harmoniously together for the evangelization of the whole world for the glory of God, is the greatest demonstration of the love and the saving grace of God in our hearts as Christians. Such a demonstration proves to the world that in Jesus Christ there is no racial difference or discrimination. And who can withstand such?
WILL NEGRO SUPPORT BE ADEQUATE?
Another problem is: Will Negro missionaries receive adequate financial support from the Negro churches? Many Negro young people today would launch out in a missionary ministry abroad if they honestly felt that their churches would faithfully stand behind them. Instead these young people are discouraged that many of our wealthly and prospering churches are without a vision for missions, and fail to fulfill their financial responsibility to support missionaries. It is equally disheartening when they see the poorer congregations that are not able to support sufficiently their ministers and the work of the church. Consequently, these ministers are forced to take secular work to supplement their meager church income. What encouragement is there for Negro young people when this situation exists? If we expect to see an increase of Negro missionaries on the foreign fields, the Negro churches in America must awake to their own financial obligations to their missionaries.
We have cited some of the most pressing problems that both Negroes and white Christians face today as they consider the Negro missionary and his ministry. I fully realize that there are other problems. But it is my firm conviction that we can no longer afford to evade these, or any obstacles that may arise. The time has come when both Negroes and whites must face them and take the necessary steps to solve them while there is time. It is evident that the Negro does have an important ministry for Christ on the mission fields today, and when given all equal opportunity will prove by the help of God that his ministry is just as effective as that of the whites. White Christians must understand the supreme worth of the Negro missionary in this day and time. In the Inter-Varsity Press book, Missions in Crisis, the authors convey this thought:
"In the years ahead, if we still have years in which to accomplish our task, the Church must rapidly mobilize her full resources. This will certainly include the non-Caucasian-unless we permit our race prejudice, and our poverty of imagination and faith, to kill his potential contribution. It may well be that, when the history of the Church is finally written, the next decade may be called the day of the non-Caucasian."
This is the golden hour for Negroes to awake to their responsibility to world-wide evangelism and missions. Some are preparing themselves for overseas service with the Peace Corps, and this is good. But where are those who will enlist in God’s missionary corps, and carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth? Missionary organizations are calling for Negroes to minister on the mission fields of