The history of the African American missions movement was the primary focus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s (SEBTS) fourth annual Black History Celebration Lunch.
“If we only hear about a particular narrative of the American Christian story, our assumption is that God is only working amongst those people,” said Walter Strickland, associate vice president for Kingdom Diversity.
Carl Ellis Jr. speaks at the fourth annual Black History Celebration Lunch, hosted by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary's Kingdom Diversity Initiatives.
Carl Ellis, Jr. addressed this topic as the keynote speaker for the event, remembering it as a topic that was underrepresented in his church history courses as a student. Ellis works at the Reformed Theological Seminary as the assistant to the chancellor, the senior fellow of the African American Leadership Initiative and the provost’s professor of theology and culture.
As Ellis pointed out, African American believers in the north desired to know what their purpose was, which grew out of a theology of empowerment made up of identity, dignity and significance.
“They began to look in the scriptures and see if anyone else was in that situation,” said Ellis.
Looking at the life of biblical champions like Joseph and Esther, Ellis noted that “our forefathers said that us being here must have divine and global significance. And they concluded that we are here so that we might carry the gospel of Jesus Christ to the rest of the African diaspora and beyond.”
This realization from the scriptures, Ellis said, was the beginning of the African American missions movement.
It was a spark that ignited many African American missionaries to spread the gospel in Africa and the Caribbean, including people like Samuel Hopkins, who championed the importance of alleviating human suffering by taking others’ suffering on oneself. Also noted by Ellis was George Liele, the first American missionary who went to Jamaica after being freed from slavery.
With the increased political tension and economic greed that grew from African colonization, African American missionaries began being forced out of their work on the field because they became an economic conflict of interest to white colonialists.
However, with the emergence of the black evangelical movement, missions among African Americans was resurrected in the 1930’s. Black candidates were being refused by missions agencies, however, and this led to the creation of black sending agencies.
The Afro American Missionary Crusade, for example, was established in 1947 and the Carver International Missions agency was established in 1955.
This history of the African American missions movement is one that people need and want to hear, noted Ellis.
“There [are] people all over the world who want to hear our story.”
Matthew 24:14, which speaks about the end coming after all nations have come to hear about Jesus Christ, Ellis noted that God redeems all things and “it might just be that African Americans might be the key to that happening.”
The Black History Celebration Lunch was hosted by the SEBTS’s Kingdom Diversity Initiatives and the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture.
Kingdom Diversity Initiatives started in Fall 2013 and promotes diversity through hosting campus events and discussions centered on topics regarding underrepresented populations and how the gospel intersects with these issues in culture. For more information, visit kingdomdiversity.sebts.edu.
The L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture seeks to engage culture through the lens of a Christian worldview through events on campus and the Intersect Project, a SEBTS website funded by the Kern Family Foundation. For more information, visit cfc.sebts.edu.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lauren Pratt is the news and information specialist for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.)