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Goal: More African Americans serving overseas
Don Graham, Baptist Press
April 05, 2011
5 MIN READ TIME

Goal: More African Americans serving overseas

Goal: More African Americans serving overseas
Don Graham, Baptist Press
April 05, 2011

RICHMOND, Va. — A recent report from the Southern Baptist

Convention (SBC) Executive Committee affirms what Keith Jefferson realized when

he set foot on the mission field: God can use ethnic minorities in a big way.

Jefferson is the new African American mobilization strategist for the

International Mission Board.

The ethnic involvement report, containing a number of recommendations for

greater ethnic diversity within all areas of Southern Baptist life — including

international missions — will be presented to messengers at the Southern

Baptist Convention annual meeting in June.

African Americans “can serve God all around the world,” Jefferson says, “not

just in places that have people of African origin.”

The call to missions is not optional, he says. “It is an obligation; it is a

commandment; and no child of God can get around the Great Commission that Jesus

gave us — preaching the gospel to all peoples.”

BP photo

Keith Jefferson

Jefferson spent 16 years as a Southern Baptist missionary sharing Jesus among

Brazil’s Quilombola people, descendants of escaped African slaves. More used to

traipsing through the Amazon Basin than sitting behind a desk, the role of

African American mobilizer is new to Jefferson, who accepted the role following

the retirement of David Cornelius last December.

“My focus is to encourage, challenge and train African American churches and

individuals in being on mission with God,” Jefferson says. “Some think that

missions is for people who are spiritual giants. … Actually, it only takes a

person who is available and willing, has the strength to get on and off an

airplane and hold a conversation with somebody about the love of God.”

A lack of exposure to international missions and sometimes-overwhelming

domestic problems have led some ethnic congregations to be less involved

overseas, as Jefferson sees it. He points out that though African Americans

make up an estimated 6 percent of Southern Baptists, they represent less than 1

percent of IMB missionaries serving on the field.

“People have myths and misconceptions about people who do missions,” Jefferson

says. “Before I went to the field, about the only missionary I knew was an

older white guy with black-rimmed glasses, white socks and flood-bottom pants.

“Now, I’m an African American who met Christ in a Southern Baptist church at

the age of 18 and I never saw an African American missionary until I turned 42,”

Jefferson recounts.

“When I finally met this guy, I realized that African

Americans can be missionaries. People identify with their same ethnicity — I’m

black, he’s black. He’s doing it, so I can do it…. You’d think this wouldn’t

be necessary but people are people. It’s always helpful for them to see someone

from their ethnic group doing God’s work.”

It was Cornelius who first challenged Jefferson, then a bivocational church

planter and chaplain, to consider serving God on “foreign soil.”

“Honestly, I was a little bit irritated that he didn’t think that my mission

pastor work was sufficient,” Jefferson laughs. “I mean, here I am, a mission

pastor and a full-time chaplain — I am serving God.”

But when Cornelius asked Jefferson’s wife Deborah the same question, she

surprised her husband by immediately saying she would pray about it. After two

fortuitous encounters with missionaries from the two countries that Cornelius

had suggested the couple consider working in, Jefferson says God confirmed the

family’s call to missions, and within a year they were in Brazil.

“David (Cornelius) told me that in Brazil there are many people of African

origin that were asking our missionaries, who at that time were all Caucasian, ‘Are

there black Christians in America?’ And our missionaries said, ‘My goodness,

sure — there are many black Christians and black churches.’

“And they said, ‘But you are here and they aren’t. If there are black

Christians, wouldn’t they be here too?’ That was an awakening to me that there

is such a lack of African Americans serving around the world.”

Among Jefferson’s top priorities is a greater networking of African American

churches to connect them with African American missionaries already overseas.

“We have African Americans serving on the field, and their city and state

associations may not know that they’re there,” Jefferson says. “We want to put

African American missionaries in front of congregations by video, voice and

Skype interviews.”

Though he admits he misses his ministry in Brazil, Jefferson says he’s excited

about challenging African American believers to consider missions in the same

way Cornelius challenged him.

“Working to bring more laborers to the field — at my age (57) — that’s not a bad

move. The roads are pretty rough into Quilombola villages,” Jefferson laughs.

“A missionary can be from any background because there’s someone that he can

reach that no one else can reach. That missionary with the black-rimmed glasses

— he reached people that I could never reach. I can reach people that he’ll

never reach. And so God uses our unique personalities to click with somebody in

another country.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Graham is a writer with the International Mission Board.)

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