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Weaving Strategy into African American Missions

Updated: Jul 31, 2021

The Introduction

In July 1974 in Lausanne, Switzerland, Ralph Winter sounded the trumpet that something was lacking in our mission strategy. He awakened the church to a new term concerning “hidden peoples.” This discovery was a major paradigm shift in our missions strategy that placed the emphasis on “unreached people groups” throughout the nations and our neighborhoods.

Could there be a possibility that there might exist another blind spot? Perhaps the missing link to reach the unreached?

In Andy Johnson’s book, Missions, he states, “Any effort on our part to change or broaden the mission, or substitute our ideas for Gods, runs the risk of trying to rob God of his rightful glory” I think that’s right. Since God is at work to redeem a people from all nations in order to worship Him (Rev 7:9) and with less than one per cent of African Americans engaged in the global missionary equation, there is an aspect of God’s glory not represented to the world in God’s missionary force. Maybe we are not doing missions God’s way?

Apostolic example

Paul had a diverse team of missionary travel companions and co-laborers. In Acts 20:4 we are introduced to Tychicus, an Asian Christian and one of Paul’s companions in Corinth. (Rom 15:25–26) Titus was a Greek born-again Gentile Christian who Paul appointed to raise up elders in Corinth, Crete, and Dalmatia. (2 Tim 4:10, Titus 1:5) Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria, Egypt who traveled through Achaia and Corinth. (Acts 19:1, 1 Cor 3:6) Paul himself was a Hebrew with Roman citizenship (Acts 22:28).

In short, multiethnic, multinational, and multicultural teams seem to be the modus operandi for Paul. It appears that God is not just redeeming every nation tribe and tongue but He is also sending every nation tribe and tongue. This is the type of church which Christ is both building and sending!

Teams like these send a powerful, countercultural message to the world -- that we who are in Christ, are one and united under the blood-stained banner of our Lord. Ultimately, the enemy of our souls would love to keep us divided for bigger reasons than we actually think.

The Student Volunteer Movement was the most influential means of recruiting missionaries in the late 19th century (1888-1920). Robert Gordon in his article the Black Man’s Burden, states, “Recruitment was aimed at university campuses-precisely where blacks were least likely to be found.” We praise God for the host of former slaves from the 18th and 19th century, like George Lisle, John Marrant, Prince Williams, David George, George Gibbons, Betsy Stockton, and William Henry Shepherd to name a few.

However, the 20th century saw a decline in foreign missions as home missions became more and more immediate and complex due to civil rights issues and Jim Crow segregation for African Americans. For this reason, we have some catching up to do.

For years, there have been roundtable discussions and think-tanks at conferences like the National African American Mission Conference (NAAMC) and others that have thought long and hard around how to “awaken the sleeping giant”.

Some thoughts include changing the way people of color are represented when it comes to print and electronic media. Usually the image is a white man or woman holding a brown baby from some part of the world. This conveys a very real message that people of color are the mission field and not the missionaries. Therefore representation matters. Also, films, podcasts, vision trips, support of African American missionaries a part of your church’s mission strategy, recruitment from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and those transitioning out of the military are some ways to see the pendulum shift.

Just as Ralph Winter sounded the trumpet that something was lacking in our mission strategy, today there needs to be another clarion call with equal strategic value. In fact, it may be the way forward in seeing the unreached reached is to see the under-mobilized mobilized.


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