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Musings and Memories

Black faith heroes

Doug Dezotell
Posted 2/5/22

In honor of Black History Month, here are some significant mission events that happened on these dates in February involving African American Missionaries and Ministers throughout history. These men and women were faithful to fulfill the “Great Commission.”

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Musings and Memories

Black faith heroes

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In honor of Black History Month, here are some significant mission events that happened on these dates in February involving African American Missionaries and Ministers throughout history. These men and women were faithful to fulfill the “Great Commission.”  

Jesus Christ proclaimed this Great Commission to His disciples prior to His Ascension to Heaven, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matthew 28:19-20)  

February 5, 1884: Evangelist and missionary Amanda Berry Smith was in Africa after having spent some time in India. In her journal entry for this date, she wrote: “Second Gospel Temperance meeting. Surely the Spirit of the Lord is with us, and He is blessing us greatly. Not so much liberty in speaking, but God is with us, and we are expecting great things. Oh, Lord, for Jesus‘ sake, answer prayer, and send us the Holy Ghost to quicken and revive us.”  

February 7, 1930: In a service commemorating 50 years of Congregational missions in Angola, the Galangue Mission Choir, under the leadership of Bessie McDowell, introduced a new song. It is Bessie’s own Ovimbundu translation of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” African Americans called “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing”— the “Negro National Anthem,” which was written in 1900 by James Weldon and J. Rosamond Johnson. On this date, February 7, Henry Curtis McDowell, Bessie’s husband, wrote to African American supporters to say that “Galangue has made the first step, so far as I know, in making ‘Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing’ the international anthem.” The McDowells had gone to Angola in 1917.  

February 8, 1847: African American Robert Hill had been appointed to accompany some white missionaries to Africa for the purpose of assisting them. On December 17, 1846, they had sailed for the coast of Africa, from Providence, Rhode Island. On this day, February 8, they arrived in Monrovia, Liberia.  

February 10, 1819: Around this time, Moses Henkle became acquainted with John Stewart, referred to as “Man of Color,” and what he was doing to start a mission among the Wyandott Indians near Upper Sandusky, Ohio. Stewart, the first Methodist missionary to the Indians, had been converted in 1815 while drunk in a Methodist meeting in Ohio. Henkle’s work with Stewart gave credibility to Stewart’s ministry. The resulting publicity led to the organization of a Methodist Missionary Society in 1819 in New York City.  

February 12, 1865: On this date, Presbyterian minister Henry Garnet was the first African American to preach a sermon to the U.S. House of Representatives. Born into slavery in Maryland in 1815, Garnet escaped with his father to New England when Henry was 9 years old. In 1852 Garnet went to Jamaica as a Presbyterian missionary. In 1855, ill health forced him to return to the U.S. where he became active in the abolitionist movement.  

February 13, 1824: On this date, 105 black emigrants from the U.S. arrived in Liberia on the ship Cyrus. They were received by Lott Cary and Colin Teague who had arrived three years earlier to begin an era of missionary expansion by American Negro Baptists. They were the first missionaries sent out by a black group, the Richmond African Baptist Missionary Society.  

February 14, 1760: The Rev. Richard Allen was born on this day. Allen founded the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) denomination in 1816. By 1886, the Church was the world’s largest denomination of African Americans. It had more than 400,000 members, nearly 3,000 ordained ministers, more than 3,000 church buildings, and had sent missionaries to Haiti, San Domingo, and Africa. In 1893, AME headquarters received a request from a group of AfroCubans to send missionaries to their island.  

February 15, 1859: On this day, the Rev. John Day died. He was a Southern Baptist missionary to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Central Africa as well as one of the founding fathers of the country of Liberia. During his 13 years in Africa, Day estimated he had preached to more than 10,000 people.  

February 16, 1922: About this date, the Jamaican-born Rev. Montrose Waite received a letter from the Christian and Missionary Alliance mission board saying they wanted to send him as a missionary to Africa. Waite had won the battle against prejudice and rejection in his denomination, and his friends urged him to the stay in the U.S., his adopted country. Waite went on to serve as a missionary in Sierra Leone and Liberia and was instrumental in the founding of the “Afro-American Missionary Crusade” in 1947, and the Carver Foreign Missions organization. 

February 18, 1797: The previously mentioned, John Day, was born on this date. He was a “free person of color” who emigrated to Liberia in 1830 as a participant in the American Colonization Movement. In 1836 he became a missionary for the Triennial Convention of the American Baptists. When the Southern Baptist Convention was formed in 1845, its foreign mission board appointed Day as Superintendent of Liberian Missions, a post he held until his death in 1859. Day was also a signer of the Declaration of Independence of Liberia in 1847. In addition to his missionary work, he became Liberia’s second Supreme Court Justice.  

February 20, 2000: Marilyn Lewis died of a heart attack on this date. Lewis was a volunteer at the United States Center for World Mission who helped lay the groundwork for their African American Mobilization Division. While serving as a schoolteacher in Pasadena, California, she often spoke of her desire to serve as a missionary in Brazil, reaching the descendants of those who had come from Africa. Just prior to her unexpected death, Lewis had written a call-to-action article in which she said:  

“Just look at an African American church today and you can see testimony to our new era: richly decorated, airconditioned sanctuaries with carpeted floors are now quite common. Many drive to church in the latest model cars. Today, instead of working the tables at restaurants, many African Americans own them. God has blessed us. Now it is time for the African American to bless the world in evangelization efforts. In the past many African Americans cried because they could not become involved in missionary work. But now the doors are wide-open, and we are without excuse.”  

February 22, 1880: The Rev. William W. Colley, an African American pastor of First Baptist Church in Lagos, Nigeria ordained a group of men into the Gospel Ministry. Colley is said to be the only person to have served as an appointed missionary of both a white-administered missionary-sending agency and a black-administered missionary-sending agency. Colley began his missionary career in 1875 when he was appointed by the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board to serve in West Africa as assistant to W. J. David, a white missionary from Mississippi.  

In November of 1879, Colley returned to the United States convinced that many more blacks should be involved in international missions, especially in Africa. As Colley traveled back and forth across the country, he urged black Baptists to take an independent course in mission work and form their own sending agency. Colley was the primary force in the founding of the Baptist Foreign Mission Convention (BFMC) in 1880.  

February 23, 1814: The foundation of the Baptist Mission in Jamaica had been laid by a few black (“coloured”) men who had gone to the island from the United States in 1782. Some of them had been former slaves freed by their owners. Some were Christians when they arrived in Jamaica, while others had been converted after their arrival. The most noted were George Lisle (the first ordained black man in America), George Lewis, George Gibb and Moses Baker.  

It was chiefly through the urging of Moses Baker that the English Baptist Missionary Society began missionary work in Jamaica. The first missionary sent from England in response to Baker’s pleas was John Rowe, who landed at Montego Bay, February 23, 1814.  

February 25, 1890: On this date, The Rev. William Sheppard, who was called the “Black Livingstone,” was on his way to the Congo on the steamship Adriatic as a Presbyterian missionary. Sheppard was sailing with a white missionary, The Rev. Sam Lapsley.  

February 29, 1581: Peter Claver was born on this date in Spain. Claver became known as “Slave of the Blacks” and “Slave of the Slaves.” When he was 20, he became a Jesuit priest. Influenced by Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez, Claver went to South America as a missionary. He ministered to African slaves physically and spiritually when they arrived in Cartegena, Colombia. It is estimated by some that Claver converted 300,000 African slaves to Christianity.  

For 40 years he worked for humane treatment on the plantations. Claver organized charitable societies among the Spanish in America like those organized in Europe by Vincent de Paul. Claver said of the slaves, “We must speak to them with our hands by giving before we try to speak to them with our lips.”  

I want to pay my respects to these black Heroes of the Faith by remembering their labors for the Heavenly Father around the world.

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