In view of all this, when I look at the current lack of color on missionary teams I see three ways to address the situation because race matters.
1. Reclaim our colorful heritage of missions.
While there may be a current shortage of missionaries of color, this is not the whole story. Take George Liele, for example. He wasn’t just America’s first minority missionary. He was America’s first missionary, full stop. When you think about the racial climate of eighteenth-century America, it’s truly stunning that our first missionary was a black man!
Or consider the story of Lott Cary, who purchased his freedom from slavery, learned to read, pursued theological training, and became America’s first missionary to Africa. And then there’s Betsey Stockton, the first single woman to serve as a missionary in the modern era. (She did so long before Lottie Moon would become famous for doing the same, even while remaining relatively unknown herself.)
“You can’t tell the story of American missions without missionaries of color.”
Simply put, you can’t tell the story of American missions without missionaries of color. Reclaiming our colorful heritage, therefore, is a vital step toward empowering many minorities to resume their legacy of global missions today.
2. Raise awareness of the opportunity for missionaries.
I recently read that the IMB has more fully funded open missionary positions than we have candidates in the missionary pipeline. I thought to myself, “So you’re telling me that there are open slots waiting to be filled by qualified candidates, and these openings are fully funded positions? Seems to me that we ought to be shouting this from the rooftops!”
Yet I spoke with a few of my friends who pastor majority black congregations, and none of them had heard about these fully funded vacancies. Now, I’m not saying that it’s anybody’s job to tell everybody about this. At the same time, it may be true that “Ye have not because ye ask not,” (James 4:2 KJV). If cash-strapped churches in the hood knew about these openings, there would be a lot more candidates of color in the pipeline. Don’t underestimate the importance of raising awareness about the opportunity to fill a need.
3. Reach out to diverse churches, networks, and initiatives.
Building off the previous point, if you’re going to raise awareness you need to know who to talk with. Organizations like the National African American Fellowship (NAAF) represent more than four thousand predominately black congregations in the SBC. (This figure represents a more than 275 percent increase in black churches affiliating with the SBC since 2001!) The SBC’s official journal (SBC Life) also has pages dedicated to highlighting the work of Black Churches, Hispanic Churches, Asian Churches, and Multiethnic Churches in the convention.
“We can’t just go to the nations. We need to send all nations to the nations too.”
Meanwhile, seminaries like Southeastern have started the Kingdom Diversity Initiative, which strives to “raise historically underrepresented voices on campus,” to “build and strengthen partnerships with diverse churches, church networks, and educational institutions,” and to “help foster diversity within the church and the broader denominational environment.”
Organizations like these are great places to start vital conversations if we are serious about finding, equipping, and sending missionaries of color to the world. For if the Great Commission is truly about “making disciples who make disciples,” then we can’t just go to the nations. We need to send all nations to the nations too.
This article about why race matters originally appeared here.