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Writing Black Missionaries Back into the Story

When George Liele set sail for Jamaica in 1782, he didn’t know he was about to become America’s first overseas missionary. And when Rebecca Protten shared the gospel with slaves in the 1730s, she had no idea some scholars would someday call her the mother of modern missions.

These two people of color were too busy surviving—and avoiding jail—to worry about making history. But today they are revising it. Their stories are helping people rethink a missionary color line. As National African American Missions Council (NAAMC) president Adrian Reeves said at a Missio Nexus conference in 2021, challenging the idea that “missions is for other people and not for us.” African Americans today account for less than one percent of missionaries sent overseas from the US. But they were there at the beginning.

British missionary William Carey is often called the father of modern missions. Adoniram Judson has been titled the first American missionary to travel overseas. But both Liele and Protten predated them.

Former missionary Brent Burdick now believes African Americans are a “sleeping giant” with an important part to play in the proclamation of the gospel. “They have a lot to offer to the world.”


Noel Erskine, “Writing Black Missionaries Back Into The Story,” CT magazine (Jan/Feb, 2022), p. 23

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