Black History Month: The impact of African Americans in Missions

 

King

Black history month has always been a weird time for me. No doubt African Americans have greatly impacted my life, usually for the better. With that being said, race has never been something that has divided me from another person. It was simply a difference we had that was used by God to accomplish our mission in life. While I certainly admire African Americans such as Martin Luther King, Booker T Washington, Sojourner Truth, George Washington Carver, Jackie Robinson and the like, I would like to focus this month on the missionary contributions of African Americans. I am a little late in starting this, but I want to catch up and stay on task. There are many who should be remembered.

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The Gospel in Exodus?

I had often wondered how the Egyptians could be so foolish. How could all these plagues hit Egypt and yet no one follow God? On top of all that, how could they go attack Israel after seeing yet another miracle, the Red Sea being parted? Well apparently not all did follow as pharaoh and the rest of the Egyptians did. Exodus 12:38 states that a number of other people went out of Egypt with the Israelites. The whole purpose of using one person (Moses) and one nation (Israel) was so that the world would recognize God was there and would follow Him too. Apparently some did. Let us not forget God gave us salvation and other blessings that we may show His glory to others!

The Original “Great Commission”

Probably the most common verses regarding missions can be found in Matthew 28:16-20, known by most Christians as “The Great Commission”. In this passage, Jesus instructs His disciples to “make disciples of all nations”,  radical shift from the Jewish mentality that had taught that the gift of God was something that only God’s people, the Jews, could enjoy.

What is quite striking, is that this command from God was not new. It actually predates the nation of Israel itself. Abraham is regarded as the “father of many nations”, Israel being just one of these. In Genesis 12, God famously instructs Abram (He was renamed Abraham later) to go to the land of Canaan, the land that would later be Israel. God pronounces a blessing/prophecy on Abram that ends in verse 3: “I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

How was Abraham supposed to bless all the peoples on earth? Surely they were not blessed when some of them were destroyed in occupying Canaan. While some of the nations may have been blessed with Israel politically and economically, surely not all were. Even as Israelites have been scattered across the globe throughout history, surely their mere presence has not reached all peoples.

No, but it is what God gave the Israelites that will indeed spread to all nations. God’s true blessing to Israel was Himself, His presence and His character. This has shown itself to many nations in scripture, and the impact is still continuing to this day. Future posts will dig deeper into who the message of God has been spread to throughout history, both Biblical and Post-Biblical.

Tower of Babel: Divide and conquer for the kingdom

God’s grace in the Tower of Babel.

In Genesis 11, we find the story of the tower of Babel. This story is familiar to many as the origin of language. We see this mostly as a story of sin and disobedience. This is also a story of God’s great grace and mercy. There were a few points of significance I wanted to bring out in this story.

First off, the people building the tower (presumably the descendants of Ham, as his grandson created kingdoms in Shinar, the place of the tower of Babel) were originally following the command of God in that they were spreading over the earth (Which God had commanded Adam in Genesis 1:28, and then reiterated this to Noah in Genesis 9:1), but then stopped spreading to build a city. While I will not say that established governments are exactly evil, I think it is no coincidence that Cain did the same thing upon murdering his brother Abel (See Genesis 4:17). Not only did they stop and build, but there is no evidence that God was consulted.

A second point to bring to light in the passage is the reasoning for constructing this tower (many believe this to be a Ziggurat, a house of worship not unlike the picture in this article). The reasoning seems to invoke some pride and some fear. Verse 3 of chapter 11 says they wanted to do this “[1] to make a name for [themselves]and [2] not be scattered over the face of the whole earth”. What name could these people expect to make for themselves apart from God? Evidence from prior generations was done away with in the flood. Even God acknowledged the unity among the men later in the chapter, and yet there was also the fear of being scattered.

By verse 5, we can see God was not exactly invited to the party. Society was reverting back to its pre-flood condition, and this unity was completely geared against God. In his wisdom, God thus gave the people different languages and they began to again fill the earth.

While this is a nice story, many might be wondering why this is important. Well, there are a few principles we can take from this text. One of these is that God’s work is not effective when it is concentrated solely in one place. It becomes corrupted, as humans are sinful in their nature. God also divided humanity up into languages and nations and people groups (totaling over 16,000).

There are yet over 6,000 of these people groups that are yet to hear the gospel, and considered unreached, consisting of roughly 40% of our world population of over 7 Billion people. God gave us the task of being witnesses to this vast population, but broke them into smaller pieces spread out over the world so that we can more easily focus our attention as we present the message to them. Any good commander like a “divide and conquer” kind of strategy, God has presented this to us with regard to sin among men (even bringing these people right to us in some circumstances). This is all to bring unity among division, which appears to be the story of Scripture from the beginning.