Recently, I had the opportunity to talk about African Americans and Missions with Timothy Byrd, a missionary with Campus Outreach in Johannesburg, South Africa. Our conversation will be posted in five parts.
Part 1: Why don’t we see many African American missionaries? Part 2: Challenges African American Missionaries Face
David Crabb: You’ve said it appears that for many African-American churches there is great vision for the community but not for the globe. Do you see any signs of that changing? From your perspective, what needs to happen to increase the vision for the globe?
Timothy Byrd: African Americans have always had a persevering character, particularly in the black church. In fact, in my estimation, the black church has historically been the backbone or the prominent advocate for African Americans, so by no means do I want to belittle it. My observation is that most of our mission is local because many black communities have such significant needs, and as believers we are called to speak the gospel into these communities. I would even say the local community is the primary ministry area. However, some black churches have interpreted primary mission field to mean only mission field. This is not a complete or accurate understanding of the Scriptures.
To answer your question, yes, I do see signs of change! To be clear, foreign missions is happening among African American churches, just not many churches or on a large scale. There are numerous organizations aimed at promoting and encouraging African Americans toward missions, but these efforts are very small and very few people know about them. There are several reformed evangelical African American churches, networks, and organizations who speak to these needs. The Reformed African American Network, Byron Johnson with Vision 9:38, Carl Ellis Jr., and The Front Porch are just a few great examples of pastors and leaders making people aware of the black church’s need to get more involved with cross cultural missions.
What needs to happen to see change? Cross cultural African American missionaries need to avail themselves for the edification of the church. My wife and I never hesitate to speak at predominately African American churches. Not because we are simply looking for support, but because we hope to cast vision into these churches even if they don’t support us. In our last stateside assignment we realized if we are not engaging African American churches on the topic, then who is? Also, pastors, elders and lay leaders need to be intentional about creating platforms for missions from their congregations to give, go and send missionaries to the nations. I am pretty sure there are hundreds of African American missionaries sitting in pews all across the US who have a longing in their hearts for the nations and do not know what to do. If the church is taking the great commission seriously then this must change.