“God doesn’t speak my language.”
How could someone think this to be true? And to believe it enough to make this declaration to the group of foreigners who had descended upon her village?
If God is unable to speak this woman’s language, how could he even be God?
If God is incapable of understanding each and every dialect, accent, or slang that humans use to communicate, then surely it can be argued that God is incapable of understanding the people themselves, their suffering, and the desires of their hearts.
We know that God is the Creator of language, just as he is the Creator of those who use it. Yet for many throughout the world who have no access to the Gospel in a language they understand, this is often the sentiment. They believe God can’t care about them because God can’t even speak to them. God couldn’t have created them. God couldn’t possibly love them.
The Creator and His Created
My love for exploring the world started early. I am fortunate to have taken my first international trip at fifteen-years-old, diving into Chilean culture in the ancient town of Olmué. Despite growing up in a family that believed in God and spending my formative years in Wednesday night Bible studies, week-long revivals, summer church camps, and Sunday services, I was never taught about missions.
It wasn’t until the summer after graduating University, at the church in which I “came to faith” and was baptized, that I was introduced to short-term missions.
There were service projects and evangelism opportunities galore. The “what” and the “how” were right up my alley. I was already actively serving my community, and the thought of helping others while learning about other cultures seemed like a no-brainer.
The “why” has taken a bit longer to process, and I am thankful for the Lord’s gracious patience. Understanding this “why” has helped me answer “Why go overseas when we have so much work to be done in our own backyard?” It is a valid question, and there are legitimate concerns in the Black community that the Church must engage.
However, the Scriptures are in no way subtle about God’s expectation for us to participate in his redemption plan for humanity. We are instructed in the Gospels (Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-18; Luke 24: 36-49; John 20:21-23) and Acts (1:8).
We are given a glimpse of what the end result will be in Revelation (7: 9-10).
And all throughout the Bible, we see the Lord moving his people to share who he is with those who don’t know him. The heart of God is to search for those who are lost, hurting, broken, and extend comfort and mercy, inviting them into his family.
Rather than recognizing this as an imperative, though, we have adopted the mentality that missions is an either/or obligation and not a both/and response to God’s love and mercy in our own lives.
There are people in this world who live their entire lives void of hope, and then die without ever having heard of Jesus. As his followers, we are all called to proclaim his name to a world that does not know him.
I realize, though, that will not come without personal transformation. It wasn’t until I began to truly let the Lord work in my own life that I experienced freedom. Then, I couldn’t imagine not sharing that freedom with others.
From jungle villages in India and prisons in Peru to a refugee camp on a Grecian island, I have witnessed the power of our God who grieves as sin destroys all that is good and who is working to restore and redeem his creation.
The World is Waiting
“Why aren’t the black Americans coming to Africa? We have seen the white missionaries come, but where are our African-American brothers and sisters?”
Just as unassuming as asking what was my favorite food, this question came from a Nigerian brother I met while in South Africa.
A few weeks after that conversation, echoed in a different form, this question was part of the lament my new friend from Cameroon shared when recounting the devastation she witnessed in her village years ago.
I and others in this work have heard this question many times. Sometimes in genuine confusion. Sometimes concern. Sometimes as a plea. Sometimes with disdain.
As African-Americans persevere in the fight for justice, equity, and dignity in this land, I am grateful that in my role with SIM, I journey with people who are reconciling “why go?” and “why send?” with “where are you?” and “why haven’t you come back yet?” from our African brothers and sisters.
It may be surprising to learn that the invitation is not only extended by our family in Africa, but people are eagerly awaiting our arrival in the Philippines, amongst the Aboriginal in Australia, and all over the globe. People want to hear our story. They know our collective history, and they want to understand the faith we have that has carried us through and pushes us forward.
As African-Americans, we also have a unique advantage to enter into communities of color and carry the Gospel message without the baggage of colonialism and oppression. While some barriers remain, others are instantly removed just by the amount of melanin in our skin.
For those who are suffering, those blind and deceived, rescue and relief can’t come soon enough. But missions is not only about improving the quality of life for people through disaster relief, medical care, education, and training. Eternal impacts are made through sharing the Gospel in a way that is not disconnected or despotic to people who are living and dying without knowing who Jesus is or the freedom he offers.
There are over 4 billion people in the world who have no Christian witness nor access to the Gospel. Currently, less than 1% of all foreign missionaries are African-American.
Lifted by the prayers of those who have come before us, there is a team of committed believers, all from different organizations, working to change the face of missions. We aim to do so by partnering with churches, offering education and training, and creating opportunities for African-Americans to engage in cross-cultural mission work.
Mission work is not “a project to be completed,” and it is certainly not exclusive to “a religious person who is ‘called’.” Mission work is not just overseas, and it is not just local. It is an invitation for those who follow Jesus to honor God by serving others and sharing his truth while doing so.
Our prayer is that as the Lord opens our eyes, he will use each person on each of these trips to raise awareness in their own churches, and within the African-American community, about what God is doing all over the world and how each of us can partner with him.