Southern Baptists push for more black missionaries
Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service, Jun 10, 2013
Fred Luter had a lot of firsts in the last year: first black president of the Southern Baptist Convention; first time chairing the denomination’s annual meeting, this week, in Houston; and recently, first-time missionary.
"It was inspirational, but also very humbling in a lot of instances, just to see how some people are living," Luter said, days after returning from Ethiopia and Uganda.
Struck by the poor living without running water and by missionaries willing to “leave the comforts that we have here in America,” Luter wants more members of his New Orleans congregation—as well as more of the nation’s 16 million Southern Baptists—to take overseas missions seriously.
In particular, he wants more of his denomination’s relatively small black population to serve as missionaries.
As the denomination meets in Houston Tuesday and Wednesday (June 11-12), Luter’s trip is bringing home a stark and persistent reality: Few missionaries are black.
"We do have some African-American missionaries," Luter said, "but just not enough."
Across a range of denominations, 1 percent of domestic or foreign missionaries are black, and just 6 percent of them are in leadership positions, said Leroy Barber, author of the forthcoming book, “Red, Yellow, Black, and White: Who’s More Precious in his Sight?”
There are several reasons for the scarcity of black missionaries, but observers cite three: Culture. Money. And priorities.
"One is a philosophical barrier, that we’ve got a lot of people right across the street … on their way to hell so why are we trying to go to another country?" said Keith Jefferson, African-American missional church strategist with the Southern Baptists’ International Mission Board.
Jefferson and other black missions experts say the conventional assumption is that white missionaries are sent to evangelize people of color. At the same time, black Christian leaders often feel their hands are full addressing problems at home without considering international work.
Despite the cultural changes and personal sacrifices, some younger African-Americans seem primed for the mission field.
Taelyr Patton, 22, a student at California State University, Fullerton, called her recent trip to Peru life-changing. Like Luter, she was humbled by the experience after witnessing the poverty in Lima and being asked by a woman why God would let her suffer.
A senior majoring in sociology, Patton has her eyes set wider than La Puente, Calif., where she hopes to become a therapist. “I don’t want to have just a little private practice in La Puente,” she said. “I definitely want to go around the world.”