Some of the first missionaries to be sent from America were African Americans. Sadly, their stories are often neglected. Long before Adoniram Judson left for Burma, there were faithful Christians laboring in the gospel to plant churches in America and send the gospel beyond our borders.

George Liele is arguably America’s first missionary. But before leaving to preach and establish churches in Jamaica, he was the founding pastor of what would become the first African Baptist Church in Savanah, Georgia. Liele was an emancipated slave who faced fierce racism, oppression, and persecution throughout his life and ministry. But he remained faithful to the gospel. In a letter penned in 1791 he wrote, “I have baptized 400 in Jamaica….We have nigh three hundred and fifty members; a few white people among them.” One author provides a helpful summary of Liele’s life:

“George Liele, born a slave, ordained in a white church in Georgia, gathered the first black congregation, and became the first black Baptist in America. Liele while not being supported by a church or mission agency, also became the first Protestant missionary to go out from America to establish a foreign mission. This unknown hero without formal education, who learned to read the Bible and became a preacher and missionary shared the gospel with thousands, baptized hundreds and discipled many who became preachers, missionaries, and world leaders.”

In my previous post, as dean of Boyce College, I was really excited to be a part of establishing the “George Liele Award for Missions Involvement” to be awarded to an undergraduate student every spring. I pray that students will find great inspiration from Liele’s life and continue his legacy with faithful gospel service.