Friday, October 01, 2010

Why Aren't There More African American Missionaries?

The following video from CNN tells the story of the challenges that one organization, Mission Year, has faced in seeing African Americans join with them.  Unfortunately, Mission Year is not the only missions organization that has had a difficult time in seeing African American young people join their ranks. You can watch the video and then read on for some more thoughts on the subject of African Americans in missions.

Several years ago, my good friend, Vaughn Walston, penned an article for Mission Frontiers magazine entitled, "Ignite the Passion: African Americans in world missions."  Vaughn adeptly cites some of the statistics regarding African Americans in missions, the historical injustices that formed current realities and how the black church can move forward.  Though the article was published a decade ago, Vaughn's research still holds true.  Here are some of his findings and conclusions:
"The latest statistics paint a sad picture of the current involvement of African Americans in missions. Jim Sutherland counted 242 total African-American missionaries serving cross-culturally in 1998.  In 1973, Robert Gordon reported under 300.  These numbers compare to 33,000 missionaries from the U.S. in 1973 and about 45,000 U.S. missionaries today.  African Americans make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population but less than 1 percent of the U.S. mission force to the world. If it was proportionately represented in the mission force today, the African-American community would have some 5,400 cross-cultural missionaries.

We know that history has played a part in bringing about this shortfall. Several generations were simply cut off from direct involvement and promotion of missions. Because of this, subsequent generations just did not have missions on their agenda at all. But what other factors have come into play in today's church situation?"

"Most African-American pastors are unfamiliar with what is going on in the world today regarding missions. They were not taught about missions. They do not know general missions history. They are unaware of the heritage of African Americans in missions. Thus they cannot teach their congregations about missions."

"African-American pastors desire financial stability. They want to bring the money into the church - not send it out. Since the African-American community has historically been oppressed and deprived of opportunity for financial gain, now that many opportunities exist, the desire is to bring it in and keep it in the community. Many African-American churches still struggle financially for their own survival. Yet the statistics indicate that a high percentage of African-American churches are doing very well financially."

"Historically, the American dream has eluded the African-American community. For many, attaining it has become a Christian value. Thus, moving from oppression and want to materialism and comfort is a subtle but natural distraction. American prosperity is finally within the reach of the African-American community, and missions runs counter to that plan.

Many African Americans fear rejection and a lack of emotional support from white mission agencies. In the past, African Americans were accepted to serve with white mission societies, but on the field they were given menial tasks. Blacks were accepted to work, but not to lead. With a lack of mission education and a priority on home, it is no wonder that the African-American church represents only a small percentage of the mission force in the world."
Vaughn also offers several suggestions on how black Americans can be more effectively mobilized for world missions.  You can read Vaughn's complete article here.

In demonstration of a reversal of the trends that are mentioned in the video and the Mission Frontiers article, The Impact Movement has seen 120 African American college graduates give at least a year of their life to the Great Commission over the past thirteen years.  Most of these missionaries have served domestically, while leading short-term terms throughout the continent of Africa and other parts of the world.  In 2002, Impact took 300 African Americans to eastern and Southern Africa for Operation Sunrise Africa, the largest single mobilization of black Americans for world missions in history.

(h/t to Kathryn Taylor for the video link)

No comments: