IMB: Missions doors 'wide open' for African American Baptists

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)--WANTED: African American Southern Baptists willing to follow God's call to go anywhere overseas as international missionaries.

That message was repeated over and over the week of July 24-29 during the first-ever International Missions Week at Glorieta, a LifeWay Conference Center, in New Mexico.

"The Bible doesn't say, 'Go into the world, you white folks,’" said David Cornelius, African American liaison for the International Mission Board. "The Bible is addressed to all of us who know Christ."

Cornelius spoke to a mostly African American group of about 50 who attended weekday sessions designed to mobilize more African American college and university students for overseas missions projects. He told them the International Mission Board's doors are "wide open" to African Americans willing to go overseas and do missions.

African American Southern Baptists can serve anywhere in the world, he said, disputing stereotypes of sending them only to African nations.

Missionaries are "the most effective motivators in the African American community for getting persons to consider cross-cultural missions [following the call from God]," said Cornelius, who served overseas before moving to the IMB's home office staff in Richmond, Va. Two recent studies indicated 46 percent of 101 missionaries mentioned missionaries as primary motivators, he said.

"The most effective tool for motivating African Americans toward involvement in cross-cultural missions was found to be missions education [indicated by 54 percent of respondents]," he said.

"The most effective missions education method for motivating African Americans toward a career in cross-cultural missions was found to be short-term mission trips [stated by 23 percent of respondents], followed closely by the use of African American recruiters [16 percent] and exposure to missions and missionaries [15 percent]," Cornelius said.

"Finally, pastors, college and seminary professors and churches probably play a smaller role in promoting engagement in cross-cultural missions in the black Christian community than in the white Christian community," he said.

Currently, only 19 of the IMB's 4,600 missionaries are African American, compared with 50 Hispanic and 137 Asian missionaries. Yet even this number has grown significantly in the past five years, Cornelius said.

Cornelius also cited various reasons African American Southern Baptists don't go overseas as missionaries, including:

-- Ethnocentricity, in which African Americans focus on only their own people.

-- The IMB's and other white-administered missions agencies' need for more African American recruiters.

-- The perceived risk to one's physical well-being as well as personal finances.

-- A fear of not being able to relate to white missionaries already overseas.

Cornelius urged those attending his seminar to return home and spread the word that African Americans are welcome to become international missionaries.

During one of the evening worship services, IMB Executive Vice President Don Kammerdiener interviewed an African American family serving in Brazil and underscored the growing ethnic diversity of IMB missionaries.

The Jefferson family -- Keith and Deborah and their four daughters, Joy, Kebrah, Morgan and Christa, who live in northeast Brazil -- said they each have found ways to witness and minister in their area. Keith Jefferson said his family moved from Recife to the more remote area where they now live because as they prayed for missionaries to minister in that area they suddenly realized God was calling them there, too.

At the conclusion of his interview with the Jeffersons, Kammerdiener said, "I hope you will carry away from this meeting the fact that not all Southern Baptist missionaries are alike ethnically, in their backgrounds, in their ages and in many other ways."

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