Over 400 disciples met in New Orleans, Louisiana, this week to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Lott Carey Global Christian Missional Community.

African American Baptists committed to international missions, meeting since 1897, gather to discuss strategizing and advancing God’s mission worldwide. They concentrate much of their work in Africa.

Born a slave in 1780 in Charles City County, Virginia, Lott Carey made a profession of faith in 1807. He purchased his freedom in 1813 and led the first Baptist missionaries to Africa from the United States in 1821 (40 years before the American Civil War). When they landed in Liberia in 1822, they engaged in evangelism, education and health care.

Emmett L. Dunn, executive secretary-treasurer for Lott Carey, reminded the crowd about the importance of the year. “We gather this week at a historical moment, for we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Lott Carey landing on the continent of Africa,” Dunn said. “For this, we give thanks.  We must never forget that we are a living history.”

According to Lott Carey’s website, the community “extends the Christian witness around the world. Through prayer partnership, financial support, and technical assistance, we come alongside indigenous communities to support ministries of evangelism, compassion, empowerment, and advocacy.”

Thembalani Jentile, general secretary of the Baptist Convention of South Africa, told the crowd, “Lott Carey is the backbone of BCSA. Lott Carey did not forget us when everyone else stopped giving during the pandemic.”

In addition to supporting pastors and their families, Lott Carey also engages in meaningful and practical ministries. Brenda K. Harewood, superintendent pastor and president of Guyana Missionary Baptist Church, said, “Lott Carey invests in lives, putting people before things. Lott Carey helped pay the fees for rural students to continue pursuing their studies.”

While caring for the mind and soul, Lott Carey also cares for the body.

Kenneth C. Ebong, superintendent of the Lott Carey Baptist Mission in Nigeria, recalled little children gathering around a dirty pond collecting their drinking water. When leaders from Lott Carey witnessed this scene, they collected resources for the community to dig a well for clean water.

Another element of the convention was breakout sessions concentrating on complex issues such as social justice and human trafficking.

Willie D. Francois, senior pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Pleasantville, New Jersey, led the breakout session on social justice. Francois defined social justice as the “guarantee of human equality, sustainability and dignity through the redistribution of resources and power.”

He also addressed the mythology of reconciliation without repairing what is broken, asking, “To what are we reconciling? Do people really want to return to a mythological nostalgic past?”

“White evangelical Christians like to talk about reconciliation, which simply means creating kumbaya moments,” Francois said. The church needs to find credible and tangible ways to repair broken systems.

He also spoke about the shortcomings and hypocrisy of the Christian church. Speaking to a primarily Black audience, Francois noted, “Black churches, really all churches, do charity better than justice. … We [the church] want to serve you on Saturday but don’t want to worship with you on Sunday.”

He concluded his presentation by asking the audience, “When are we going to start actually following Jesus rather than just worshiping him?”

In another breakout session, Ellyn Jo Waller and Brenda Joy spoke to participants about the dangers of human trafficking. They reported that while many human traffickers are strangers, a growing number trend toward relatives and friends of the victims.

They warned listeners about the creative traps that traffickers employ. From social media sites to invitations for entertainment auditions, traffickers use very appealing invitations to young people. Once victims find themselves subject to these predators, most of the time it’s too late to get out.

Over 20 million people are trafficked worldwide. And while many think that victims of trafficking are young, the real victims are a wide range of people. People are trafficked at an alarming rate, from the elderly to the wealthy, they explained, so we must be diligent and aware of our surroundings, thus creating safe spaces.

Waller and Joy pointed the crowd to the website SlaveryFootprint.org. When I filled out the questionnaire about my home and resources, I discovered that 76 slaves helped me obtain and sustain my lifestyle. The site places an exclamation on that number by restating this way, “You own 76 slaves.”

Finally, worship and preaching were central to the meeting. Choirs and soloists from around the country inspired the crowd with old spirituals and contemporary music. The message delivered in song and sermon was the same: no matter how bad life gets, God is good and salvation is at hand.

An elderly man from the Men on Missions Choir especially was inspirational. His voice challenged and inspired the crowd, “Send me, and I’ll go, even if I have to go by myself.”

In a world that appears to be falling apart quickly, we need more people of good faith to answer the call to go to hard places to bring truth and justice.

Someone answering that call is Gina Stewart, the first female president of Lott Carey. She called for Lott Carey’s supporters to raise $1,000,000 for missions and advocacy.

She is answering the call and practicing holy imagination, proclaiming that by doing more missions and justice in the world, “the Lord will be glorified and the devil will be horrified.”

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