Richard & Karen Lee
IMB photo

African American churches connect with missionaries

By Richard and Karen Lee
IMB missionaries to Tanzania

Often, when African American Southern Baptists picture missionaries, they think about the pictures of missionaries that they’ve seen — and few look like them.

Many of our churches don’t associate International Mission Board missionaries with being African American, so they are pleasantly surprised when they meet us.

[The IMB’s] Church Connections has allowed us to show African Americans they have a place and role to play in the missionary task.

‘A place for you’

When our churches see missionaries who look like them, they feel more represented. And what we tell them is, “There is a place for you. God is calling you; you can be a part of reaching the world, and He wants to use you and your church.”

African American Southern Baptists aren’t the only people who’ve been surprised to meet us. When we moved into our house in Tanzania, our neighbors wanted to know where the missionary was and why Muslims moved in next door.

“I have lived here for 40 years, and no one like you has ever lived in this mission house,” a neighbor said.

Tanzanian Christians celebrated our arrival.

“Where are our other brothers and sisters? You’re the first ones that we’ve seen that looked like us,” Tanzanian Christians have asked us.

We still hear that, 20 years after we arrived in the country. African American missionaries have tremendous opportunities to make deep connections on the missions field.

Through Church Connections, we have the opportunity to help churches to think about what those opportunities might look like, perhaps working with us in Dar es Salaam, the capital city, or working with the IMB in other countries.

Our churches are well-connected to one another, and forming connections with one church opens doors for connecting with other churches.

As we travel and speak at churches, we hope to lead others to follow in our footsteps. We desire to share the vision and to have more missionaries on the field so that we will see every tribe, every tongue around the throne.

We have had the joy of connecting with St. Stephens Baptist Church in La Puente, California. We talked to the pastor and offered to lead a small group through a study of Jeff Lewis’ book, “God’s Heart for the Nations.”

Our hope from the start of the Bible study was not only to share God’s heart for the nations but also that the Lord would lead one or two people to make a long-term commitment to missions.

Every week during the study, we pray for unreached and unengaged people groups, and we’ve promoted the Sub-Saharan African affinity’s goal of reaching 55 unengaged, unreached people groups with the gospel by the year 2025.

One woman in the group made a firm commitment to pray and asked for more information and resources. She is in her late 70s and came to Tanzania on a short-term missions trip.

She told us, “I’m learning so much, and now I’m looking at these verses and I see how they direct me to pray for the nations. I’m blessed to be a blessing to the nations, to the world, as God wants every tribe, every tongue, every people around the throne.”

‘Be a part’

Our message to African American Southern Baptists is, “You can be a part of reaching the world. God called us. He can use you and your church in mighty ways.”


EDITOR’S NOTE — For more information about connecting with IMB missionaries through Church Connections, visit tabonline.org/church-connections.