(c. 1750 – 1828)
We’re celebrating black heroes who made history, and I want to introduce you to George Liele, a freed Georgia slave who was one of the most significant figures in the history of Christian missions. He was the first American missionary, and the first Baptist missionary to take the gospel abroad.
Liele became a Christian in 1773 when he was twenty-three. Shortly after, he gained his freedom and began preaching for two years in slave quarters around Georgia and South Carolina. In 1775, Liele became the first ordained African American Baptist preacher in America, and he planted First African Baptist Church in 1777, a church that still gathers today.
However, racial persecution caused Liele to flee to Jamaica in 1782. But once there, Liele used this situation as an opportunity to plant a church, preach the gospel to Jamaican slaves, and begin public baptisms. His evangelism brought more persecution, and he was thrown in prison for “agitating slaves.” Eventually, he was acquitted. Nevertheless, he continued to preach, baptize and build the church.
By 1814, his missionary efforts helped produce 8,000 Jamaican Baptists, and that number grew to over 20,000 by 1832. Liele’s ministry had a significant spiritual impact on Jamaica, but it also made a social difference as well. By July 31, 1838, slavery was eradicated in Jamaica. Both these feats are a testimony to his legacy, and we should celebrate Liele for his lifelong missionary work.