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Thursday, February 10, 2000
Vol. 1 No. 244
In This Issue:

Lead Story: Cross-Cultural Missions is the 'Great Omission' of Black Church, Study Says

———Today's Lead———
Cross-Cultural Missions The 'Great Omission' of Black Church — Study
But numbers do not tell full story of African American involvement in missions, others say

by Andy Butcher

Only a few African American Christians are serving as cross-cultural missionaries because their churches don't encourage it and some pastors even actively try to dissuade prospective candidates.

So concludes a report whose author calls the Great Commission "the Great Omission of the black church." Following  an 18-month study of denominations and missionary organizations, Jim Sutherland says that a "generous guess" would be that there are 250 African Americans working full time in cross-cultural missions--out of a population of some 34 million.

Eighty-one percent of African American cross-cultural missionaries who responded to his survey said black churches neglected teaching about world evangelization, while 31 percent said that pastors had discouraged them. Twenty-nine percent said they had been criticized for serving outside the African American community.

The director of Reconciliation Network Ministries in Chattanooga, Tenn., Sutherland—who is white—has served in ministry in African American communities for more than 20 years. His research has also found that giving to cross–cultural missions is much lower in black churches than others.

Sutherland said his further findings trace the absence of African American involvement in cross-cultural missions to "security and survival." "This is the first generation that can even consider on a large scale attaining the American dream of [a] house in a nice neighborhood, a car, and all the benefits for the children," he said. "Black churches look at the mission situation and quite rightly say there's tremendous need in the black community, why look elsewhere; we have to take care of our own...but now is the time for them to begin looking at obeying the Great Commission."

Sutherland's findings are echoed by a study for the Cooperative Missions Network of the African Dispersion (COMINAD) in Virginia Beach, Va., which concluded that only 300 African American missionaries have been sent out from black churches to participate in cross-cultural missions. But that lack of involvement has not always been the case historically, with African Americans among the first American missionaries, to Africa, said COMINAD's national coordinator, Brian Johnson.

Slavery caused African Americans to refocus domestically, said Jack Gaines, missions pastor at Calvary Evangelical Baptist Church in Virginia Beach, Va. "As black men became more in bondage, their commitment to missions lessened," he said. "Blacks became their own support system and mission field."

Retired from 40 years of missionary service, largely in the Congo, Alice Douglin now travels with her husband to speak in Christian colleges throughout the U.S. about the need for more minorities in missions. "We have so few people of color in any of the mission fields abroad," she said.

Crawford Loritts,  associate director of U.S. Ministries for Campus Crusade for Christ, said that Sutherland's study was a "wake-up call." Although until the 1970s many parachurch organizations had not actively recruited minorities, in recent years there had been growing interest in cross-cultural missions among many African Americans. "There's a wind and a move of the Spirit that is taking place," he said.

Bishop Carlis Moody, president of the missions department for the Church of God in Christ, said the number of missionaries did not necessarily reflect a church's commitment to cross-cultural missions. "We have churches in 57 countries, not all black. Usually when we go into a country, as soon as we can we see to it that the work is turned over to the nationals. We do more of that than having long-term missionaries," Moody said.

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