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February - April 2016, Issue 82
Black Seminaries & Denominations | 2015 Overview
2016 Trip to S. Sudan | Prayer Power | 2015 Income & Expenses

Black Seminaries & DenominationsI decided around 1996 to research African American (AFAM) cross-cultural missions, since this seemed to be the greatest need in these churches. During 16 months I was able to locate 102 such missionaries.1 I guessed in 1998 that there may be a total of 240 AFAM cross-cultural missionaries. This was in line with earlier estimates. Dr. Crawford Loritts in 1987 reckoned less than 300 minority members in major US parachurch groups and missions agencies. In 1973, Robert Gordon estimated 240 AFAM missionaries serving in 30 foreign countries.  Particularly since 2014, colleagues and I have been updating this census. With their help, and input from AFAM missionaries, mission execs, AFAM mission mobilizers, and the Internet, we’ve located just over 200 AFAM cross-cultural missionaries serving (or intending to serve) for at least 2 years.

Finding these has been very difficult. Sometimes even AFAM missionaries didn’t wish to be racially categorized. Often AFAM missionaries didn’t know of even one other AFAM missionary currently serving, even when there was one in their own nation. Some organizations have no racial metric for staff. If it weren’t for access to sympathetic mission personnel in large missions through friends who know us, we would have found far fewer. Another such survey may not be feasible, given increased risks for disclosure, and increasing stringent privacy policies, due in part to work in hostile countries.

Why this census? Mission mobilizers use this information to address the under-representation in the Black church, and mission executives want to know how they compare with other missions in attracting AFAMs, and how to recruit them. By mid-2014 there were over 42 million African Americans in the USA.2 African Americans continue to be “markedly more religious” than other US ethnic groups. Seventy-nine percent claimed that “religion is very important in their lives,” versus 56% of the general population in a 2007 Pew Research Center survey. Seventy-six percent pray daily, versus 24% of all others, and 55% take the Bible literally, versus 33% of all other Americans.3 They would seem to be most receptive to God’s leading, and obedient to the command to spread the great news of Jesus. The disconnect between religious practice and global mission involvement is startling.

No one cause suffices to explain, however, fifty-nine percent of African Americans belong to “historically black churches.”4 These typically do not field AFAM missionaries. Rather, they tend to financially support overseas nationals. This is “missions by proxy.” AFAM missionaries are readily welcomed in Africa as part of the African Diaspora. They demonstrate the grace of Jesus in racial reconciliation. In my experience with short-term mission teams, they are culturally relationship-oriented, which is foundational to missions. They are less suspect than whites in various contexts. Documenting mission involvement of Black denominational churches is even more difficult than for mission agencies generally.5 The largest Black denomination has, variously, 5-9 million members, with up to 40,000 congregations. It supports one AFAM missionary.6 In 2008 they supported 130 non-US missionary personnel.7

Historically Black seminaries that serve historically AFAM denominations do not seem to promote classical missions. At Hood Seminary, the mission professor wants students to believe that God is bigger than Christianity and that “other religions (including those of Africa) can be ways of finding God and salvation.”8 God is obviously bigger than the body calling herself the Christian church. What the professor stated is pluralism—no one religion represents the truth, so religions are equally valid expressions of faith. At the Interdenominational Theological Center, mission professor Dr. Marsha Snulligan-Haney believes that “though we cannot point to any other way of salvation than Jesus Christ, at the same time we cannot set limits on God.”9 Why sacrifice at the personal, family, congregational, and denominational levels to go to the ends of the earth, if Jesus’ atoning sacrifice isn’t essential to salvation? This discourages missions. 

Currently there are approximately 270 degree students at ITC.10 They also have a “certificate in theology” program, with satellite programs that include the course “Introduction to Preaching and Missiology”. The missions half of this course has three parts, “ecumenism, evangelism, and inter-religious/interfaith dialogue.”11 This is the extent of formal exposure to missions. Given the extremely few AFAM missionaries supported by Black denominations, their seminaries appear even less supportive of classic mission. A professor of church history at ITC, who interviewed mission professors at a variety of Black seminaries concluded:

[P]erhaps in the tension between older models of mission in the black church and the newer vision of its seminaries, we can speak today about a tension in African American churches between saving the world for Christ and preserving or honoring the ethnic cohesion of African cultural institutions which…may be interpreted as having always embodied the suffering Christ.12  

If Christ has always been embodied in African religions, why evangelize them?  Such is apparently the equipping for “missions” given to today’s and tomorrow’s AFAM church leaders attending these seminaries. This helps explain why there aren’t more AFAM missionaries. Carver College, and seminaries such as Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Dallas Theological Seminary, Columbia Seminary, Gordon Conwell Seminary, Moody Theological Seminary, Westminster Theological Seminary, and others encourage optimal global mission engagement, welcoming all ethnic students.13

-Jim Sutherland

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  1. Perhaps ten of these were actually mission mobilizers and mission office personnel that we do not count now.
  2. http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=bkmk
  3. http://www.pewforum.org/2009/01/30/a-religious-portrait-of-african-americans/
  4. http://www.pewforum.org/2009/01/30/a-religious-portrait-of-african-americans/  accessed 1/29/16
  5. I personally contacted the six largest Black denominations mission departments by phone and email, and so far received definitive information from one of them. 
  6. This missionary is supported by the denomination’s women’s organization, not by the global missions department.
  7. Linda J. Weber, Mission Handbook, 21st Ed. (2010): US and Canadian Protestant Ministries Overseas, p. 255.
  8. Mark Ellingsen, “Changes in African American Mission: Rediscovering African Roots,” Int’l Bulletin of Missionary Research, July 2012, 36:3, p. 140. This is the Salisbury, NC Hood campus. The professors approved the article before it was published. 
  9. Ellingsen, p. 140.
  10. Phone call to the ITC, 2/1/16.
  11. http://www.itc.edu/assets/pdf/programs/2016CertificateTheologyProgram1.5.2016.pdf  accessed 2/1/16
  12. Ellingsen, p. 141.
  13. Even if some of these schools did not welcome Blacks in the past. 

2015 Overview

2015 has been a very good year. The highlight was taking a great team to S. Sudan in April, and seeing progress in ministry projects there funded by Lookout Presbyterian. Relationships with S. Sudan ministry partners are strong. The only secondary school in a refugee camp in Juba of about 49,000, is going well. We served 175 students, and provided 250 complete Bibles and 1,200 New Testaments in 2015. Lookout Pres. is sending another $38,000 to fund the next school year as well. The one-year Certificate of Christian Ministry program in Juba currently has about 24 students, with 14 courses per year, using 3rd Millennium and locally developed curriculum. It’s moderated and taught by at least one teacher trained through our MA program in Uganda. I plan to order an additional $1,800 worth of theological books (funded by Lookout) by April, when I plan to return. Grace Theological College now has about 275 volumes—a start. RMNI provided 40 Bibles for the prison in Torit. Please pray for peace and reconciliation in S. Sudan, where the future is unpredictable.

The Westside (College Hill Courts) ministry is slowly progressing. Jeremy Faber and Dawn Coulter (both members of the 2015 S. Sudan team) are encouraged by growth in the Bible study and children’s ministry on Thursdays. Two friends, Anthony Suttles and Mark Wardell, usually accompany me. We distributed about 500 New Testaments and complete Bibles, together with hundreds of quarterly Daily Bread devotionals and many regularly-updated lists of local resources and job websites. We’ve shared the Great News with many, and try to stay in contact with friends, during the 60 ministry occasions there. We need more workers.

We provided about 740 student hours of teaching in S. Sudan and locally, not including the teaching ministry of a couple who went under RMNI auspices. They taught many during their 2-week ministry around Chennai, India. As for our website, www.RMNI.org has averaged about 1,500 unique visitors and 2,775 visits per month. 

The end of the updated African American missionary census is in sight, and colleagues and I plan to submit a journal article early this year. This is an enormous task to me, but we believe that this information is very important for African American missions. Please pray that I can complete this well.

Finally, leadership transition has been a major focus of the Board this year. As we’ve prepared, we developed new vision and mission statements: vision—Through the Lord Jesus Christ reconciling the races, especially the least-reached globally, to God and each other. Our mission is: Equipping and mobilizing ethnic churches, especially the African American, to reach the least-reached in the city and globally. The Board has had a prayer conference call each week since November to seek God’s guidance for a new executive director. I have no plans to retire, but plan to continue to work under RMNI. Please pray for the Lord’s will to be done. Thank you for any help provided this year! We are grateful.

-Jim Sutherland

Looking for pioneers.
Consider ministry in South Sudan in 2016. 

You still have time to come to S. Sudan April 9-23, 2016, if you act soon. Is it dangerous? We’ve been kept safe on the last nine trips. Call Jim at the number below. Africa affords almost unlimited opportunity to use your spiritual, natural and vocational gifts. We will put them to work. Medical personnel are desired to work at Torit Civil Hospital, southeast of Juba.

Your help is needed. Email Jim@RMNI.org or call 423-822-1091.

S.Sudan 2016 flyer


Prayer Power

  • We thank God for any and all that was accomplished in 2015, and for all who gave, prayed and encouraged us.
  • Please pray for God to provide His best, as we seek the next RMNI leader.
  • For all the team members that the Lord wants on the S. Sudan team. Wisdom for what to do, and protection are needed for the April trip.
  • Patrick Oting (S Sudan) still needs a cornea transplant. The US Embassy has vacillated regarding giving a US travel visa to him for the operation.
  • Pray for excellent preparation of four S. Sudanese church leaders taking degrees at Westminster college and seminary in Uganda. However, the seminary was just closed by Ugandan officials until accreditation is given to its sister organization on campus—another urgent need.
  • For the ability to complete a journal article summarizing the AFAM census.
  • Westside: Consuela has a mysterious vision problem, and cannot drive. Pray for radical conversions and excellent discipleship and for more to come regularly to Jeremy’s Bible study. Pray for wisdom as we plan ministry.
  • Judy still enjoys teaching four mornings a week at a classical school.
  • Pray for chaplains James and David at the Jebel UN camp in Juba, for much fruit that endures. Pray for the secondary school teachers and students.
  • For wide open doors in black churches for mission mobilization and for  members to go.
  • For wisdom to know what ministry to engage and not engage.
  • Pray for more workers for the Westside.
  • Wisdom and progress are needed for Lookout Pres., as we seek racial reconciliation as a church.

2015 RMNI INCOME $75,579         2015 RMNI EXPENSES $79,531

2015 Income - $75,579 -- Expenses $79,531

No debt was incurred, due to previous year's surplus. Full financial disclosure is available upon request (except donor identity). 

The Reconciliation Report is a publication of

Reconciliation Ministries Network, Inc.
PO Box 2537 Chattanooga, TN 37409-0537
423.822.1091

Jim Sutherland, PhD, Director
Jim@RMNi.org