Sept - Nov 2023, Issue 104

The AFAM Missionary,
and the AFAM Church?

African Americans and Overseas Missions

African Americans surpass other US ethnic groups in almost every measure of self-reported Christian spirituality.  The Barna Group found that US Black adults had a higher frequency of church attendance, Bible engagement and prayer than White or Hispanic adults for every year between 2001 and 2021 (Barna Group, 2021: 24-25). A 2021 Pew Research study found that 74% of all Black American adults surveyed said that “they believed in God as described in their religion’s holy scripture (such as the Bible…)”, compared to 59% of all US adults (Pew Research Center, 2021: 57; N=8,660 Black adults and N=4,574 non-Black US adults). On the question of whether or not “people of faith have a religious duty to try to convert nonbelievers”, 51% of U.S.-born Blacks agree, 69% of Black Protestants who attend a Black church agree, while among all U.S. adults, 34% agree (Pew, 2021: 67). Dr. Michael Johnson examines a baby held by it's mother in KenyaPew asked Black Americans who said that they had a formal or informal leadership role in their church, what that role was. Only four percent indicated that they led in “Community outreach (nurse, sick and shut in, missionary)” (Pew, 2021: 77). This is the only mention of Christian missionary work in the 175-page research report. Another 2021 study by, billed as “The most robust study of the Black Church in 20+ years….”, in its 160 pages, there is one allusion to “missionaries”, and that is to women in the context of other local church work, similar to the Pew report. Responding to the question, “What are the top issues Black churches should address?” among 20 issues identified, none concerned cross-cultural or global missions (Barna Group, 2021: 82). The issues were identified by 950 Black US adults familiar with the Black church, and an additional 293 Black pastors whose churches were at least 50% Black.

Historically, the AFAM church focused upon the needs of AFAMs, as illustrated by W. E. B. Du Bois’ six functions of the AFAM church, none of which extended outside the AFAM community (Bunch, 2013: 12). Given the outsized Christian spiritual markers within the Black community mentioned above and in the absence of any focus upon cross-cultural ministry among Black leaders cited in the two above surveys, it is fair to ask if the bottleneck in cross-cultural ministry is primarily at the leadership level. George Barna, who polled AFAMs annually since a 1996 special commission, together with AFAM Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr., wrote that “[T]he senior [AFAM] pastor is clearly ‘da man’ in the typical black church. He is given authority, expected to use it and counted upon by congregants to take the church where it otherwise would not go.” (2004: 29-30, 46). They added that “He realizes that he is the primary change agent for his church.” (2004: 54). The implication is that the pastor will likely direct the congregation--if overseas missions is not important to leadership, it will probably not be to the church.

As of July 2019, there were approximately 44 million “Black alone” US residents, or 13.4% of the total US population (US Census Bureau, 2021). In 2008, there were a reported 40,501 US Protestant full-time overseas workers serving for at least two years, according to the Mission Handbook (Weber, 2010: 44). The following twenty-second edition in this series revealed approximately 31,775 (Newell, 2017). Given the spiritual indicators cited above, it would not be surprising if the African American (AFAM) Protestant missionary force roughly corresponded to its population proportion—around 3,000 Protestant overseas missionaries. This equivalent number is tempered to the degree that, as of 2019 “…the typical White family has eight times the wealth of the typical Black family….” (Bhutta et al., 2020). The AFAM community is not able to fund missionaries or global ministry as easily as the White community. However, the total income of all US Blacks (“Black alone”) over 15 years of age in 2020 was approximately 1.2 trillion dollars, and average income for the 29.4 million “with income” was $41,567 (US Census Bureau, 2020).

Ellen Fox, AfAm missionary in S. Sudan, smiles for the camera.What is the current AFAM overseas missionary population, and what insights are gained for recruitment from that profile? US mission organizations struggle to recruit AFAM missionaries. This is so regardless of the size, ethnic history, ethnic composition or ethnic leadership of an agency. Due to their unusually high and consistent (though declining) measures of spiritual practices, as well as their cross-cultural skills inherent in having been a minority, AFAMs can be an excellent source of new missionaries, being more welcome and less obtrusive on some fields than are Whites. James Sutherland, who recruits AFAMs for short-term ministry, has seen this firsthand in leading 28 AFAMs on short-term ministry teams in India, Uganda, Kenya and S. Sudan between 1996 and 2015 (two others were taken to China). Four of these workers traveled a total of 24 times, indicating the warmth of their receptions. His strategies for recruiting AFAM missionaries, based upon earlier research, were published previously (2004: 505-509).

Do the spiritual and demographic profiles cited above correspond at least proportionally to the actual number of AFAM overseas missionaries? This current missionary census continues others’ research dating back to at least 1953, showing consistent numbers of between 240 and 300 AFAM missionaries--either located, or postulated from research. Sutherland postulated the existence of 242 AFAM cross-cultural missionaries, based upon his research in 1998 in which 102 AFAM missionaries were located who served at least one year in cross-cultural missions overseas, and in the US. This present research includes only those serving overseas for a minimum of 2 years, instead of 1 year in earlier research (Sutherland, 1998:5; 2004:501). Our research questions include How many AFAM overseas missionaries are there, Where do AFAM missionaries serve overseas (we include countries outside the USA), and What ministries are prominent? We also ask What agencies are more successful in attracting Blacks, and why? This present analysis concluded in mid-2021.

Who were we looking for?

This research was limited to US-born Blacks, serving full-time overseas, for a minimum of two years. We made an exception to include those already on the field who intended to stay for at least 2 years, but did not include those still raising support to go to the field for their first term. We did not include AFAM full-time mission office staff, salaried or otherwise. If a married couple was of different ethnic backgrounds, we counted only the AFAM spouse.

Who did we find?

We located 179 individuals, all but one serving overseas sometime between March 2020 and June 2021. This is 63 more than was located in similar preliminary, unpublished research in 2015. Overseas missionary “units” (a single or widowed person, one married typically to a non-AFAM spouse, or a married couple in which both are AFAM) in our database, that has been updated for over 20 years, are 154 (179 less 25 AFAM spouses). Since AFAM missionaries are so difficult to document, and to provide as complete a picture as our research allows, another 6 missionaries across 4 agencies were located. Their names are unknown, but if included would mean a total of 160 missionary “units” and 185 individuals. In other words, fulltime African American missionaries are found in approximately 154-160 places around the globe.

The above is excerpted from the article “African American missionaries serving overseas: A surprising numerical and demographic analysis of US-born Blacks in missions” by myself, Richard Coleman and Jacinta Russel. This appeared in the May, 2023 edition of Missiology: An International Review. Please go to the following link for the bibliographic references given in the parenthetical references in the article

Food for Body and Soul—Sudanese Refugees in Juba

A line of women wait in line for oil, with sacks of food at their feet in JubaJune 17, 2023

Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church provided $10,000 to Juba Parish Presbyterian churches for emergency food relief. Four hundred and fifty households received 22 lbs. of flour, 6.6 lbs. of dried beans, and .8 of a gallon of cooking oil. They were also given a free Bible and a message of hope from local pastors, who encouraged them to visit their churches. Some, particularly Muslims, never had a Bible.

Registration Check in. A group of women huddle around a man bent over a computer typing.July 22, 2023

The H&C Maclellan Trust provided $6,000 for a second food and Bible distribution. Again, a message from Scripture was offered (2 Kings 6:24, 7:1-8) to the early-arriving refugees, together with prayers. Two hundred and fifty families were provided with the same amount of food as in June. Each family would average 4-5 members. This time Bibles in Arabic were available for those desiring them, particularly Muslims. Many expressed appreciation for the timely help.
A long line of men and women with food & oil waiting for further assistance.

Westside Urban Ministry

Eight people in a line with arms around each other shoulders smile for the camera. In the distance a gloomy cloud threatens rain.Notice the thin turquoise band top left—the incoming deluge? What amazes in the photo is that the team even came that afternoon. Bob and Lee, at right, had to stay in a pickup truck. Two other teams were drenched. Lee’s T-shirt reads, “The church has left the building”—and showed up. We average around 7 workers each week. We distribute around $100 in food cards each week. Donors have provided $7,575 in food, rent, medical help and Christian literature to the community in 2023.

Prayer Power


We need power, full conviction, divine appointments, fullness of the Spirit, competence in evangelism, protection, wisdom in using financial resources, more volunteers, and people joining the Kingdom!


For all whom the Lord wants to go with us to Juba in early November.
For God’s blessings upon our preparations, meetings, teaching, preaching, & medical work 
For wisdom to bring the correct radio equipment, feasible to bring.
For development of the Grace Theological College campus.  For Ellen Fox’s health and wisdom in her ministry (we plan to host her in Juba)
For wise and just governance for S. Sudan and for peace in Sudan and stability in S. Sudan
For Redeemer Radio station to go on the air with full power ASAP


That the AFAM church will give due attention to going cross-culturally, both in the USA and globally      
That God will encourage AFAM missionaries with the financial support needed and that a new generation of pastors will make global missions a priority


For many to use it and for blessing on our webmaster


Much wisdom is needed.
For Judy’s and my health and energy. We are blessed.
To accomplish all that the Lord has given us to do (Eph. 2:10)

Our vision is to reconcile the races, especially the least-reached globally, to God and each other. Our mission is to equip and mobilize ethnic churches, especially the African-American, to reach the least-reached in the city and globally. RMNI is a 501c-3 ministry (# 62-1781061), founded in 1999, with membership in Missio Nexus and Technical Exchange for Christian Healthcare. 

The Reconciliation Report is a publication of

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

Phone: 423-822-1091

Jim Sutherland PhD., Director