Greetings, Visitors and New Beginnings Family! If you choose, pour yourself a cup of coffee. Then pull up a chair for the latest edition of “Coffee with Gary” entitled “A Spiritual Legacy of Faith & Perseverance.”
With the establishing of Juneteenth as a federal holiday, I took time to reflect on the ugly scourge of slavery in America. Though slavery had been practiced in the Americas earlier, the first slave ships from Africa docked at Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. After 246 years of institutionalized slavery in America, the last of the slaves were finally freed on June 19, 1865. For millions of black slaves, those years were marked by exploitation and maltreatment by their European-descended, white masters.
Thus, I have always marveled at the rich spiritual heritage left to us by African and American-born slaves in America. Why would an enslaved populace embrace the religion of their abductors and abusers? After some thought, I realized that the slaves had not embraced a religion but a Person. They had embraced Jesus.
In Jesus, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53:5, the slaves saw the love, compassion, and justness of a man who had suffered just as they had. In Jesus, they saw a man who identified with them, not some aberration of God fed to them by their slave masters. This gave them hope. The hope of freedom and an eternal life in heaven with Jesus.
In Jesus, they had a faith that could not be taken away from them. Because of their faith, their slave masters couldn’t break their spirits, no matter how brutally they whipped them.
By faith, based on Hebrews 11:1-12:3, the slaves had the perseverance they needed to run the grueling race set before them. Having completed their race, they effectively mirrored the witnesses of Hebrews 11:35-36 who were tortured, flogged, and chained but remained faithful unto the end.
And although there are countless black slaves whose acts of faith are unknown to us today, there are some who, by their significant acts of faith, I can name. People like Rebecca Protten, a former slave herself and missionary to African slaves in St. Thomas. A February 2018 Christianity Today article credits her as “The mother of modern missions” and “The mother of the black reformation of 1736.”
Then there is Frederick Douglass, who by faith is quoted as saying, “Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference.” By faith, these two and many others transformed Christianity.
In his book, This Far by Faith, author Juan Williams concludes that Africans did not simply adopt the religion of European colonists. They used Christianity’s power, principles, and practices to blaze a path to freedom and deliverance. And not only did they blaze a path, but the path was so big that “it reformed Christian theology” as well as Christianity itself.
Today this spiritual legacy of faith and perseverance not only belongs to African-Americans but to all who name Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior! The faith of these and other spiritual ancestors gives us hope as we run the race marked out for us!
Finally, I always close my blogs by stating we are pilgrims looking for a country of our own. Indeed, this was true of the African descended slaves of yesterday, who today, are in their own country, in heaven with Jesus!
Your fellow pilgrim, looking for a country of our own (Hebrews 11:13-16),