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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Are You Letting Your Light Shine?

During the month of February, we'll hear about courageous African American men and women who risked a lot, in some cases their very lives, so we can enjoy the freedom we have today. Names like Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass and Rosa Parks are among the many icons who are featured on radio and TV during Black History month. However, during those dark days of slavery when slaves were forbidden to assemble for any reason whatsoever, there were still some who managed to shine the light of Jesus Christ and even became missionaries to foreign lands.

Here is a short list:

Peter Claver, born 1581 in Spain, became a Jesuit priest at age 20 and traveled to South America where he ministered to African slaves when they arrived in Cartagena, Colombia. He became known as "Slave of the Blacks," and "Slaves of the Slaves."

Richard Allen, born February 1760, founded the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church in 1816. This church became the largest denomination of African Americans, sending missionaries to Haiti, San Domingo and Africa. Allen developed such a strong Christian faith he was able to convert his owner. 

Henry Garnet was a  Presbyterian minister who became the first African American to preach a sermon in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1852 he traveled to Jamaica as a missionary.

Peter Williams was a slave who purchased his freedom in 1785. At that time, blacks who belonged to white churches had to sit at the back of the church and could not bury their dead on church grounds. In 1796, Williams and other black church members decided to form their own congregation. In 1800 Williams laid the cornerstone of the Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church at the corner of Church and Leonard Streets in New York.

Betsey Stockton was born in slavery in 1798 in New Jersey. While working with the Reverend Nathaniel Todd, Betsey became a member of the First Presbyterian Church in Princeton. Betsey later joined a company of missionaries to the Sandwich Islands (present-day Hawaii) on a trip that lasted five months with no stopovers. Betsey became the first single American woman sent overseas as a missionary.

Jesus said, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5 : 16).  These brave pioneers could have settled for sitting at the back of the church and all the other indignities associated with their station, but instead they followed the great commission and did what they did to advance the kingdom of Jesus Christ on this earth. Can we emulate them in some small way? Will we let our light shine?

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