Feature

A Long Vigil

By Anonymous

Montrose Archibold Waite. The name and the man will be unrecognized by most readers, but he and his wife, Anna, were among 10 black missionaries who served with The Christian and Missionary Alliance in West Africa during the first half of this century.

The pioneer was Miss Carrie Merriweather, who began her service in 1913. Six more followed in 1922–23, including Waite. Three women went out in 1929, 1930 and 1931.

Montrose Waite was a Jamaican by birth, although later he became a naturalized American citizen. Providentially he met Dr. A. B. Simpson, who assured him his sustenance at Nyack College if he would enroll and prepare for missionary service. Waite sailed for Sierra Leone, West Africa, three years after his 1920 graduation.

A year after his arrival in Sierra Leone he married Ella Mae Scott, a fellow missionary. They labored together until her death in early 1931. Waite later remarried and with his wife continued to serve until World War II interrupted their work.

By war’s end, Mr. and Mrs. Waite had a large family, and Alliance officials were reluctant to return them overseas. Undaunted, Mr. Waite organize the Afro-American Missionary Crusade, raised his own support and took his family back to Africa, settling in Liberia, where he began a school.

In 1977 H. Robert Cowles, then the editor of The Alliance Weekly, interviewed Waite, then a white-haired patriarch. Still vigorous despite his advanced years, Waite reflected on his long association with The Christian and Missionary Alliance. Intrigued by the fact that The Alliance had once had a substantial complement of black missionaries in West Africa, Cowles asked Waite why they had all left.

Some, Waite said, left for normal reasons such as health or other interests. But his wife recalled two other reasons.

All the children of C&MA West Africa missionaries attended the Alliance school at Mamou, Guinea, presided over at the time by two unmarried women. It was during the colonial era, and a racist French official visiting the school noticed two black children among the youngsters. He accused the matron of bearing them out of wedlock.

The episode greatly upset the two women, and The Alliance was pressured to remove black children from the school.

The other reason was the Board’s decision to turn over its Sierra Leone work, where all the black missionaries were assigned, to the Missionary Church. Was this an effort to quietly phase out black missionaries as a way to handle school tensions and the protests by African-Americans of their treatment overseas? The Waites thought so, but records indicate the C&MA left Sierra Leone because the organization was overextended. Whatever the motivation, the effect was the same: no African-American missionaries were again appointed by The Alliance until 1976.

In Africa, Mr. Waite discovered a great amount of wonder on the part of local people at the appearance of a black missionary from North America. He recalled the African who rubbed his skin to make sure he was not simply painted.

“Are there other black people in America?” the African wanted to know. “There are many of them,” Mr. Waite replied, adding optimistically, “and they’ll be coming.”

For the Africans and for The Alliance, it has been a long vigil.

—adapted from The Alliance Weekly and additional notes by H. Robert Cowles

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