Feature

No Language but Love

Going back with a message of grace and hope

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Do you try to improve your language skills when you are preparing to visit a foreign country? Most of us work on our “tourist” language so that we can shop or at least order from the menu. While I was visiting Senegal with the C&MA’s Africa ’07 Missions Tour, I discovered that God had prepared me with another language—love.

A POUNDING HEART

I first discovered this language as we toured Goree Island, commonly known as “the island with the door of no return.” Goree Island was the last stop for most West Africans forced into the global slave trade. Here, families were not valued. Mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers were separated and sold to the highest bidder.

The moment I placed my feet on the soil of Goree Island, I could feel the souls of the millions of slaves who had passed before me. Could my ancestors have walked this same cobblestone shoreline? Could this have been their last view of Africa? Could this island have been the very spot where they vowed to survive the atrocities that lay ahead? If not mine, it was indeed the ancestors of any number of African-Americans in Chicago or Cleveland, San Francisco or San Antonio.

As I walked into the corridor of the bidding floor, my heart pounded louder than shackles on their hands and feet could not lock up the terror that was in their eyes, nor the hope. The Goree Island curator told us that the only way women escaped being sent to America was if they were pregnant. Then, their fate was to live forever on the island as servants to the slave traders, who continued to brutally capture and sell human beings.

RELEASED FROM BONDAGE

Tears of love—yes, love—began to run down my face as I looked at the holding cell labeled “Children.” Oh, the love that ached in my heart. How could this have happened? I knew that it had, but now I was face-to-face with history and the gutwrenching reality that it had happened to children of nine, eight and younger. Innocence was ignored and lost. Tears of compassion streamed down my face. It was not the language of anger but of deep, heartfelt love for all humanity.

As I ventured further into the children’s cell, I saw a shadow in the farthest corner. One of our team members, a Caucasian woman from the Southern United States, was huddled there. Tears of hurt, sorrow and compassion were flowing down her face as well. At Goree Island, a son of the African diaspora and a daughter of the American South looked at each other with the kind of understanding that only the gospel of reconciliation and grace can infuse. As we embraced, we understood that Christ’s sacrifice had covered all the hurt, all the pain, all the wounds. Without saying a word we knew that God had built a bridge of love from Goree Island to the Southern plantation.

WHY WE CAME

My next language lesson was delivered in the oddest setting. Two African-American preachers who barely speak French should never go shopping alone in Senegal. Usually, this is sound advice, but we are talking about preachers here.

Floyd Wheeler and I went to the market next to our hotel in Saly, Senegal. It was a safe tourist area that we had ventured into with interpreters several times throughout the week, but this time there were no interpreters available. We knew that one of the shop owners spoke a little English, so we decided to go only there.

As we entered this modest storefront filled with dusty trinkets and gifts, the owner gave the familiar greeting, “Asalam malekum” (“Peace to you”). We replied, “Malekum salem” (“And peace to you, too”). Since this exhausted our Arabic, we reverted to pointing and nodding. The owner was able to communicate to us that it was tea time and invited us to join him. We were delighted by his hospitality, and with keen eyes we watched as he prepared the drink in the elaborate African fashion. Midway through our broken conversation, he asked if we had gone to Goree Island. Floyd had a lot of fun telling him how I had been reduced to tears there.

The merchant looked at us with deep sincerity and simply said, “Goree Island! You and me, united!” We understood exactly what he was conveying. I felt the connection, the bond, the history with every citizen of Senegal, Niger, Mali, Ethiopia and any other African country after visiting Goree Island.

Our host asked us why we were in town with white people from America. He had heard that African-Americans and Caucasian Americans did not get along. I don’t know how God did it, but He used Floyd’s limited French and my expertise with charades to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with this intriguing Muslim man. We told him that just as the three of us shared the connection of Goree Island, all Christians—whether black or white—share in the Cross of Calvary.

The shop owner stated that he had never heard of Jesus in the manner we described. He was amazed at Christ’s atonement for us. We believe that God planted a seed and referred him to our missionary hosts for follow-up.

God also showed us that once again, He is the God of the impossible. He is going to use the children of the African diaspora to go back home and reach those in the “motherland” with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Truly, what man meant for evil, God meant for good.

We should prepare to communicate with others to the fullest extent. God showed me a different language while I was in Senegal—a language of love, grace and hope.

A Vision Realized

My passion is to promote missions in ethnic churches and to see African-American C&MA constituents become engaged in Alliance missions. Although some churches are involved, they tend to do missions on the periphery of the C&MA, on their own or with other missions and parachurch agencies.

A former missionary to Mali, I now serve as minister of evangelism and missions mobilizer for the Metropolitan District and as president of Donna Baptiste Ministries. For more than 10 years, I prayed that one day, as in the days of A. B. Simpson, there would be a groundswell of African-American missionaries serving in the C&MA. To help lay the groundwork for a short-term missions trip in 2009, five African-Americans participated in the 2007 Alliance Vision trip to Senegal, West Africa: Yeathus Johnson (pastor, Patterson Café Church, Patterson, N.J.), Phil Gilmore (pastor, St. John’s Community Baptist Church, Newark, N.J.), Terrence Nichols (president, Association of African America Churches, C&MA), Floyd Wheeler (member, Association of African America Churches, C&MA) and me.

Many days, it was unbelievable to see the workings of the Lord in our hearts and minds. Interest in missions was changed into passion. One of the leaders testified that God has called him to be a missionary in the C&MA, probably to return to Senegal. Another transferred that passion for C&MA missions to his congregants upon his return to the United States. All saw the need for the advancement of the gospel in Senegal; all heard and were challenged by the mission reports of field directors, testimonies of missionaries and the preaching of African national leaders; all are ready to get involved.

The greatest blessing to all was the instant rapport and deep connection with the Senegalese people. The vision of A. B. Simpson for African-American missions lives on. For information about the 2009 African-American short-term trip to Africa, contact Matt Peace, director for Short-Term Missions, at stmo@cmalliance.org or call (610) 564-9696.

— Donna A. Baptiste

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