Today has been set aside as a George Liele Church Planting, Evangelism, and Mission Sunday for churches connected to Great Commission Baptists. By setting aside this day to remember the life and legacy of the first Baptist missionary sent out from the United States, we are highlighting the important work of reaching the nations together, and the beautiful diversity of peoples God has used in accomplishing His mission and purpose. This is a short biography from PBS on his life and ministry, and you can check out the videos sharing about his life and legacy in missions.
|George Liele was the first black Baptist in Georgia, and the first black Baptist churches in American resulted from his evangelism.
Liele was born in Virginia in 1752, but lived much of his life as a slave in Georgia. He was converted and baptized by Matthew Moore, an ordained Baptist minister. When Liele felt the call to preach, he was encouraged by his master, Henry Sharp, a Baptist deacon and a Loyalist. Liele was licensed as a probationer around 1773, and for two years he preached in the slave quarters of plantations surrounding Savannah, including the congregation formed at Silver Bluff, South Carolina.
Sharp freed Liele sometime before the Revolutionary War began. After Sharp’s death in battle in 1778, Liele made his way to British-occupied Savannah, where Sharp’s heirs would have reenslaved him but for the intervention of a British officer. Over the next few years, he built a congregation of black Baptists, slave and free, including the Silver Bluff group led by David George. One of his converts was Andrew Bryan, who continued the work in Savannah after Liele and his family sailed with the British to Jamaica in 1784.
Settling in Kingston, Liele formed a church on his own land. Liele’s church flourished, despite persecution from whites. In exchange for a number of concessions, including inspection by authorities of every prayer and sermon, his ministry was tolerated, and he was allowed to preach to the poor and enslaved on plantations and in settlements. In 1791 he wrote, “I have baptized 400 in Jamaica….We have nigh three hundred and fifty members; a few white people among them.”
One of Liele’s priorities was the organization and promotion of a free school for black children, taught by a black deacon. A few adult members of his congregation also learned to read, and he wrote that “all are desirous to learn.”
Over the years, Liele kept in touch with Bryan, George and other Baptist pioneers that he had converted. He wrote with a hint of pride of their far-flung ministries, noting that “a great work is going on…”