Since it’s Black History Month, I am reading The African Preachers published by Sprinkle Publications. I plan to share about the four African preachers spotlighted in this wonderful work in order to stir your affections for the work God has done among black Christians in America. I also highly recommend this volume for your personal library! It's a wonderful glimpse into Christ's work amid the horrors of slavery in America, and it will truly remind you that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
Early Life and Conversion
Lott Carey (1780-1828) may not be a household name, but God's use of this man will be known and celebrated for eternity. Born a slave, Carey made his way to Africa through God's missionary call on his life.
Carey was raised by godly parents in his hometown of Charles City, Virginia before being moved to Richmond, Virginia to work as a common laborer in a warehouse at the age of 24. For the first couple of years that he was in Richmond, he was described as "increasingly vicious" (p.12), being frequently drunk and very vulgar in his language. God was at work in his life, and this would soon be obvious.
In 1807, Carey was saved by the Lord and "an immediate and remarkable change was discovered in his life" (p.12). This change can be attributed only to the powerful working of the Holy Spirit in transforming his heart. It was at this time that he would hear his pastor preaching about the Spirit’s mighty work of the new birth in the life of believers found in John 3. He devoted himself to learning how to read this passage.
From Slave to Student
At his conversion, Carey was lacked knowledge even of the alphabet (p.13). However, just as God used "uneducated men" to spread His kingdom in the New Testament, He would give Carey all he needed to preach the Word and build enough favor to purchase his own freedom (Acts 4:13). With the help of some young men at the warehouse, Carey quickly taught himself to read John 3. Soon after, he also learned to write.
His learning was not in vain, either. He began preaching and exhorting people to come to Christ immediately. Carey devoted his free time to reading and building up his mind, even being found studying Smith's Wealth of Nations. Meanwhile, as his intellect grew and his call to mission work was growing, Carey "became more and more respected, and useful in his services at the warehouse" (p.14). He took seriously the biblical command to "work heartily as unto the Lord and not unto men" (Colossians 3:23).
His Character and Call
Though a slave, Lott Carey's character and work ethic were highly regarded by both black and white folks, and through God's providence, he was able to earn enough money to purchase freedom for himself and his two children for $850. Sadly, his first wife passed away before he could purchase her freedom. His godly reputation would proceed him so much that when he desired to leave his work as a warehouse laborer, his employers offered to raise his salary to $1000 if he would remain in the United States.
Like Paul, in Acts 20:22, however, Carey was “constrained by the Spirit” to take the gospel to Africa. When asked why he would risk his life, comfort, and prosperity to preach the gospel in Africa, he responded, "I feel bound to labor for my suffering race" (p.17). He must have felt the anguish of Paul who said, "...I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh" (Romans 9:1-3). This calling would lead Carey and others to form the African Missionary Society which would give money to African mission work. This wasn't enough for him, though. God called him to the mission field in Africa and he desired it as much as God did.
Onward to the Mission Field
Carey and his fellow preacher Collin Teague were approved by the American Baptist Mission Society and the Colonization Society to take the gospel to Africa where being black would be "no disparagement to their usefulness" (p.20). About a year after their approval, Carey, Teague, and their families would be ready to go. In Carey's last sermon, he preached these profoundly prophetic words:
"I am about to leave you and expect to see your faces no more. I long to preach to the poor Africans the way of life and salvation. I don't know what may befall me...nor am I anxious what may become of me. I feel it my duty to go, and I very much fear, that many of those who preach the gospel in this country will blush when the Savior calls them to give account of their labors in His cause, and tells them, 'I commanded you to go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature'..." (p. 24)
They traveled to the coast of Africa in the Nautilus on January 23, 1821 and eventually settled in the colony of Liberia, where they would live out the Great Commission.
Carey and His Legacy
Lott Carey was the first African American missionary to Africa. He founded Providence Baptist Church in Monrovia, the first Baptist church in Liberia. We would all do well to imitate Lott Carey's "impeccable life" and remember that "because he trusted God in ordinary things, God blessed him extraordinarily" (p. 4-5). As Christians, we know that all authority has been given to Jesus as He will build His church through us as we "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19).
Though Carey only served in Africa for 7 years until his death in 1828, he was a pastor, counselor, and physician to the people there. His impact was not only felt in Liberia but also in the churches who supported him on the mission field. Carey's integrity, commitment to the mission, and faith in God have encouraged and inspired black and white Christians for nearly 200 years since his departure from Virginia.
“The African Preachers” by Sprinkle Publications
The Lott Carey Global Christian Missional Community: LottCarey.Org