Baptist World Alliance, BWA News Release

George Liele, first Baptist missionary

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Presenters at a forum on the work, mission and legacy of George Liele at the Baptist World Alliance® Annual Gathering declared him the first Baptist missionary. Liele, a freed slave from the United States, planted the first Baptist church in Jamaica in 1783.

Noel Erskine, professor at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta in the United States, said that “With his migration to Jamaica in 1783, Liele became America’s first missionary, 33 years before Adoniram Judson sailed for Burma and 10 years before William Carey of England sailed for India.”

Liele, who was ordained in 1775, is also regarded as the first black person in the US to be ordained a Baptist pastor, and likely the first black Baptist pastor in the world. He planted churches in Savannah, Georgia.

His ministry in the US influenced others who went on to found significant Baptist work, including David George, baptized by Liele and who left Savannah  for the Canadian Province of Nova Scotia and then later to Sierra Leone in Africa, where he started Baptist churches in both countries.  Others included Jesse Peters in South Carolina, Hannah Williams in England and Andrew Bryan in Savannah.

Moses Baker, another freed slave from the US who was converted under Liele’s ministry in Jamaica, was instrumental in starting Baptist work in the western part of the island. Liele had concentrated his work in the capital Kingston and surrounding areas in the east.

According to Horace Russell, retired professor of historical theology at Palmer Theological Seminary near Philadelphia in the US, aspects of Liele’s model for ministry were adopted by the British missionaries. Missionaries from Britain started arriving in Jamaica early in the 19th century in response to appeals for assistance with the growing Baptist work on the island.

The session on the legacy of George Liele was one of several issues explored by the more than 400 Baptist leaders, theologians, teachers, pastors and others from 40 countries during the course of the BWA Annual Gathering from July 1-6 in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

Baptist World Alliance®
© July 5, 2013

The Baptist World Alliance, founded in 1905, is a fellowship of 266 conventions and unions in 134 countries and territories comprising 51 million baptized believers in 178,000 churches. For more than 100 years, the Baptist World Alliance has networked the Baptist family to impact the world for Christ with a commitment to strengthen worship, fellowship and unity; lead in mission and evangelism; respond to people in need through aid, relief, and community development; defend religious freedom, human rights, and justice; and advance theological reflection and leadership development.