Akin showcases life of first black missionary, teaches on cross-centered ministry

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by Lauren Crane

The first Baptist missionary to a foreign land was not William Carey or Adoniram Judson, but a little-known former slave who took the gospel to Jamaica nearly a decade before Carey departed England for India.

Speaking to the largest new student class ever at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary as well as returning students, faculty and staff, president Daniel Akin held up the example of George Leile by preaching from Gal. 6:11-18 in fall convocation August 24.

Leile was a freed slave from Georgia who, in 1782, left his native land for Jamaica to preach the Gospel and plant a church. Though he is underappreciated today, Akin said his work predates Carey, the Father of the Modern Missions Movement, by a decade.

Akin has made a habit in recent years of wedding the life of a pioneer missionary to textual exegesis in some sermons, the first five of which were published in a book called Five Who Changed The World. During this sermon, Akin taught that by looking at the passage and the life of Leile, one could gain insight into a cross-centered ministry.

“In the man George Leile we find the heartbeat for ministry and missions joined to that of the apostle Paul, who wrote in Galatians 6:14, ‘But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world had been crucified to me, and I to the world.’  Here we find the grounding for faithful ministry and a passion for missions,” Akin said.

In Leile’s life, believers can see several marks of a cross-centered ministry. Looking at verses 11 through 13, Akin said Paul “rips into” those who desire to make a “good showing in the flesh.” Instead, Akin said a cross-centered ministry should be characterized by humility and not pride.

“How contrary the mindset of pride and boasting is to a cross-centered minister. How contrary this mindset is to what we see in the life and ministry of Jesus, of Paul, of George Leile,” Akin said. Although freed by his Baptist slave owner after his conversion in 1773, Leile consistently considered himself a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ, even willingly working bivocationally throughout his ministry in order that he might humbly give glory to God.

“This man did not want to live a wasted life, but one that was glorifying to Jesus.”

Akin said Leile also modeled Paul’s words of desiring to glory in Christ alone. Quoting a sermon by preacher George Spurgeon on Paul’s ministry, Akin said, “‘If he glories in Christ, he must expect to be misunderstood, misrepresented and attacked… Ask the Lord to give you grace enough to suffer and endure for that precious Savior who will give you reward enough when you see him face to face, for one hour with him will make up for it all! Therefore, be faithful, and may the Lord help you thus to glory in the Cross of Christ.’

“As it was to Paul, as it was to Spurgeon, so it was for George Leile,” Akin said. He said that Leile understood he would be attacked as he preached the bloody cross and Christ crucified. He preached to slaves in Savannah, Ga., for two years before he and his family became indentured servants and moved to Jamaica.

“During 8 years of preaching, Leile baptized 500 persons and established a strong church in Kingston (Jamaica),” Akin said.

Furthermore, Leile appealed for more missionaries to be sent. By 1814, there were 8,000 Baptists in Jamaica and in 1832 there were 20,000.

“He was not only sent, but a sender as well.”

The Convocation service was also a chance for professors to be installed as elected faculty. Nathan Finn, Edward Gravely, George Robinson and Heath Thomas did so by signing the Abstract of Principles and the Baptist Faith and Message. Associate Professor of Theology and Medieval Studies, David Hogg, was also awarded the Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award.

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