Mark Vowels, CGO Director
Today’s blog post begins with a quiz question:
True or False: Adoniram Judson was America’s first foreign missionary.
Do you guess true? Well, no points for you. George Leile was America’s first foreign missionary.
George Leile (sometimes also spelled Lisle, or Liele) was a missionary to Jamaica who left for the field in 1782 – thirty years before Adoniram Judson went to Burma, and even ten years before William Carey went to India.
So why don’t we generally know the name of George Leile? Probably the main reason is that he was not memorialized with a biography, as were other missionary heroes. Another reason is that he was black and was born a slave. George came to faith in Christ at age 23 and immediately began to minister to his fellow slaves. His master, Henry Sharp, encouraged George to preach the Gospel to all the slaves that he owned. Sharp was loyal to the British and fought on their side during the American Revolution. He chose to free George from slavery before the war began.
As a freed man, George first proclaimed Christ in Aiken County, South Carolina, and established a small church there, which was likely the first established black congregation in America. As the war progressed, the congregation moved to Savannah, Georgia, where the British held greater power. There, the church became the First African Baptist Church and was instrumental in starting several other Baptist churches for African Americans, both slave and free.
At the end of the Revolutionary War and the victory of the Colonists, attempts were made to re-enslave George Leile. But he was able to escape to the island of Jamaica as an indentured servant of a British Colonel (who loaned him money for his family to sail). After serving two years to pay his debt, Leile began preaching to the slaves in Kingston. People came to Christ in great numbers and soon the ministry had 350 regular attenders. Largely due to Leile’s influence, it was estimated that there were 8,000 Baptists in Jamaica by 1814.
Slavery was eventually abolished in Jamaica in 1838, but George Leile died in 1828. His life was filled with hardships and persecutions. The slave owners there wrought the same kinds of brutality and racial atrocities as were perpetrated by slave owners in America during the same period. George was once imprisoned and later was forbidden to preach to slaves. But he continued to faithfully communicate the hope of the Gospel throughout all of his days.
George Leile, the first Protestant, American missionary abroad was born as someone’s property. He received no formal education. He had no financial backing from a missionary organization. But he loved Jesus and he loved others. So, first as a slave and then as a free man, he preached the Gospel and made disciples wherever he went.
History has not remembered George Leile as a great missionary hero, but there can be no doubt that Heaven has.
Angelina Zimmer, CGO Office Administrator
Islands. Unique little worlds that never touch. Culturally exclusive in many ways and differing in dialects or complete languages in most cases. The Southern Pacific Ocean connects hundreds of thousands of islands. Some are inhabited and some are not. This story takes place in the island of Tahiti; the largest of the Îles du Vent (Windward Islands).
Henry Nott was a bricklayer by trade. Little did he know, he would lay the foundation of the Gospel on a very dark island. In 1797, the London Missionary Society sent him and several others as some of their first missionaries. Unprepared for the field they would wash up on, these missionaries would face unbelievable hardship. Captured by Napoleon’s fleet, the supply ship took five years to reach them. Meanwhile Henry Nott worked hard to learn the language and reach the people. One by one the other missionaries died, disserted, or went mad.
According to the book Giants of Missionary Trial, Nott and the other missionaries dealt with a specific group of people called the areois. “They blackened their bodies with charcoal and dyed their faces red. They had no occupation but dancing, boxing, wrestling and indulging in acts of buffoonery. They made it a practice to kill their children as soon as they were born. Pomare's chief wife, Iddeah, was a member of this society and had killed three of her children subsequent to the arrival of the missionaries.”
Nott estimated that about two out of three children were killed due to the parents or relatives that performed this tragic cultural practice. This was a terrifying group of people and contributed much to the withdrawal of many other missionaries that initially started with Henry Nott.
Unfortunately, being bereaved of other missionary help was not the only tragedy that Nott experienced. Henry Nott and a newly arrived missionary from Britain fell in love and were married in Tahiti. Unfortunately, this “honeymoon spot” was not paradise in the early 1800’s, and Nott’s new wife grew discontent and died two years later.
At the end of ten years, it was only Nott who remained. While walking and talking with the king Ponmare II, Nott would reason: "For the sake of your immortal soul and of your influence upon your subjects, I urge you, for the thousandth time, to turn to Christ. Do not longer reject His glorious salvation. Every human soul is of infinite value to Him."
The king would reply with "Doubtless you are right, but for one who has sinned so disgracefully and wallowed in the depths of heathen depravities, there is no hope.”
But there was hope for such a sinner and finally after 22 years of work, Nott saw his first fruits of his faithful labor. Ponmare II, the king of Tahiti, finally accepted Christ and “in the presence of 5000 people was baptized.” After his conversion, the King began to work with Henry Nott on translating the Bible into the Tahitian language.
An excerpt from the Giants of the Missionary Trial by Eugene Harrison, draws a unique parallel between Henry Nott and Martin Luther.
“Martin Luther called John 3:16 ‘the little gospel.’ When, during his last illness, someone recommended to him a certain remedy for his severe headache, he declined with these words: ‘The best prescription for head and heart is to be found in John 3:16.’ And in his dying moments he repeated the text three times.
"Said Henry Nott: ‘The only sure and efficacious remedy for the ignorance, the depravities, the sorrows and sins of mankind, is to be found in the Gospel of John 3:16.’
"In appreciation of the sublimities of John 3:16, Martin Luther and Henry Nott were of much the same mind.”
Ruth Tucker, a missionary historian, wrote of Nott’s work “But for the perseverance of Henry Nott, the work in Tahiti would no doubt have been abandoned.”
William Carey desired that there would be a mission in Tahiti as early as 1787. However, Carey was led to India, and we all know his story. The man who was chosen for Tahiti was Henry Nott. Fulfilling God’s will for his life and Carey’s dream, Nott continued to be faithful and is primarily responsible for the translation and production of the Tahitian Bible.
After 47 years of faithful work, Henry Nott died in 1844 leaving a Christian mission, a translated Bible, and a body of believers on the island of Tahiti.
Harrison, Eugene Myers. “Henry Nott: Herald of the Love of God in Tahiti.” Giants of the Missionary Trial , Wholsome Words, 1954, www.wholesomewords.org/missions/giants/bionott.html.
Tucker, Ruth (1983). From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya A Biographical History of Christian Missions. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. ISBN 0-310-23937-0
Matt Wells, Assistant for Media
This begins a new blog series focused on little-known missionaries from all eras and backgrounds. Join us as we see how God used a variety of people with a variety of skills for His glory and Gospel-advance.
Missionaries can’t get depressed, can they? People whose job is to share the Gospel should be living a happiness-filled life, right?
Such was not the case for missionary Roger Youderian. You’ve probably heard the name somewhere, but likely only as part of a list of other missionaries who are more well-known – Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, and Pete Fleming. These five men drew international attention when they were brutally murdered by the Huaorani (Auca) Indians in Ecuador in 1956.
You know the story. Maybe you’ve even read Through Gates of Splendor by Jim’s wife Elizabeth. The Lord has used that story to spark missions passion in the lives of many young people, including myself.
But if we’re not careful, even this incredible story can become warped into a tale of “perfect martyrs” who were always incredibly bold and never had faults.
Here’s a fact that may startle you – missionaries are normal people. Sometimes boringly normal. And as normal Christians do, missionaries often experience times of great discouragement.
It was no different for these five men. And a particular section in Through Gates of Splendor highlights the journey through discouragement that one of them – one of the least known of them – went through.
Roger Youderian was born to a Christian ranching family in Montana. He contracted polio when he was young and walked with difficulty from then on. He fought in the Army during World War II and returned to the States where he met his wife in college. They were married and felt God calling them to missions, specifically to a mission station in Macuma, Ecuador, to help some missionaries with work among the Jivaro people.
The Jivaro were known for their savagery, particularly in avenging the death of a relative. The cycle of vengeance went from village to village, house to house, and most of the Jivaro (particularly their mistreated women) lived in constant fear. But Roger loved these people and labored hard to share the Gospel with them.
Nate Saint said of him, “Roj is one of the few missionaries I know who display a real sense of urgency in the task of winning souls.”
Roger had passion, and that passion drove him to take the Gospel throughout the villages of the Jivaro and beyond, eventually leading him to the Jivaro’s enemy – the Atshuaras. In a particularly gripping account, Elizabeth Elliot recounts how Roger ventured far into Atshuara territory by himself and had to construct a runway for a plane to come and rescue him. He labored alone in that tribe among deathly sick Indians for almost two weeks. Finally, Nate Saint found him and landed his plane. But when he arrived, Roger’s only concern was to get the sick the penicillin.
It’s an amazing story – complete with Roger chopping off the head of a snake poised to bite! These sorts of tales make us think that these missionaries are larger than life. I can’t imagine spending weeks in a lonely jungle with savage tribesmen all around, many of whom were on their deathbed. Then to just keep fearlessly plunging into the unknown to reach tribe after tribe – including the infamous and barbaric Aucas – wow! Missionaries sure are adventurous.
Surely they never get tired. Surely they never feel tempted to quit.
A couple chapters later, Elizabeth paints a very different picture of Roger. It is so striking that I felt I must have misread the name – surely the man who just spent two weeks in the jungle alone, who cut off the head of a snake, who fought in World War II…surely this wasn’t the guy who wrote, “About ready to call it quits.”
Missionaries are normal Christians. And normal Christians get discouraged.
Roger was depressed. He had learned the Jivaro language, but what fruit did he have to show for it among that tribe? He and his wife had a deeply-personal struggle with discouragement. Should they even continue? Should they just go back?
Roger wrote in his diary, “We might pass Christmas here, finish the hospital in Shell, and head home. The reason: Failure to measure up as a missionary…”
He continues, “Since March, when we left Wambimi, there has been no message from the Lord for us. I just picked up my Bible to share with the same Lord who made me a new creature in England eleven years ago. There was no word of encouragement from Him. He had kept us safe wonderfully, and met our needs, but the issue is far greater than that. There is no ministry for me among the Jivaros or the Spanish, and I’m not going to try to fool myself. I wouldn’t support a missionary such as I know myself to be, and I’m not going to ask anyone else to.”
Wow. This can’t be the soon-to-be-martyr. This can’t be the bold and daring pioneer missionary. It sounds a lot more like normal, easily-discouraged Christian me.
Roger groaned to think how he didn’t “measure up” to the task. “The failure is mine…” he writes, “What is the answer? I do not know. And I’m discouraged about finding any satisfactory solution.”
He calls this his personal “Waterloo” as a missionary. He wouldn’t even go to the church service and found no comfort in a hymnbook. He finally comes to the conclusion that he must “read the Bible to know God’s will.”
“At every point I will obey and do.”
He started to repeat to himself, day after day – “Thy will be done.”
This same time, his friend Nate approached him about being the “fourth man” in Operation Auca. He wrestled with this opportunity – if he went, would God go with him? Or had God given up on him as a missionary?
Finally, he came out of the deep depression and decided to go. He wrote, “I will die to self. I will begin to ask God to put me in a service of constant circumstances where to live Christ I must die to self.”
Just before he left to join the other guys in this daring adventure to take the Gospel to this remote tribe, he tried to write a poem to express what God had done for him.
“There is a seeking of honest love
Drawn from a soul storm-tossed,
A seeking for the gain of Christ,
To bless the blinded, the beaten, the lost.
“Those who sought found Heavenly Love
And were filled with joy divine,
They walk today with Christ above…”
But he couldn’t think of the final line. And so he left, assuring his wife that he would finish it when he got home.
Of course, he never came home. He died on that riverside in Auca territory, speared to death as he tried to radio for help.
But I suppose he really did go home. His real home, with the presence of his Savior. And perhaps there, walking with “Christ above,” he found the last line to his poem. Or perhaps he didn’t need one.
Are you discouraged? Are you feeling the weight of life and your own failures? Look to guys like Roger Youderian. Better yet, do what Roger did and look to Christ.
Christ is with you in the “dark night of the soul.” And He can take your sorrows and turn it into surrender. He can take your discouragement and turn it into a desire for the lost.
He can turn your storm-tossed soul into a song.
 Much of the information for this post, including all quotations, are taken from this book, particularly chapters six and twelve. I highly recommend reading it if you haven’t already!
The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.