Nearly 300 African American women from 21 states gathered for this falls second annual "Sisters Who Care" conference at LifeWays Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolinas Blue Ridge Mountains. The women, celebrating their "sisterhood" both in Christ and in their ethnic heritage, arrived from states as distant as Alaska for three days of fellowship, laughter, study, worship, prayer and inspirational music
"Sisters Who Care: Women on Mission," was the brainchild of Debra Berry, a national ministry consultant for the Womans Missionary Union (WMU) who was perplexed at the limited involvement of blacks in WMUs Women on Mission programs. According to the Baptist Press, Berry coined the phrase four years ago, hoping to make a culturally relevant connection with fellow African American women.
Historical research showed Berry that many black Baptist churches have the word "missionary" in their names because they were in the forefront of post-Civil War missions until the 1930s.
What brought blacks back from the mission field and shifted their attention inward to the local church was a simultaneous loss of backing from predominantly white supporting agencies and the colonial governments of Africa.
During the Sept. 24-26 conference, attendees learned of the forgotten missionary tradition that is theirs to reclaim. Chiffon Chambers, who worked in Africa for three years as a videographer for the International Mission Board (IMB), informed the vocally responsive crowd they are suffering from a mistakenly whitewashed impression.
The very first American missionary, she pointed out, was a black man in 1782.
"My point is that Satan is trying to convince us it is a white mans ministry, and we buy into that," Chambers said.
The Great Commission is a call to all people, not just those of European descent, she contended to roaring applause.
"There is a long list of African Americansfreed slaves, as if they didnt have enough on their platewho still felt the need to tell others," Chambers said.
The "Sisters Who Care" conference also paid tribute to historical black role models of bygone eras such as Nannie Helen Burroughs who organized her fellow black women into missions at the turn of the 20th century.
While WMU continues to seek to have all women radically involved in the mission of God, "Sisters Who Care" seeks to encourage African American women to join their other SBC sisters in fulfilling the Great Commission.
In October 1999, WMU launched the Women on Mission "Sisters Who Care" promotion campaign to encourage the development and strengthening of mission organizations, ministries, and activities in the African American church.
According to Sisters Who Care, there are currently over 3,000 African American churches in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Their annual growth rate of 13 percent exceeds all other groups in the SBC.