African-American pastor has contagious vision for missions6/18/2012
By Marie Curtis
BUFFALO, N.Y. —Spend just a few minutes with Bill Smith and you’ll catch his vision for missions.
That’s what happened to North Buffalo Community Church in New York, a congregation Smith planted in 1994 with his wife, Adrian, and has pastored ever since.
Attendance averages around 100, but the church is not limited by size. Smith has instilled in them an urgency for reaching their community and the world for Christ. Members have been on mission trips to Zambia, Suriname, Burkina Faso, India and Brazil.
“I am aging gracefully and quickly, so I would like God to use our church to build leaders who have the same passion that God has for missions; that once I’m off the scene, this idea of taking the Gospel to the whole world would just explode from our church,” Smith said.
He prays his vision will spread throughout other African-American churches and across racial barriers. Many people he’s met overseas assume all missionaries are white. For Smith, that’s a challenge for more people of color to move out of their places of comfort and respond.
“Most of the world looks like us. The people are out there calling for us to be a part of this process of bringing the Good News to them. They’ve been waiting, God’s been waiting and it’s time to wait no more …” the pastor said.
“Every time I’ve gone to an African nation or a place where there are African people, the people we minister to are shocked to know that there are African descendants who are missionaries,” he continued. “They always ask the question: ‘Then where have you been?’
“Our hearts get broken because we keep facing this.”
North Buffalo recently partnered with IMB to take a volunteer team on a vision trip. Five church members spent a week in Salvador, Brazil, swatting bugs and fighting intense heat while discovering the needs of the Quilombola, a people immersed in voodoo who are descendents of runaway slaves.
Team member Marian King believes being African American is an advantage in building relationships with the Quilombola. “I think people are comfortable with people who look like them,” she said.
“We visited a mother, a mother of seven, who reminded me of my mother who was also a single mother raising seven children. That touched my heart,” King said. “There was this little girl (one of the daughters). She was close to the age I was when I accepted Christ into my life. I was able to share with her and she accepted Christ.”
Keith Jefferson, African-American missional church strategist for IMB and coordinator of the Brazil trip, wants to find more churches with a willingness to serve. Jefferson was a Southern Baptist missionary to the Quilombola for 16 years.
“There are great advantages for African Americans to be involved in missions. You have 53 countries in Africa. You have countries of color, like India. You have many other countries that have color, where African Americans would have an advantage to go in and share the Good News of Jesus Christ,” he said.
“I feel that we as African Americans are like a type of sleeping giant that is awakening. Although there are many good things that are happening through African-American churches with missions, there are so many other things that need to take place.
“We don’t have any more excuses,” he added.
Smith agrees. “Our small church gets to do big things because of the way God has built into us through this thing called missions.
“All the challenges, the things that people are afraid of … they quickly drop away once you decide to follow God,” Smith continued. “One of the things I know that people believe would be a hindrance to doing missions is finances, but it has always been our experience that if we put our minds to doing missions, then God always puts the finances in place for everyone who wants to go.”
Smith’s missions vision includes ministering close to home. North Buffalo does outreach to students from different cultures at the University of Buffalo.
“We are currently preparing two young men, one going back to Korea, one going back to Thailand,” the pastor said. “We are helping them, mentoring them, getting them ready. I’d like to see God do something huge in Thailand because of what Ed is going to do and something huge in South Korea because of what Paul is going to do.”
North Buffalo’s small congregation gave more than $10,000 in 2010 and 2011 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and supports year-round missions giving. They want to be an example for other African-American churches to give generously, sacrificially and obediently.
“I would like to be a part of seeing God start a movement among our churches, whereby we would join other ethnic groups … and we would do the work that God would have us to do, so that we could wrap this thing up,” Smith said. “He would have given everybody the opportunity to come to faith in Him and then would call us to His kingdom. Jesus would come, and God would be pleased.”
Marie Curtis is an IMB writer/editor.