Breaking boundaries: Black HandsOn missionary in Germany inspires others

Susanna settled into a turquoise armchair in the living room of International Mission Board missionary Julia Dunn’s home in Germany’s Ruhrgebiet region.

The twenty-something had just experienced Chick-Fil-A for the first time — or at least, a homemade copycat chicken sandwich that Julia prepared for dinner. Inspired by the gift of Chick-Fil-A’s signature sauce, brought over by a volunteer team for the missionaries to enjoy, they were eager to introduce their Zimbabwean friend to a taste of American cuisine.

Jermaiya, an elementary education major, loves doing crafts with the local children. Photo Provided

With satisfied stomachs, the family continued the deep conversation they started during dinner.

Susanna, the daughter of a pastor from Zimbabwe, stumbled upon their church one day while using YouVersion’s Bible app. After attending once, she never left and began bringing along her friend, Matla, also from Zimbabwe.

Both were in Germany as part of a program bringing English speakers to teach in kindergartens. Having previously lived abroad as an au pair, Susanna was accustomed to being away from her home country, which was experiencing political and economic turmoil.

As Susanna shared her history, she also recounted her journey of straying from God and finding her way back to Him. While in college in Zimbabwe, Susanna was mentored by a woman only a few years her senior. That mentor had a profound impact on her life. However, due to economic hardships in her family, Susanna dropped out of college.

As she leaned forward in her chair, a contemplative expression crossed her face.

“I wonder if there are Black women in ministry.”

Julia prayed for guidance, knowing representation was crucial for Susanna. She told Susanna about a Black missionary family in Germany, the Watsons. Julia also mentioned a few Black women leading in ministry in the United States, such as Priscilla Shirer.

Yet, Julia sensed that Susanna needed more than just names. She needed to personally know someone who looked like her and was serving the Lord with their life. She prayed for guidance on how to encourage this young lady who wanted to grow in her faith but felt isolated due to the lack of representation.

That prayer was soon answered.

Three days later, Julia found out that Jermaiya was approved for a church planting internship job request through the HandsOn program.

Jermaiya had experienced similar thoughts as Susanna just a few years earlier.

“I’ve never seen anyone like me overseas,” she had told herself.

Even though the IMB has Black women missionaries like Ramona Reese, Melissa Stormer and Vanessa Watson — to name a few — Jermaiya was unaware of their existence.

She chose to be part of the solution.

Only a year after her mother’s unexpected passing, Jermaiya left her family behind, boarded a plane and landed in Europe as part of the IMB’s HandsOn program — an international semester missions opportunity for students and young adults interested in working alongside missionary mentors to share the gospel with unreached people.

Jermaiya had grown up in a non-Southern Baptist Black church. She didn’t become a believer until college, where she was first exposed to missions during a trip to New Orleans. The experience burdened her heart for the lost. If people in New Orleans hadn’t heard the gospel, how many more across the globe remained unreached?

Jermaiya leads a gospel song during the international church’s worship service. There are seven countries represented in the little choir and the band. Church attendees love gospel music and love hearing Jermaiya sing. IMB Photo

Now, Jermaiya, along with her co-HandsOn missionary Gretchen Deese, meets with Matla and Susanna every week. Just a few weeks ago, a two-hour dinner and Bible study date turned into six hours of genuine fellowship and gospel-centered conversation. Jermaiya’s three-month missions experience was funded through the IMB, the church where Jermaiya served during her college years and her family’s church, which encouraged her to pursue her calling, despite not being in the denomination.

As the HandsOn missionaries serve in the church daily — sometimes in seemingly ordinary ways like cleaning the facility or leading children’s ministry — Susanna and Matla often serve right alongside them.

Julia noted that Jermaiya has an uncanny ability to turn everyday conversations into gospel-centered ones. This is especially effective during street evangelism, where Jermaiya’s fearlessness inspires others.

Despite limited diversity in the region where Jermaiya served, there were people whose skin color matched hers. Jermaiya is grateful that her life could serve as an example for others. When she returns to the United States, the 23-year-old recent college graduate plans to find ways to mobilize more Black students for missions.

Jermaiya, celebrated her 23rd birthday on the mission field. Photo Provided

“We must step out of our comfort zones,” Jermaiya said, wanting to encourage other Black students considering missions. “Don’t worry about the unknowns because God will take care of us no matter what.”

“Stop being afraid of encountering racism or looking different from others because we have to do it for the sake of the gospel,” she continued. “If we don’t, then we’ll miss reaching a whole people group simply because they don’t see anyone who looks like them following Christ.”

She added, “It’s easier to relate to and journey with others who look like you.”


Some names have been changed for security purposes.