Each February we remember and celebrate the many contributions African Americans have made to our culture and society, from politics and science to sports and the arts. Among Christians, one such area we too often overlook is the unique contribution of African American believers in global missions—the Great Commission work of taking the gospel to all nations.
The list of names we could celebrate in this cause is longer than most are aware of: Lott Carey, George Liele, Betsey Stockton, William Sheppard, and many others. Mother Eliza Davis George, a 20th century missionary to Liberia, is one particularly inspiring example.
Born in 1879 to formerly enslaved parents, Eliza Davis George was raised in the Baptist church, but did not truly give her life to the Lord until a transformative revival meeting, which she attended at 16. Eliza became a teacher and taught at her alma mater, Central Texas College. In her early 30s, while attending a college chapel meeting, she felt God’s call to become a missionary to Africa.
As she prayed at that meeting, she had a vision of people in Africa sitting before the judgment seat of Christ and saying to him, “No one ever told us you died for us.” From this time forward, she felt an overwhelming burden for the unreached in Africa and began taking steps to move to the continent as a missionary.
Initially, she faced many burdens as she tried to answer this call, struggling to garner support from her colleagues at Central Texas College and from the board of the Texas Baptist Missions Convention. While she waited and waded through these obstacles for the next two years, she continued to devote herself to prayer and intercession for the unsaved in Africa, and her love for the people she would one day live among continued to grow in her soul.
Nearly two years after her initial call to missions, Eliza wrote a poem about this growing passion saying, “My African brother is calling me; Hark! Hark! I hear his voice…Would you say stay when God said go?” Finally, in December of 1913, Eliza left Texas bound for Monrovia, Liberia. After traveling first to New York, then boarding a ship for Liberia, she finally arrived on Jan. 20, 1914.
After arriving, she traveled from Monrovia, the capital city, to the more rural interior area of Sinoe County, where there were very few churches or missionaries. There she and a partner opened a school called the Bible Industrial Academy, where they taught children to read the Bible and gave them helpful job and life skills. After only two years of work, they had 50 children attending the school and had seen more than 1,000 people from the surrounding area come to know Christ.
For the next several years, Eliza continued to serve Sinoe County, Liberia as a missionary evangelist, teacher and church planter. As she ministered, she also trained young Liberians to serve as missionaries and teachers themselves.
Five years after she arrived, her mission board disbanded, and Eliza feared that she may have to return to the U.S. for lack of financial support. However, a British missionary doctor named Charles George asked her to marry him so she could remain in Liberia and continue her work. Through much prayer, Eliza concluded that God was allowing her to marry, so in 1919 the two were wed. Her marriage to Dr. Charles George was often rocky, as he struggled with alcoholism. Nevertheless, over the next 20 years, he would enable Eliza to continue her ministry with financial support and by relieving her of some administrative burdens, and the pair adopted three Liberian children together.
After her husband died in 1939, Eliza continued her work in Liberia for another 33 years, planting churches and investing in hundreds of young people who would grow up to be ministers and missionaries themselves. Eliza continued to live frugally and looked to God for her every provision. She went out of her way to secure the necessary funding for her ministries, once even traveling 200 miles by foot to collect a donation sent to Monrovia by mistake. Unfortunately, by the time she arrived, the money had already been returned to the United States.
Despite the hardships, her ministry bore much fruit, and by the 1960s, there were 27 churches in the Eliza Davis George Baptist Association of Liberia. As her health declined with age, Eliza continued to minister long past retirement age, only returning to the United States in her mid-90s when her failing health became insurmountable. She died in 1980, 100 years old, her long life a faithful testimony to God’s provision and his heart to see the gospel reach all nations.
Eliza’s legacy in Liberia continues to live on in the many Christian ministries that are thriving there today. One such ministry is the Christian Revival Church Association, where Beeson alumnus Dennis Aggrey (M.Div. ’00) is a pastor and teacher. For several years Dennis has hosted and mentored other Beeson students during their cross-cultural ministry practicums, inviting them to experience what life and ministry in Liberia look like today.
Beeson alumnus and missions certificate recipient, Armstead Herndon (M.Div. ’19), spent his six-week cross-cultural ministry practicum (CCMP) with the Aggreys in Liberia, and regularly returns to maintain that partnership and continue to participate in the ospel work taking place there. Armstead recently returned to Beeson to speak at Global Voices, where he shared about Eliza Davis George’s life and legacy and many other important, but too often forgotten, African American missionary women in history. Watch Armstead's presentation at a recent Global Voices event sponsored by the Global Center to learn more about Liberia, Eliza Davis George, and many others like her.