“Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

1 Samuel 7:12

As a seminary professor teaching students about Christian life among those on society’s margins, I often begin lessons by raising an Ebenezer as 1 Samuel 7:1–14 records. The prophet announced God’s victory over Israel’s enemies by placing a “rock of help” in view: “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us’ ” (V. 12). My students and I speak about the places where we see God has been moving in our lives and communities.

These days, our cultural habit may be to put more weight on the places where the church got things horribly wrong. Raising Ebenezers refreshes and reminds us of the places where God’s people walked more closely to His heart and mission to call and keep a people for Himself.

One reminder we enjoy studying is the powerful endurance of an obscure Christian community under horrific conditions beginning in the 1700s. These Afro-Caribbean Christians were persecuted on the tiny, Dutch-colonized, Caribbean island of St. Thomas. They experienced regular beatings with clubs and swords, gang assaults from resentful society, and even the unjust, months-long imprisonment of key leaders, forcing them to preach from the jailhouse window to their faithful who gathered in the open air outside.

Though they had no weapon on their side but the Word of God, the Moravian Afro-Caribbean Christians were still seen by the dominant social group as the greatest threat to life, property, and power. Much like the way Western observers have perceived many totalitarian regimes in history that have all firepower, courts, and culture on their side, Christianity was still seen then as the greatest threat—for simply asserting the truth of Scripture: that God has granted all men and women dignity, freedom from oppression, and the right to worship as they please.

But revival began to emerge in St. Thomas; testimonies whispered ear to ear in the night watches told about redeemed plantation owners struck with genuine conversion and grief over the slave trade. As well, Africans—bound to other traditions kept by their ancestors—likewise were struck by the dignity, hope, and perfect liberation the gospel offered. None were safe from the call of God to repentance.

A group of leaders arose, one of the first African-led Protestant churches in the Americas. The more they grew in Christ, and the more their New Testament–style commitment to give limb and life for the cause of Christ spread, the more of a threat they became to the unbelieving and depraved culture around them.

As they sought to teach their Sunday school lessons on the plantations and evangelize the island, they faced obstacles and horrors: amputated body parts littered their path as warnings to stop their Christian activities; they were scourged, their Bibles confiscated, their homes ransacked and destroyed.

In 1739, their leaders composed and signed a missive to the monarchy of Denmark, referring to themselves as the “600 Black Christian scholars” on the island. In part it read:

Despite all oppression by those who have come to beat and injure us when our pastors teaches us about the Savior, by those who burn our books, call our baptism the baptism of dogs, and call [our congregation] beasts, declaring that Christianity was seen as the greatest threat—for simply asserting the truth of Scripture: that God has granted all men and women dignity, freedom from oppression, and the right to worship as they please. Negroes must not be saved and that a baptized Negro is not more than kindling wood for the flames of hell. Many a Negro has suffered the amputation of feet and hands as punishment for his pursuit. . . . As for ourselves, we would gladly place our heads under the axe in defense of our congregation and for the sake of Lord Jesus, if our masters have us killed, as they say . . .

Magdalena, a free woman of color and elderess over the congregation, wrote boldly to the Queen of Denmark. She wrote in her native Gold Coast tongue (Fon) on behalf of the entire congregation. And she spoke as the equal the Bible taught her she was; woman to woman, mother to mother, human to human:

Great Queen! At the time when I lived in Papa [Popo] in Africa, I served the Lord Masu. Now I have come into the land of the Whites, and they will not allow me to serve the Lord Jesus. Previously, I did not have any reason to serve Him, but now I do. I am very sad in my heart that the Negro women on St Thomas are not allowed to serve the Lord Jesus. The Whites do not want to obey Him. Let them do as they wish. But when the poor Black Brethren and Sisters want to serve the Lord Jesus, they are looked upon as maroons. If the Queen thinks it fitting, please pray to the Lord Jesus for us and let her intercede with the King to allow [our pastor] to preach the Lord’s word, so that we can come to know the Lord and so that he can baptize us in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

As their pleas for the right to worship without molestation welled up, hundreds inside their congregation ultimately joined their signatures to Magdalena’s.

The monarchy remained silent to the abuses; beatings continued and strict curfews curbed their worship but could not hinder the spread of the gospel. The faithful were interrogated and lashed severely. Despite the terror, like so many in the African American church did, they met in secret to cry out beyond earthly monarchs to the King of Kings, interceding and teaching in defiance.

Finally, in 1739, the reign of terror began to subside, and the King of Denmark was moved to intervene to protect the congregants, their homes, and their meetings.

That the blood of these St. Thomas saints served as the seed of their church is a miracle to revisit, not only during Black History month, but all year round and for all the saints. These saints remind us of the lasting power of the Ancient Story in all its New Testament glory. Raising such Ebenezers—particularly of overlooked stories—brings life and raises our hope.



Read: Joshua 4:4–9

Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan. – Joshua 4:9

 Stones not only speak; stones tell stories. Of wind and storm and pain. Even water cannot silence stones buried deep below.

Folk said it didn’t happen. No slave ship could have arrived stateside in 1860! The international slave trade ended in 1808. But living stones cannot be silenced, not even by the azure deep. They found the Clotilda, buried in the delta not far from Mobile, the last slave ship to bring Africans to America. One hundred and ten souls hidden in the ship’s hull arrived in Alabama, but the schooner, the hard evidence of their illegal capture, was burned and scuttled to hide the crime. And it seemed the slaves’ survival, endurance, and creation of a city called Africatown would remain just a story. But like the underwater stones in the Jordan River of generations earlier, these living stones tell the story of determination and faith.

When the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground, they set up a memorial of twelve stones on the shore. Joshua also set up a memorial of twelve stones, but these he placed under the water, where the priests’ feet stood when the waters stopped flowing so that the Israelites could cross over (Joshua3-4). These stones tell the miracle of faith, the faith to remain standing in the water while others cross over. Now we are the memorial—living stones, standing, still speaking, that others may cross over.


What’s your crossing-over story? How will you stand up and speak your faith to help someone else cross over to Jesus?

Lord, You reign in all the earth! Please lift me, Lord, from my deep dark places. Thank You for giving this living stone a story to tell. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Read: Luke 22:47–51

Jesus answered, “No more of this!”
and he touched the man’s ear and healed him. – Luke 22:51

 In No Future Without Forgiveness, Archbishop Desmond Tutu recounted his harrowing experience visiting Rwanda a year after the genocide of 1994. He went as president of an ecumenical body that made pastoral visits to churches in countriesexperiencing crises. Perhaps none had shaken him to his core like his visit to Ntarama, a village near Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, where the new government had not removed the corpses of Tutsis murdered in a church.

Tutu described the church as being “like a mortuary, with bodies lying as they had fallen the year before during the massacre.” How could this nation ever heal and move forward, particularly given its vicious “cycle of reprisal and counter reprisal”?

Jesus halted Peter’s violent counterattack against His enemies who accosted Him near Gethsemane (See Mark 14:32). After Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant, Jesus reprimanded, “No more of this!” and He touched the man
and healed Him (Luke 22:51).

Like Jesus, Tutu chose supplication—a posture of humility or making a humble entreaty to God—over the sword in his post-apartheid home country of South Africa, inspiring not only his nation, but also Rwanda and countless others entrenched in racism, genocide, war, and other atrocities.

Truthfully, we don’t have innate tendencies to overcome feelings of bitterness, revenge, and hatred when we’re violated, but through Christ’s power and might we can forgive and forge a brighter future.


Do you find it difficult to forgive personal affronts or social injustices? Are you willing to open your heart, mind, and soul to the assurance that Christ can and will help you forgive?

Lord, I forgive; help my unforgiveness.

Read : Genesis 16:7–13

You are the God who sees me. – Genesis 16:13

 When Africans were stolen from their homeland, taken on ships across the Middle Passage, and stripped of everything, they also lost their names. Millions of people were treated as property, without humanity. But God has never forsaken us.

Hagar, the Egyptian slave woman to Sarai, wandered alone in the desert, pregnant and unsheltered. Her childless mistress and her husband, Abram, used her as a surrogate when they grew impatient waiting for God’s promise of an heir. They never even referred to Hagar by name, yet God’s watchful eyes found her. Discerning her despair and need of rescue, His protection arrived in angelic form. God revealed full knowledge of and concern toward Hagar and her situation. He called her by name, extended counsel, and spoke a covenant blessing of freedom over her unborn son. Appreciative and in awe, Hagar also named the Lord, “You are the God who sees me” (Genesis 16:13).

Hagar’s sentiment lends understanding of what’s in a name. There’s a deep indication of worth and personal connection, hope and promise. As God’s beloved children, when life overwhelms and tempts us with feelings of isolation or hopelessness, He remains close. Hagar experienced this as God delivered her again when evicted and struggling in the wilderness as a distraught single mother to her son, Ishmael, who almost died from inadequate sustenance.

God knows our name and our pain and responds to us out of His faithfulness.


Can you remember a time when God’s answers to your prayers revealed how much you and the struggles you face matter to Him?

Lord, I’m grateful for Your personal and attentive love; it shields me from discouragement and the thought of giving up.

Read : 2 Corinthians 4:7–15

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed. – 2 Corinthians 4:8

I recently returned from a beautiful, eye-opening experience in Ghana. I explored the rich Aburi Eastern Region, Mfanta Village, and visited the Cape Coast Slave Castle where more than four million Africans were transported across the world and forced into slavery. At every turn, I was reminded of my ancestors’ hardships and the personal struggles of being a Black woman in America. More than a century after the abolition of chattel slavery, Black people experience pressures resulting from that evil.

In his letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul wrote to people who were divided and under pressure. Many in this community were experiencing economic, religious, and social pressures of that day. Paul also defended his ministry and called out false teachers. Pressure was present for Paul and the believers in Corinth. People often persevere under the unimaginable. What do we do when faced with opposition? I close my eyes when others try to make us feel inadequate and remember our “power is from God” (V. 7), persecution won’t destroy us (V. 9), and we have signs and memories that lead us to freedom (V. 10).

Let us face the troubles of our lives and be encouraged to know our worth. We can see love through the life of Jesus Christ and tell others about Him (V. 15). Like those forced into slavery off the shores of Ghana, we must persevere in the midst of our worldly pressures.


What do you do when faced with pressure you never asked for? What can keep you pressing?

Holy One, thank You for showing me through the lives of others how to press in a divine direction, in the midst of pressure.

Read : Exodus 6:1–12

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood. – Ephesians 6:12

At his master’s death, my ancestor John Freeman Walls escaped North Carolinian slavery through the Underground Railroad. “Conductor” Harriet Tubman led hundreds like John to freedom along those secret routes with hiding places, including to Upper Canada–known as “New Canaan.” The master’s widow, Jane King, also left the South, making the perilous journey north to freedom alongside John.

God’s promises, including those inscribed in the Exodus stories, have provoked hope of freedom for millions. Though slaves were forbidden to read, they could listen to sermons on Sundays, a highlight in their drudgery. God declared to the Israelite slaves: “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment” (Exodus 6:6). With that hope of God’s deliverance within and the North Star above, Southern slaves moved toward freedom, along with others.

God endows each human with a free will that incites us to freedom. His command to Pharoah was, “Let the Israelites go” (Exodus 6:11). God inspires all people to pursue spiritual freedom through His Son, Jesus. All who have faith in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection gain freedom from the power of sin through the power of His Holy Spirit. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed”


To whom do you turn when you find yourself facing bondage?

Thank You, God, for my ancestors, who stood fast in the liberty that comes from You. I look to You and give You all the praise!

Read : Song of Songs 1:5–7, 9–11, 15

Dark am I, yet lovely. – Song of Songs 1:5

During a childhood visit with my grandmother in Georgia, someone mentioned colored people. I thought about my crayons. They were my best reference for color—Pink and purple people? I wondered. Adults lovingly explained colored used to be a way of describing Black people. People have also habitually supposed that those of a lighter color are more attractive and that the darker you are, the less desirable you are as a human being.

Misperceptions paired with wrong words and actions rob others of their dignity and equality. Bias based on skin color is wrong. In the Song of Songs, a woman, embraced by her beloved groom, worried whether her dark skin made her less appealing to him (1:5–6.) After laboring in the vineyard to support her family, she realized her sun-darkened color made her different. Her dark loveliness was affirmed. Some scholars interpret that the groom’s love for her symbolizes God’s love for His people.

For those in the African Diaspora pondering, Does God embrace me and accept my Blackness?—whatever shade we are—yes, God loves you and celebrates your color. God loves us because we are His, made in His image, the imago Dei, and our diversity in appearance provides a stunning reflection of His beauty. God created all of our colors. One’s skin color is not the only blessing God has given all of us; we have intrinsic worth because we are His.


Have you struggled with accepting yourself and your appearance, feeling you don’t fit what society says is “beautiful”?

Lord, give me eyes to see the beauty of who You’ve made me to be. Help me to see the exquisite reflection of Your creativity and intention in myself and in all people. In Jesus’ name, amen

Read : Numbers 12

Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? – Numbers 12:8

We have come to admire his big sister for dutifully watching her little brother. As he floated into the arms of Pharaoh’s daughter, Miriam was part of God’s plan for protecting Moses, whom God later called to lead His people (Exodus 2). We admire Miriam’s celebratory dance as she led the women in praise and shared prophetic words after Moses led the Israelites through the Red Sea (Exodus 15).

Yet, “Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. ‘Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?’ they asked. ‘Hasn’t he also spoken through us?’ And the Lord heard this” (Exodus 12:1–2). Aaron and Miriam’s words were not simply racist; they revealed a deep jealousy of their brother’s God-appointed relationship and role. God clearly showed His displeasure: “The anger of the Lord burned against them, and he left them” (V. 9). God had to straighten out the siblings, punishing Miriam by turning her skin leprous white. That got at the root of Miriam’s antagonism, and the racist way she expressed her jealousy.

Miriam’s actions and words stirred God’s anger, brought His punishment, separated her from His blessing, and slowed the progress of God’s people. At Aaron’s pleading, Moses humbly asked for her healing. God did heal Miriam—of leprosy, envy, and any prejudice against the Cushite’s skin. God wants to heal our hearts of these ills too.


When encountering people of another ethnicity, are your actions and reactions motivated by stereotypical views that reveal heart issues God wants to address?

Lord, show me and others how to not overlook racism; help me to call it out and examine the motivations around this sin. Please heal my heart. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Read : Acts 8:26–36

Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. – Acts 8:30

People simply desire truth. We have heard about White missionaries who traveled to Africa to evangelize people whom they considered “heathen”—unschooled in the Scriptures or the Christian faith. Yet Africans worshiped God centuries before those missionaries came.

On his return trip after worshiping at the temple, an Ethiopian, who was an important official to the Queen of Ethiopia, carried a scroll of Isaiah’s prophecy (Acts 8:27). He likely paid a handsome sum to secure the scroll and was studying it. The disciple Philip heard the Lord’s command: “The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’ Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked. ‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him” (VV. 29–31). Philip explained the truth about Jesus’ suffering and death to redeem all who trust in Him (VV. 32–35). Their encounter soon resulted in the Ethiopian’s request for baptism (V. 39). They listened to God.

As a worshiper of Israel’s God, the Ethiopian had a profound impact on spreading the “good news about Jesus” (V. 35) while His first disciples still walked the earth. The prominent faith in modernday Ethiopia is Christianity, a testimony that encourages us to listen for God’s voice as we search for truth.


How did Philip and the Ethiopian hear God’s voice? What do you do to make sure you hear His voice?

Lord, I admit that sometimes I hear that quiet, small voice I know is You, and I am preoccupied with the noise of the world. Forgive me, help me to listen to You, and give me courage to obey Your truth.

Read : Jeremiah 39:5–18

I will save you … because you trust in me, declares the Lord. – Jeremiah 39:18

Reverend C. T. Vivian helped to fire Martin Luther King Jr.’s imagination and activism. As King’s lieutenant in nonviolent efforts to register Black voters in Alabama in 1965, Vivian was assaulted by Sheriff Jim Clark, who strongly resisted Blacks’ voting rights. Vivian remained resolute in his faith and ministry, continuing justice work until his death at age ninety-five.

When the prophet Jeremiah remained in Jerusalem, speaking God’s message during the siege by Babylon, he had help from Ebed-Melek, an African staying at the royal court. Those opposing God’s messenger lowered Jeremiah into a muddy cistern (Jeremiah 38:6). When Ebed-Melek heard and saw the injustices leveled at Jeremiah, he rescued him from those plotting to take the prophet’s life. Ebed-Melek courageously sought permission from King Zedekiah to pull Jeremiah out of the cistern (VV. 7–13). Jeremiah later received a word from the Lord that the city would be captured, and he went and spoke God’s message to Ebed-Melek: “I will save you; you will not fall by the sword but will escape with your life, because you trust in me, declares the Lord” (39:18).

Ebed-Melek, despite obstacles, acted courageously. Those in any generation can trust in God. Despite strong opposition, C. T. Vivian said of his and others’ involvement in the civil rights movement, “But we kept knowing the Scriptures. We kept living by faith . . . You are made by the struggles you choose.”


When has your trust in God been severely tested? Who encouraged you when you faced trials or difficult circumstances?

Lord, may I always place my trust in You, regardless of the circumstances.

Read : Luke 14:25–30

And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. – Luke 14:27

The same year that the church I presently pastor was handed over to me, my dad went to be with the Lord. I could not attend his burial to pay him my last respects, and this was devastating for me. Then, four days after the first Sunday morning service at the church, I got a call following our midweek meeting, telling me that my younger brother was killed by armed robbers! The pain of losing my loved ones at this pivotal period in my ministry weighed heavy on me, but God’s grace helped me to press on.

God encouraged me by reminding me of Simon of Cyrene, an ancient city in northern Africa. Simon became a significant figure in the event of Christ’s crucifixion. Despite the distractions and pains of that horrifying event, Simon served as an epitome of discipleship. As soldiers led Jesus to Golgotha to be crucified, “They met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross” (Matthew 27:32).

Jesus said that if anyone would be His disciple, they would have to take up their cross and follow Him (Luke 14:26–27). As we choose to follow Jesus, He will help us. His grace is sufficient for us to live in the peace and joy found only in Him. His joy fills our hearts! He gives us perfect peace (Isiah 26:3).


What does it mean to you to be a disciple, and do you trust Jesus as your Source of peace?

Lord Jesus, I choose to follow You. Please, grant me the grace and ability to always see You as Lord and my Source of peace and strength.

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