Missionary Mondays: George Leile


I have a few books, some good old authors and sermons, and one large Bible that was given me by a gentleman. A good many of our members can read and are all desirous to learn. They will be very thankful for a few books to read on Sundays and other days. I agree to election, redemption, the fall of Adam, regeneration and perseverance, knowing the promise is to all who endure, in grace, faith and good works to the end, shall be saved.- George Leile

If one defines a Southern Baptist missionary as someone who is appointed by either of the Missions Boards of the SBC then George Leile was not exactly a Southern Baptist.  He lived before there was such an entity, but he was Southern, he was Baptist, and he was a great missionary, so I think he qualifies for Missionary Mondays.  I first heard of George Leile when I was emailed an audio clip of Danny Akin discussing Leile’s life which I will post below.

George Leile was born in slave holding Virginia and according to a letter quoted in Love’s work on African American Baptist History the exact date was unknown to Rev. Leile and he could only guess as to his age since he knew not from whence he came.  He was owned by a man named Henry Sharp who moved to the Savannah, GA area. Sometime after the move, Sharp freed Leile and after being freed he traveled “from plantation to plantation bearing the olive branch of peace.”  He continued to preach the Gospel in Georgia, but felt called to serve in Jamaica.

Leile had to borrow the money to get to Jamaica and once there used his agricultural skills he had learned as a slave to work to pay off the debt to the man that sent him to Jamaica.  Upon entering Jamaica he established the only Baptist Church in Kingston, the capital. Regarding his time in Jamaica, Leile writes:

The chief part of our congregation are slaves, and their owners allow them, in common, but three or four bits per week for allowance to feed themselves, and out of so small a sum we cannot expect anything that can be of service from them; if we did, it would soon bring a scandal upon religion; and the free people in our society are but poor, but they are all willing, both free and slaves, to do what they can.

Though by all measures Leile would be considered a successful church planter and missionary as he was baptizing hundreds during his tenure on the island, it is evident that he remained humble and daily dealt with his own sin, seeing his need to remain faithful and follow Christ.  In the very next line of his letter to Dr. Rippon regarding his struggles he states:

As for my part, I am too much entangled with the affairs of the world to go on, as I would, with my design in supporting the cause. This has, I acknowledge, been a great hindrance to the gospel in one way; but as I have endeavored to set a good example of industry before the inhabitants of the land, it has given general satisfaction another way.

A man who had so little, accomplished so much.  We do not know where he came from, and little is known about his later life.   He had to borrow money to make it to the mission field and he repaid all the money owed from the work of his hands.  He went to serve a people too poor to pay him.  The day Mr. Sharp released him from his bond of slavery, he became a slave of Christ, preaching to those still bound in slavery to their masters and to sin.

For further reading see David Benedict’s, A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America: and Other Parts of the World, Volume 2 pages  and Emanuel King Love’s, History of the First African Baptist Church, from its Organization January 10, 1788 to July 1, 1888 pages 34-36.

Image borrowed from http://negroartist.com/REVOLUTIONAY%20WAR/pages/REB%20GEORGE%20LEILE_jpg.htm