• Post Author:
  • Post Category:Uncategorized
  • Post Comments:0 Comments

It was here on St. Thomas, in the 1730s, that something else happened, when a solitary young woman began trudging daily along rugged roads through the hills in the sultry evenings after the slaves had returned from the fields. Known then only as Rebecca, _she was not yet twenty years old,_ and she had made herself an apostle for Christ.She was a preacher and a mentor, a provocateur and a prophet, determined to take what she regarded as the Bible’s liberating grace to people of African descent. She broadcast her message the only way an evangelist can: by carrying it directly to the people. Her long peregrinations took her to the slave quarters deep in the island’s plantation heartland, where she proclaimed salvation to the domestic servants, cane boilers, weavers, and cotton pickers whose
bodies and spirits were strip-mined every day by slavery.Rebecca’s light brown skin was the product of mixed African and European parentage. Once a slave herself, she had gained freedom while still quite young, but the experience of bondage gave her a passport to travel and speak with authority among the slaves.Though neither an incendiary nor a soaring orator, she was direct and persuasive, and enslaved people turned out to listen when the teenage preacher testified that Jesus loved them. They responded to her appeals. In what became one of the great social and religious movements of modern history, black women and men began to blend Christianity with the religions they had brought with them from Africa, creating a faith to fortify themselves against slavery.Though hardly anyone knows her name today, Rebecca helped ignite the fires of a new kind of religion that in subsequent centuries has given spiritual sustenance to millions.A surge of energy from Africans themselves fueled this movement.

They needed courage to face violent opposition from planters terrified that Christianity, with its promise of spiritual equality and universal salvation, would promote rebellion among the slaves. Inspired by the belief that Jesus died for them, black people took to the roads, walking miles over the mountains to teach the Scriptures,
lead each other in prayer and song, and—in a time when slave-owners considered literacy dangerous for slaves—school each other to read and write.Worshippers built “praise houses” and jammed into them by the hundreds to get baptized and dunk their feet in tubs of holy water. Men whose hands were raw from chopping sugar cane held titles like “keeper of the alms” and “blessed and accomplished teacher of the heathen”; women who spent their days scrubbing chamberpots and cooking meals for plantation mistresses transformed themselves into “faithful helpers” and “venerated evangelical elders” when they passed over the church threshold.

They carried on their teaching even after angry whites stormed their meetings and thrashed them with swords and whips.They persisted when planters set fire to their Bibles and beat out the flames on their slaves faces; or chained them to the ground to keep them away from meetings; or flogged their skin to a pulp; or dumped them in jail; or sold their families apart. The slaves sent petitions to the king and queen of Denmark politely asking that the abuse stop and that they be allowed to worship in peace. The persecution didn’t end, but neither did the worship.In time, the movement that in key ways began on this small island caught hold and spread through the Caribbean and North America, changing African-American culture forever. Much that we associate with the black church in subsequent
centuries anchor of community life, advocate of social justice, midwife to spirituals and gospel music in some measure derives, however distantly, from those early origins.Though she was not alone in fostering this movement, Rebecca was a principal alchemist in it.

Her tenacity was rooted in the certainty of faith; standing trial once on charges of sedition and immorality, she refused to back down when a magistrate ordered her to testify in a way she thought blasphemous, and she declared herself willing to return to slavery instead.She held meetings late into the night, teaching people to read and to find lessons in the Scriptures that fit their own lives. She would talk any time to anybody about Jesus, but she reached out especially to African-American women,pulling many into the church with her words. Her instigation was vital, for women formed a majority in these early congregations,where they emerged from the shadows to preach, recruit, and organize. The Bible was a coded incantation, a talisman for action.Women used it to declare their own value, some fearlessly spitting verses like magic words to silence their masters. Far more than anonymous plantation workers cast adrift in the tides of captivity, these enslaved and free women of color galvanized a new form of thought against white claims that they were damned by a God who sanctioned their bondage.Excerpts from: Rebecca’s Revival by Jon F. SensbachOTM’S


Leave a Reply