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Biblical guide marks 400 years since enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia

Evicted sharecroppers along Highway 60 in New Madrid County, Mo., in January 1939. Photo by Arthur Rothstein/LOC/Creative Commons

WASHINGTON (RNS) — A Christian anti-hunger group has released a devotional guide to mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans in Jamestown, Va.

“Lament and Hope: A Pan-African Devotional Guide” was produced by Bread for the World and is set to be dedicated at a prayer service at a Washington church on Thursday (Feb. 28), the last day of Black History Month.

The free guide addresses past and current issues of unequal access to land, housing and education. It begins with verses from the Bible’s Book of Lamentations that speak of homelessness and affliction and conclude with a proclamation of the “steadfast love of the Lord.”

The Rev. Angelique Walker-Smith speaks at a Religious Freedom Center class for black theological students on Jan. 8, 2019, at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

“We are saying that the history of people of African identity has been a legacy of spiritual resistance,” said the Rev. Angelique Walker-Smith, editor of the guide. “There’s been that resistance against the evils of enslavement and all the things that accompanied that.”

The devotional has been released at the start of a year in which many activities commemorating the arrival of the first African captives in Jamestown are planned, including some by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s 400 Years of African-American History Commission that was established by an act of Congress and signed into law by President Trump in early January.

Walker-Smith, senior associate for Pan-African and Orthodox Church relations at Bread for the World, said a delegation of young adults from across Africa plans to represent her organization in August at events planned in Jamestown, where people from the modern-day southwest African country of Angola were brought 400 years ago.

Bread for the World’s 2019 Pan-African Devotional Guide. Image courtesy of Bread for the World

Bread for the World’s guide was produced to help readers answer questions about how to move from lamentation to hope, drawing on the example of African people who were forced into slavery and protested it, she said.

“That spiritual resistance is actually a source of hope and still is a source of hope,” Walker-Smith said.

The guide will be promoted through partnerships with global, African and American networks of churches. It features monthly entries written by current and former leaders of the Angola Council of Churches, the United Theological College of the West Indies and the Ecumenical Poverty Initiative.

The dedication service and the guide itself will encourage participants to contemplate disparities that remain across the globe and determine ways to advocate to eliminate them, Walker-Smith said.

“At the end of the service, there will be a call to action to say you have a role in this narrative, you have an opportunity to be a part of this legacy,” she said. “What are you doing and how can you further this sense of hope?”

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

31 Comments

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  • Nationalism, Tribalism, sectarianism, classism, racism, sexism are universal, and believe it or not, the West has come the furtherest in with these human issues. And we are still so tribal by nature that we fight each other over the color of your shirt at a ballgame. When my grandparents were young, poor whites and their children getting off the boats from Europe worked up to 16 hours a day in the mines, on the roads, in the factories, on the farms for substandard wages, in unhealthful conditions, they had no benefits, died young, and left their families in poverty. We can never undo all the injustices in human history. Slavery is still very much alive today in parts of Africa and in Eastern Countries. God is just a concept, not a physical entity that controls the universe.

  • Why toss in the bit about God being just a concept? What does that have to do with the rest of your post?

    Slavery, by the way, is alive and well not just in Africa and the eastern part of the world, but also in most developed nations, the U.S. included. It’s most insidious form is human trafficking. If you don’t believe me, ask Robert Kraft.

  • “God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. 14“But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. ”
    (Genesis 15:13-14)

    Now it is time, LORD Jesus. Take us home. Amen.

  • “Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it.”

    You missed one point, you missed the whole law. Thank you Jesus for coming to the lamb of God for me. Amen.

  • God is just a concept of the human mind. The institutions of slavery and slave trading were sanctioned by both Church and Mosque for a very long time.
    February 2006, BBC —Church apologizes for slave trade: The Church of England has voted to apologize to the descendants of victims of the slave trade. An amendment “recognizing the damage done” to those enslaved was backed overwhelmingly by the General Synod. Debating the motion, Rev Simon Bessant, from Pleckgate, Blackburn, described the Church’s involvement in the trade, saying: “We were at the heart of it.”

  • The fact that religious people rationalize slavery reflects poorly on them and gives evidence to the human tendency toward self-serving behavior. It has nothing to do with whether or not God exists.

  • The last Pharaoh of Egypt was Cleopatra and she was of Greek heritage. –Coptic News: 
”Since Christianity came to Egypt in 57 A.D., we, the Christians of Egypt, have not had conflict with the Jewish people. Copts have been a marginal population held in captivity for sixteen centuries. We constitute the largest non-Arab, non-Moslem minority in the Middle East. The Church of Alexandria, is one of the oldest organizations in the Middle East. Despite this distinguished history, it is a church that has been under siege since the Islamic invasion.”

    Alexandria Egypt was founded around 331 BC by Alexander the Great. It became an important centre of the Hellenistic civilization and remained the capital of Hellenistic and Roman & Byzantine Egypt for almost one thousand years until the Muslim invasion of Egypt in AD 641.


    What does the mythological Jesus or the fantasy and fiction of the ancient texts, re-written many times, have to do with slavery???

  • Indeed. But, again, that speaks to humanity, not divinity. God either exists or doesn’t regardless of how God is conceptualized.

  • God is a concept, period! If this invented idea was a physical entity, we would need indisputable evidence.

  • If you had indisputable evidence, you would have posted it, instead of trying to be cute and dodge the question.

  • Wasn’t trying to be cute, just friendly. I recognize when there’s no point in continuing a conversation. Neither of us is going to convince the other, so I’m moving on.

  • That is too easy! If you wanted to communicate with the many readers that visit this site and read these posts, you would attempt to answer the question of whether there is indisputable evidence to support your claim.

  • “If this invented idea was a physical entity, we would need indisputable evidence.”

    True. And since there is no indisputable evidence, it is necessary to conclude that God is not a physical entity. But that is all that can be concluded. Human epistemology does not extend beyond empirical conclusions based on empirical observations. Nothing can be concluded about the existence or non-existence of God as an extra-empirical reality.

    We can, of course, recognize the absurdity of many of the empirical claims made by religious dogma and mythology.

  • You are confused by the facts in history channel with the Truth in spirit. How can you be a faithful Christian who do not believe in Jesus as the LORD? Is the sufferings of your order not enough?

    I talk about the dreams and visions in the Book of Joel quoted by Peter. You talked about your tribal history. His blessing is not fantasy and fiction. If you reject Him there is no other hope in this world.

    LORD Jesus, bless this man and his house with healing, peace and salvation. In Jesus name, amen.

  • Excellent response, however, we can conclude the the stories in ancient texts are mostly fantasy and fiction, starting with the six earth days creation of the world and everything in it in Genesis. We can conclude that there was not way for the Gospel writers to know that Mary was a virgin at the time of Jesus’ birth. Etc etc etc

  • Yes, and you cannot get into heaven/paradise unless you accept Islam, in their truth in spirit. And God chose the Jews to receive the Ten Commandments, which Moses received when he was alone talking with God.

    Saint Nicholas was a Bishop who lived in the fourth century in a place called Myra in Asia Minor (now called Turkey). He was a very rich man because his parents died when he was young and left him a lot of money. He was also a very kind man and had a reputation for helping the poor and giving secret gifts to people who needed it. His story morphed into a jolly fat man in a red suit, living in the North Pole, and using reindeer as his mode of transportation around the world. When you get older, you ask questions.

  • I would love to have a sit down with Jesus and discuss things, but the real Jesus only spoke semitic languages.

  • This is exactly the kind of engagement I support from churches and other religious groups. Or any group purporting to serve a community, for that matter. Provided it comes with no strings, of course – i.e., proselytizing, pressure to join in worship, etc.

    As an aside and apropos the subject of the guide, the church has traditionally served as a significant – if not the only – source of support for those descended from slaves and subjected to every indignity by people who look rather like me. This is not to say these churches don’t suffer from the same dubious spiritual commitments as any other, but what you believe about gods is unimportant to me beyond how it affects your treatment of (and attitudes toward) others.

  • It is the attributes given to this concept of the almighty and the fact the every culture has a different idea of what God expects of them. God supposedly spoke to Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad when they were alone. We really have no way to know what this conversation looked like, or the fantasy of the creation in Genesis or the fact that you cannot gain favor with the almighty unless you accept Jesus, or accept Islam, or the laws of Moses becomes a little [ambiguous]

  • But God allowed His people to be enslave. After 400 years He freed them and it was not His intent to punish the Egyptians for had the Pharaoh relented from the get go and agreed to His demands through Moses the Israelite would have been freed without Egypt having to go through the ten plagues. The Israelite wandered through the wilderness for 40 years and only a few of the those set free actually saw the promise land. Lincoln freed the slaves and he could have relented and slavery would or maybe still be around today. Praise God for His intervention through Lincoln who said I will let the slaves be set free. So was America a promise land? And here we are the modern Israelite wandering through the wilderness. The devil is working hard to keep us here in this world of sin. Jesus promised that He is coming back to bring His people home and we will all be “Free At Last.”

  • All ten plagues were judgment for Egyptian idolatry starting with the Nile river. Sadly, the enslavement was also because the children of Israel had idolatry also. So that was by grace and mercy of the LORD, He saved them out from Egypt to show the salvation of the LORD Jesus, God of Israel for the world.

    “Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD…..” (Joshua 24:14)

    Thank you Jesus for your gospel of Grace. Amen.

  • You got it right on. What is interesting that all the plagues were mostly all objects of worship by the Egyptians and they could find no relief from their gods. Can’t wait to get out of the modern day wilderness traveling.

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