Monday, February 24, 2014

A Legacy of Service: In Celebration of Black History Month

          The year was 1976 and I was attending the Inter-Varsity Urbana Missionary Conference with a group of young adults from my home Bible study group.  It was a time in my life when I was struggling with a call to ministry and trying to decide whether to leave the teaching profession and go to seminary. 
          The conference was an amazing panacea of famous speakers such as Dr. Billy Graham and Dr. John Stott.  There was powerful music, numerous workshops and display tables with recruiters from mission organizations all over the world.  In between speakers up on the main stage at this huge coliseum there were mission advertisements that lasted for only a minute or two.  One caught my attention.  A large African American gentleman seemed to have a speech impediment.  He spoke passionately about deaf people in Africa. 
          “We need workers to go to Africa and help establish deaf education.”  That man was none other than Dr. Andrew Foster.

          According to “Deafis.org,” Foster was born in 1925 in Birmingham, Ala.  A bout with spinal meningitis left him without hearing at age 11.  His family eventually moved to Chicago and he graduated from high school in 1951.  He then attended Gallaudet College, the only liberal arts college for the deaf in the United States at the time.  Foster was the first and only black student there, and in 1954 he became their first black graduate. 
          As a student at Gallaudet he worked with a number of inner-city deaf groups and felt God's call to become a missionary.  After graduation he traveled to Africa where there were only 12 deaf schools on the entire continent.  He sensed God calling him to establish more schools. 
          Foster became a married father with five 5 children.  But he continued to travel to Africa and eventually became the first director of the Christian Mission for the Deaf.  During his career he established 31 schools on the continent of Africa, and he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Gallaudet College in 1970.
          Sadly he was killed in a tragic airplane crash in 1987 while traveling to Kenya.  But his legacy of missionary work and caring for those without a voice still lives on in the schools that he established and among the many deaf leaders who have followed his noble example. 
          Dr. Foster overcame much discrimination as a deaf person and as the only black student at an all-white college.  He used that experience and courage to face the overwhelming challenges of convincing international educators of the need for deaf education.  His overcoming spirit won many hearts; and I, for one, can say, that his one minute speech at the Urbana Missionary Conference was a turning point in my life. 
          We never know how the seeds we plant may grow into something much bigger when they mature and bear fruit.  I am sure that if Dr. Foster were alive today he would be amazed to see the growth in his schools and how his influence changed an entire continent’s outlook on how deaf people should be treated. 
          As we celebrate Black History Month I salute Dr. Andrew Foster as a reminder to us all to keep planting seeds of empowerment and to believe, even when we can’t see it, that God can and will do great things if we remain faithful.

1 comment:

Julia S. said...

I did not know of his ministry. Thank you for sharing this and educating me.