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
“We need workers to go to Africa and
help establish deaf education.” That man was none other than Dr. Andrew
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
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.