Together as One: Reconciliation in Serving In Mission

Steve Strauss, director of SIM USA, washes the feet of three
African American church leaders as a symbol of repentance.

SIM (Serving In Mission) is almost 115 years old. Any organization with that much history has baggage, some of which is not very pretty. In the past eight to ten years we have been unpacking one of those bags, namely, our past exclusivity among our missionary force.

Internationally, SIM has been a very diverse mission; however, there has been very little diversity among missionaries sent out from SIM USA. We have addressed the problem of our exclusivity at several levels, including our board governance, leadership, hiring, recruiting, church connections, and our past. We knew that in the past some American mission agencies had not welcomed African American missionary candidates. As we examined our archives, we discovered that we were one such agency.

During the early twentieth century the colonial governments in parts of Africa did not want African American missionaries in the countries they controlled, and the Sudan Interior Mission, one predecessor of the current SIM, complied with their request by not accepting African American missionaries. The policy changed in 1957; however, as far as we could tell, the period of not accepting African American missionary candidates had never officially been acknowledged by SIM. When this came to the attention of the SIM USA board, they responded in July 2007 by passing the following apology and request for forgiveness:

“SIM USA has become aware that during an undetermined time in our past, our predecessor, the SIM North America Council, did not accept African American candidates as missionaries with SIM. This practice was adopted to comply with the wishes of the colonial governments which then controlled the African countries where SIM worked. The practice was an unwritten policy, but was ended by a formal Council vote in 1957.

SIM USA recognizes that this practice was a sinful exclusion of our African American brothers and sisters from a potential avenue of ministry. We confess that sin to God, and we ask the forgiveness of Jesus’ Church here on earth. Specifically, we ask the forgiveness of our African American brothers and sisters in Christ and of the African American evangelical mission’s community in the United States. Our desire is to be a missionary agency for the whole Church, and to be kingdom partners in mission with all those who share our biblical commitments.”

This apology was formally read by Steve Strauss, director of SIM USA, on 18 January 2008 at Columbia International University's 2008 Missions Strategy Seminar: “Together as One for God's Greater Glory,” based on John 17:23. The focus of the seminar was reconciliation within the Church to enhance mobilization for missions. After the public apology, Strauss washed the feet of three African American church leaders as a symbol of SIM’s repentance.

(This article was edited from a Serving In Mission news release.)