I recently read Rebecca’s Revival by Jon F. Sensbach, a professor of history at the University of Florida. Rebecca Freundlich Protten was the first ordained black woman in Western Christianity (she was ordained in Europe). Born in Africa, enslaved in the Caribbean, she eventually made her way to St. Thomas, was set free (probably) because she became a Christian, and then fell under the spell of the Moravian missionary, Friedrich Martin.
She eventually married Matthäus Freundlich, became a marvelous pastor/evangelist, experienced persecution, went to Europe, her husband died en route, and then she fell into a marriage with a cock-eyed, pain-in-the-neck (Rebecca what did you see?) Christian Protten who seems to have overwhelmed the good life of Rebecca. At any rate, this is a good book, written well enough to read but could have been written to reach a broader audience.
It is because of the Rebecca Freundlich’s of the Caribbean that the African American Church is today what it is: she was courageous, she was devoted, she was determined, she was fearless, and she was limited — but like Harriet Tubman, Rebecca worked around her limitations to ennoble many and reach many with the gospel.
The cruelest irony of the Western Christian world is marked by two features: women found liberation from men by becoming nuns and found spiritual liberation by strapping themselves into a monastery, and African slaves found liberation from the slavery, most of it imposed by Christians, by resisting their owners through the message the owners used to enslave.
What all this shows to me again is that slaves found a capacity to transcend slavery by deconstructing the message of their owners. They used their owners’ message about the Exodus liberation and the kingdom of Jesus to work around their masters and, underground, build a movement that could not be held down. Too much Spirit-directed power.
Rebecca Freundlich Protten can provide for anyone with courage an example to keep slogging ahead, right into the teeth of injustices. She is a good one to think of today, this day when we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.