Posted on June 11, 2024 Juneteenth: A Day to Honor and Celebrate
Juneteenth: A Day to Honor and Celebrate

In the month of June, communities across the United States prepare to commemorate Juneteenth, a celebration that marks the important historical day when the news of freedom finally reached the men, women, and children enslaved in the South.  

Why International Ministries Celebrates Juneteenth 

On June 19th, 1865, the Union Army arrived in Galveston, Texas, with the news of the Emancipation Proclamation. Although issued by President Abraham Lincoln two and a half years prior, this is the day when many enslaved individuals learned of their liberation from slavery, as general Gordon Granger demanded that Texas set free the state’s 250,000 enslaved people.1 

In the years that followed, the African American community observed this as Black Independence Day. Celebrations on June 19th included the act of taking garments worn during enslavement and throwing them into the river, dressing up in fine clothes, and gathering together to remember the arrival of their freedom from bondage.1 

In 2021, Juneteenth was recognized as a federal holiday, ensuring that this day would remind us of the struggle for freedom and equality our nation faced, give us an opportunity to reflect on those who have worked tirelessly for freedom, and encourage us to continue in that fight. 


George Liele: Finding Freedom in Christ While Enslaved 

Amidst the celebration and reflection of Juneteenth, it is fitting to honor the life and legacy of George Liele, a pioneering figure in the history of Christian mission work. Liele knew what it was to be freed from bondage, both physically and spiritually, and his life is a testament to the transformative work of faith. 

In 1750, George Liele was born into slavery in Virginia. However, he moved with his owner to Georgia and began attending services at the local Baptist church.2 This led to his conversion in 1773, changing not only his life, but generations of lives thereafter. 

Liele would preach to the slaves on the plantation, showing leadership and a passion for Christ. Through the encouragement of his owner, Henry Sharp, he pursued this calling, and the church ordained him on May 20, 1775.2 This made George Liele the first ordained African American Baptist preacher in America.   

Long before the Emancipation Proclamation gave physical freedom, enslaved people found hope and freedom in Christ through Liele’s teachings and the Gospel message.  

Liele’s impact in America was profound, with several of his converts going on to start churches throughout the South. In 1778, Sharp granted Liele his freedom, but when he died during the Revolutionary War, Sharp’s children tried to re-enslave him. To avoid this, Liele became an indentured worker to a British officer and emigrated to Jamaica with his wife and four children.3 There, he regained his freedom and continued preaching the gospel, hosting a home church while working to support his family by farming and transporting goods.  

Driven by a profound sense of mission, Liele constructed a church building in Kingston, inviting everyone to attend and hear the Word of God, no matter their skin color or status.2 His efforts not only spread the message of salvation but became a beacon of hope and resilience for those desiring spiritual and physical liberation.  

Throughout his time in Jamaica, Liele planted churches, held hundreds of public baptisms and encouraged others to preach the gospel to the lost despite persecution and imprisonment.3  

 Before there were formal mission societies, George Liele was in cross-cultural ministry, exemplifying what International Ministries now holds as core values. He engaged people where they were, met spiritual and physical needs, inspired and educated disciples, and lived out God’s mission in his words and deeds. 


Remembering, Honoring, and Celebrating the Work of Justice 

This Juneteenth, we celebrate and honor those who have worked in the ongoing journey towards freedom. The message of this day and the pioneering spirit of George Liele continues to resonate in the work of IM’s cross-cultural ministry, spurring us on to spread the Gospel message of freedom and proclaim God’s reign of justice, peace, and abundant life for all creation. Read more about George Liele.


  1. The U.S. Capitol Historical Society. “The Long History of Our New Federal Holiday: Juneteenth United States Capitol History.” United States Capitol Historical Society, March 12, 2024.

  2. International Ministries. “Black History Month: George Liele,” February 28, 2023.

  3. © 2024 Boston University. “Liele, George (C. 1750-1828) History of Missiology,” n.d.