The Black Man in Our Sacred Dreams

Monday, May 7th, 2012

It has become almost a stock image, especially in missionary circles:  During a fitful night trying to sleep, an African man has a dream of a white man coming to him telling him that a message of salvation or healing is on the way.  The missionary then arrives, the gospel is preached, people gladly receive the good news and the church is born anew.  You don’t have to go far to find such a story.  In fact, the most recent issue of Christianity Today (May 2012) tells the story of an Islamic farmer in Mozambique named Feliz Talibo who had this very dream a few years ago and is now a devoted Christian, freed from sickness and demonic oppression.

I rejoice over this story and the dozens like it I have read over the years.  It reminds us that God is the greatest evangelist of all.  We see God showing up in the dreams and visions of Joseph  (Matt. 1:20; 2:19), the magi (Matt. 2:12), Pilate’s wife (Matt. 27:19), Ananias (Acts 9:10), Peter (Acts 10:10), Cornelius (Acts 10:3), and Paul (Acts 16:9, 18:9), among others.  Nevertheless, I see a day dawning when the “man in the dreams” will be an African, and the man or woman who has the dream will be white.  Paul once had a vision of a Macedonian Man and, in obedience to God, crossed the sea and found Lydia.  We need the message of Christ, of salvation, of healing, of demonic deliverance and of hope here in the West too, especially as North America is emerging as the fastest growing mission field in the world.  I am praying that God would start sending Africans into the dreams of white men and women.

This prayer may have already been partially answered in the 2012 General Conference of the UMC.  In the midst of leadership failures, stunning disconnects between the mission of the church and the work of the Conference, and attempts by protesters to hijack the Conference, the African delegation kept showing up.  Not only did the Africans bravely remind us that the church is the most diverse movement in the history of the world, but that great inclusiveness must be found in Jesus Christ.   The Africans showed up in our dreams to boldly remind us of the imperative of the gospel to preach good news, to heal the sick and to share the love of Christ.  The Africans showed up in our dreams to gently remind us that Jesus Christ is Lord.  The Africans showed up in our dreams to lovingly remind us that the Scriptures are the Word of God to us.  There were many in this delegation who remembered General Conference 2008 when some wanted to silence their voices and take away their vote.  Today, no one can silence the African church.

It is easy to cite disappointments in the recent General Conference.  But, looking back a decade from now, this conference will be remembered as the time when the African delegation really found their authentic voice to speak prophetically to the church they love so dearly. They showed up in our dreams.  They spoke to us.  If we listen, we just might hear the voice of the Lord calling us to a better day.


  • John Leek says:

    Thank you Dr. Tennent. That was beautiful.

  • David Kapusansky says:


  • Judy Ranabottom-Stallons says:

    Truly a powerful and prophetic word!

  • Vinod says:

    Yes, thank you for this reminder. But for the Lord to work through the Black Man in the dreams of white men, they latter first need to believe in dreams, visions, healing, miracles, prayers, and the supernatural!

  • Author says:

    Yes Dr. and we are ready to move. Thank you

  • Elaine says:

    I live in a city where there are many lost young African Americans. Black on black crime is escalating. I look forward to the day when Christian Missionaries will come from their ancestral home and lead them to Christ–for certainly US style Christianity has failed them.

  • I write as someone who has twice traveled to the North Katanga Conference; in 2005 I was their conference preacher. I have been deeply involved in a successful small business development project in the Congo since 2004. This week, in fact, seven delegates are visiting Fairport to consult about this project. (see This project grew out of relationships of listening to the people we are working with in the North Katanga Conference. I mention this just to contextualize the following: Just as white missionaries had trouble separating out what was part of their culture from what was the Gospel, we may also have trouble separating out what belongs to our various cultures and what is truly part of the Gospel. Just as it was wrong for white missionaries to export our cultural baggage as the Gospel, it is wrong to imagine that we don’t need to identify particular dimensions of African culture and ancient near eastern culture to get an appropriate reading of the Gospel for our context. Moreover, Tennent is just inaccurate in his shorthand description of the proposal on the global church that went to GC 2008.There is an asymmetry in our denomination such that Central Conferences can adjust the Discipline for their contexts, but US UMs cannot. The GC 2008 proposal would have gone some way to remedying that. And then, of course, there is the implied accusation that unless one accepts a particular reading of Scripture one does not accept the Bible. Tennent writes: “Scriptures are the Word of God for us.” Of course, this in itself borders on heresy, for Jesus is the Word of God according to the Bible. It is also deeply ironic that Tennent brings up Peter’s encounter with Cornelius which is part of the dramatic, church-altering narrative in Acts, culminating in Acts 15, that frees us from the OT law that continues to be imposed from GC. I agree that we have much to learn from our sisters and brothers around the world. I know that I have. At the same time, let’s understand the realities of context that should shape our understanding.

    • Oscar Muiri brought the prophetic message to America that the Gospel had gone South. The African church has wisdom and innocence to help the decaying churches in the West. Such help can only come person to person — the way Jesus came to us all. Tennet is absolutely right — but he’s not leading on this one. He is following — as are we all that follow the Holy Spirit and seek to obey what it says in the Bible.

  • Dr Tennet,
    Blessed Eastertide, Your vision of the black missionaries to the white community is clear and necessary for the total proclamation of the Kingdom of God in this world and for the growth of the global Church.
    Thank you and remain blessed !

  • April says:

    Amen. Amen. Amen!

  • Faye Short says:

    Dr. Tennent–Thank you for the good words you have shared with United Methodists regarding General Conference 2012. I have witnessed first-hand the faithfulness of the Africans at UM General Conferences. They are God’s gift to this denomination. But their faithfulness is to Jesus first of all!

  • Bob Kaylor says:

    And then this from Bishop Carcano: “Delegates from Africa once again proclaimed that their anti-homosexual stand was what U.S. missionaries taught them. I sat there wondering when our African delegates will grow up. It has been 200 years since U.S. Methodist missionaries began their work of evangelization on the continent of Africa; long enough for African Methodists to do their own thinking about this concern and others.” A U.S. bishop basically says that the Africans can’t think for themselves. Wow.