Ordinary: George Leile (Matthew 15:21-28)



Some of you may have seen in SB news this past week, the IMB elected David Platt as its president. The previous president was Tom Eliff. Eliff in his younger years was a fiery preacher from OK (in fact, I was in the audience for one of his messages and it was a tipping point for God leading me into the ministry). Eliff has done a good job the past 4 years but was ready to retire. David Platt is young (36 years old) and passionate about the gospel and the Great Commission. Many are excited about this announcement.
It got me thinking about Baptist missions and leads me to our message today.

Who was the first Baptist to leave his homeland and take the gospel to foreign soil. Immediately many of you are thinking: John the Baptist! No, John wasn’t that kind of Baptist, and he did not know the gospel as we do, much more take it to foreign soil. Some of you astute persons may have in mind Adoniram Judson, “the father of the American Baptist missionary movement,” who left America in 1812 to take the gospel to the hostile Burma (Myanmar), and there labor for 40 years. But you would be incorrect as this person predates Judson by thirty years. Others of you are thinking harder and know your history and say William Carey. Carey is rightly called “the father of the modern missionary movement”, who left England in 1793 to take the gospel to India. However, once again you would draw an inaccurate conclusion since this person predates Carey by still another decade.

Today’s message will conclude our series titled Ordinary, with a look at the life of first Baptist foreign missionary George Leile, who left Georgia to take the gospel to the poor people of Jamaica in 1782.[1]

Ordinary_logoEXAMINE   Matthew 15:21-28    George Leile

Ordinary believers go outside man-made boundaries.

There are times in all of our lives when we need to get away and withdraw from people and life pressures. Jesus retreated several times in his public ministry to spend time alone in prayer or in time together with the disciples for special teaching and training.

In Matthew 15:21, we should not be surprised to see that Jesus withdraws but to where He withdraws. He goes to the Gentile cities of Tyre and Sidon. Both cities were known for the example of pride (Ezekiel 28) and Phoenician idolatry with Baal.
Entering this region, a Canaanite woman approached Jesus. You might remember that Canaanites and Israelites did not get along (cf. Deut 20:16-18). But this is the point of the Gospel writers of Jesus’ life – Jesus goes to outsiders and to outcasts of society.

Little is known about George Leile, the pioneer of Baptist missions. The reason is likely due to the fact that Leile was born in the wrong region at the wrong time. You see, George Leile was a black man and born in 1750 (c.) on a slave plantation in Burke County, Virginia, just outside of Washington DC.

George’s parents, Leile and Nancy were slaves to the family of Henry Sharpe. The Sharpe family moved to Savannah, GA and Henry became a deacon at Buckhead Creek Baptist Church. George Leile’s parents appeared to be believers as well and in 1773, through the gospel preaching of Pastor Matthew Moore, George Leile was listening and became converted.

George Leile writes, “I was born in Virginia, my father’s name was Liele [sic], and my mother’s name was Nancy; I cannot ascertain much of them, as I went to several parts of America when young, and at length resided in new Georga; but was informed by both white and black people, that my father was the only black person who knew the Lord in a spiritual way in that country. I always had a natural fear of God from my youth, and was often checked in conscience with thoughts of death, which barred me from many sins and bad company.”leile_2

The horror of slavery could not stop the hope of the gospel. Thankfully there were small lights in our history of slavery that were able to overwhelm the darkness and bring freedom and opportunity to every person of every race and gender. George Leile received the gospel because people went beyond the confines of man-made rules and saw the truth of God’s salvation belonging to all who call upon the name of the Lord.

Jesus’ ministry was the same. He came to His own people and they did not receive Him (Jn 1:11). But now in Christ, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Jesus’ disciples wanted to send the woman away. They were unsympathetic and perhaps prejudice towards the Canaanite woman. It is here Jesus teaches the disciples God’s plan for people outside Israel.

Last week I spoke about the sick or the outsiders as people who are:

  • people in transition: students (moving toward maturity); transients/military; immigrants
  • people under tension: finances, family (marriage & parenting; single parents & mixed fams.)
  • people in trouble: addiction, abortion, poverty (emotional/mental; physical (homeless/poor); moral (poor life decisions); spiritual (lostness)
  • To whom are you going? Who has God put in your life to take His gospel? PRAY right now that God would give you chances and courage to share His truth and love.
  • What man-made boundary confines your spiritual growth?


Ordinary believers are desperate for Jesus and determined to follow His will.

A Canaanite woman approaches Jesus because she empty and pursuing help. The woman’s Canaanite religion had proved to be unsatisfying and she was desperate for Jesus to heal her severely demon oppressed daughter. She is begging [literally: “continuously kept crying out”] for mercy. She knows she is undeserving of God’s consideration or compassion. Yet she’s desperate. She needs Jesus to be true. She hopes Jesus is generous in mercy. If Jesus does not respond then she will go empty and unsatisfied; she will have nothing.

At first Jesus was silent. The disciples tried to send her away. But the woman was not deterred despite the disciples’ dejection or the Savior’s silence.

When Jesus responds, at first, it sounds sharp and abrasive. Previously He had seen enough superficial and shallow faith among His own people. Jesus states He was sent to the house of Israel.

She is desperate and determined. “Lord, help me.”

Again he responds sharply, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Here Jesus notes that Israel is God’s chosen children and the Gentiles (especially Canaanites) were likened to dogs.

He was testing the woman as much also the disciples. Yet, Jesus referenced her as a “little [pet] dog” not a “wild dog”. In other words, the wild dogs seek food anywhere but pet dogs seek food from their master. The woman understood her need for Jesus all the more and said, “Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” A crumb from Jesus is more satisfying than a feast from the world. Jesus affirmed her faith and answered her prayer to heal her daughter.

George Leile wrote,

“I saw my condemnation in my own heart, and I found no way wherein I could escape the damnation of hell, only through the merits of my dying Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; which caused me to make intercession with Christ, for the salvation of my poor immortal soul; and I full well recollect, I requested of my Lord and Master to give me a work, I did not care how mean it was, only to try and see how good I would do it.”

Pastor Matthew Moore baptized Leile and shortly following, Leile began to read hymns to and encourage other blacks on his plantation to sing as he explained the meaning of each hymn. Buckhead Creek Baptist Church grew convinced of George’s leadership and licensed him to preach. Even Henry Sharpe, Leile’s slave-owner, sought to encourage George’s ministerial gifting and granted him his freedom from slavery.

George was a bi-vocational preacher all his life. Without complaint he supported himself, his wife Hannah and their four children by whatever jobs he could find. He farmed, he hauled items for people and their businesses by horse and wagon, and gained a reputation for his humble service in the community.

George Leile was desperate for Jesus and determined to serve Him.

  • God’s salvation is from sin and to service. Ordinary followers of Jesus are humbled and honored to serve their Master, the Lord Jesus. It is a privilege to work for and with Him in this earth.
  • When God is silent or sharp toward us we are to draw closer not drift away (cf. Psalm 13). The woman would never have her prayer answered if she only asked once. She showed her faith through her vulnerable, desperate, determined pursuit of Jesus
  • Is there a circumstance in your life where you feel like God has left you outside in the cold?
  • Perhaps, like the Canaanite woman, you are to keep praying [begging/crying out].
    • If God closes one door, look for another. If all the doors are closed look for a window to climb in. If nothing opens, just wait for God, your Master, at the doormat to reopen the door and return outside. Then follow Him wherever He goes.[2]
  • Perhaps, like George Leile, you are to give God a blank check to your life, saying “Lord, give me a work. I don’t care what it is. I promise to be faithful.”


leile_1George Leile persevered

George Leile preached for two years in the slave quarters of plantations surrounding Savannah, GA, and even making his way into South Carolina. Many slaves came to Christ through his powerful preaching. One of those disciple converts was David George, who left Savannah for the Canadian Province of Nova Scotia, and then later to Sierra Leone in Africa, where he started Baptist Churches in both countries. Andrew Bryan also one of his disciples was one of only three black Baptist preachers to stay in Savannah after the British left during the Revolutionary War to lead the First African Baptist Church.

Leile befriended a British Colonel whom would help him leave America and take the gospel to Kingston, the capital of Jamaica. Leile had to borrow the money to get to Jamaica and once there used his agricultural skills he had learned as a slave to work to pay off the debt to the man that sent him to Jamaica. Upon entering Jamaica he established the only Baptist Church in Kingston, the capital. Regarding his time in Jamaica, Leile writes:

“The chief part of our congregation are slaves, and their owners allow them, in common, but three or four bits per week for allowance to feed themselves, and out of so small a sum we cannot expect anything that can be of service from them; if we did, it would soon bring a scandal upon religion; and the free people in our society are but poor, but they are all willing, both free and slaves, to do what they can.”

By all measures, Leile would be considered a successful missionary and church planter, baptizing hundreds, personally raising and giving money for a church building, starting a school and employing teachers, and much more. Through it all there was hardship, poverty, and persecution. George was thrown in prison and separated from his family.

In 1814 there were only 8,000 Baptists in Jamaica, including slaves, freed men, and some whites. Eighteen years later in 1832, there were 20,000 Baptists in Jamaica.

George Leile had no formal education and no formal financial backing. He was a man with very little yet accomplished so very much. George Leile was an ordinary man with an ordinary faith in Jesus. However, our contemporary 21st Century ordinary faith would be embarrassing to the disciples of old; because ordinary faith is unreserved in its commitment & obedience as well as in its compassion & outreach.
To Christians:

  • What keeps your ordinary faith from complete commitment and absolute obedience?
    • Is it fear of losing control? Jesus says, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25) A crumb from Jesus is more satisfying than a feast from the world.
    • Will your write a blank check with your life to God?

To Non-Christians:

  • What is it going to take for you to be desperate enough to pursue Jesus?
    • For one lady it was danger to her daughter.
    • For George Leile it was hardship and persecution.
    • For you it could be loss… or it could be the love of someone…
      • Open your eyes to see Jesus right in front of you… calling you…


[1] The biographical portion for George Leile of this message is inspired by Daniel Akin, 10 Who Changed The World, chapter 6, “…Missionary Ministry of George Leile: First Baptist Missionary to the Nations”. See also: http://sbcheritage.com/missionary-mondays-george-leile/, http://www.thetravelingteam.org/missionarybiographies/georgeliele, http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20030408/mind/mind4.html

[2] Quote inspired by Charles Spurgeon: http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols10-12/chs715.pdf

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