It was 1782, and George Leile didn’t see any other way: to escape slavery once more, he had to become another kind of slave. Years ago, his former master, Henry Sharp, had graciously freed Leile so that he could wholly pursue preaching the gospel in the Savannah area. But now that Sharp was dead, his family sought to re-enslave Leile. And so he struck a deal. To escape to Jamaica with his family, he would become the indentured servant of Colonel Kirkland.
Arriving in Jamaica in 1783, at the age of 33, Leile paid off his debt within a year and immediately set off to spread the gospel. The fiery preacher, who God had made so successful in Georgia, now had greater success than ever. He preached to the slaves and to the free; and with the help of some other immigrants, started Jamaica’s first black Baptist church. God’s hand was on his ministry, and within only a few years the church grew to over five hundred members! But such dedication to God often comes with a price, and his could have cost him his life.
With the Church of England well established on the island, there came a time when the Anglican planters rose up in opposition to Leile’s work. They often interrupted his meetings, and persecuted him and his congregation in various ways. Eventually, he and his preacher friends were imprisoned. Accused of preaching “sedition” among the slaves and against the Church, they faced capital punishment. Most, including Leile, barely escaped the death sentence; but sadly, one was hung.
God encouraged Leile, however, and he did not quit. He continued to pastor the congregation, and trained men to preach the gospel in the more remote areas. Influential friends in Britain secured the funds for his ministry; and eventually, they even erected a permanent building for the congregation.
Leile, the first Baptist missionary to Jamaica, died in 1828. But the work God had begun with him in Jamaica bore yet more fruit! In the same spirit as Leile, the church had sent out over fifty missionaries to Africa by 1842. That’s how God works: He used a man born a slave in America, and sent him to Jamaica, to one day set captives free in the land of his forefathers.