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10 October 2014

Everyday heroes

Everyday heroes

Rev Ekarte. Blackpresence.co.uk

I love it when the usual way of things is turned on its head. This happened this week, when celebrities turned out in their droves to honour everyday people who have done extraordinary things.

During ITV's Pride of Britain Awards on Tuesday we heard stories of young people displaying selfless heroism, including Renee-Mai Bolter who managed to save her mum and sister from a hostage ordeal and Ted McCaffrey who raised over £1,000 for his local hospital so other unwell children wouldn’t have to go without a TV.

Also honoured for heroism were Neil Laybourn, tracked down on social media by the man he chatted to on a bridge and encouraged not to commit suicide and teacher Ray Coe who donated his kidney to an unwell student.

Foster carer Betty McGlinchey was recognised for offering more than 1,000 children a loving home over the past four decades.

These stories remind me of an equally inspiring figure, though one who was not honoured during his life, Pastor G Daniel Ekarte (1890s-1964).

Ekarte arrived in Liverpool from Calabar, Nigeria, around 1915, and witnessed the many injustices ethnic minorities in the area experienced: poverty, unemployment and the rejection of mixed-race children. When he became a Christian in 1922, Ekarte decided he could not just stand by and watch, so he established The African Churches Mission (ACM) in 1931 in Toxteth, Liverpool, to bring change.

Ekarte became a voice for the poor and marginalised in society, speaking out in their defence. He fought for racial equality, campaigning for equal payment for black seamen who received lesser wages than their white colleagues, though this brought him into direct opposition with the local government.

But Ekarte did not just advocate for the oppressed; he began to organise services in the slums, private rooms and open-air fields for the ethnic minorities of Liverpool. Through generous giving he later acquired a permanent place to meet, and Ekarte’s church building became a community centre for both black and white people in the community. He also visited people in prisons, hospitals and gave free meals to the poor.

The children born to African American soldiers and English women after the Second World War were often rejected by society. Ekarte acted again, transforming the ACM into an orphanage for these children and a rehabilitation centre for their mothers. He faced severe opposition and sadly this community project for vulnerable children was later ordered to close – partly due to hostility from the local authorities who were against an African campaigning for racial equality and openly rebuking British colonialism. Finally in 1964, the Mission was closed after much struggle. This was too much for Ekarte, who died not long after.

Ekarte remained a hero in the sight of Africans and other marginalised people for the great things he achieved in Liverpool, but was a controversial figure to some.

As we celebrate black history month, Ekarte’s story is an important one to remember. He did not receive any medals or public honour during his life and his story is not well known – even within the black Christian community. This lack of recognition reminds us that we don’t all receive recognition for our social activism and the good that we do. But the reason for advocating for others and tackling social injustice is not to get personal recognition.

Jesus often told the people that he had just healed not to mentioned his name, but instead go and show themselves to the religious leaders of the day so that they can be restored to society (Mark 1:40-45). Jesus did not seek recognition for healing people, although the people he healed often ignored his advice and proclaimed his name.

Ekarte may not have had an OBE or a Pride of Britain Award, but his remarkable story deserves to be told because it has theological implications for how we can be prophetic, advocate for the marginalised and take necessary action.

We can all be inspired to be selfless and, like Ekarte, be bold enough to challenge the injustices we witness and do something about them.

Israel Olofinjana is pastor of Woolwich Central Baptist Church and director of Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World