The police flashlights swept quickly through our vehicle — over our faces, into our laps, into the back of the vehicle. I held my breath as the all-too-familiar scene of being stopped by police in Africa played itself out.
And then they waved us on.
And then it happened again. Police skimming our vehicle with flashlights. Identifying the foreigners.
And they too waved us on.
Finally I asked Rev. Ocran why we kept getting stopped.
“They are making sure we are not coming into the neighborhoods to rob houses. And we are not, so they are letting us continue. They just like to keep the streets safe at night.”
I realized that my mind had gone too quickly into “Congo mode,” and that Ghana was a new game. My previous concept of Africa was based on the expectations I had developed in Congo, and I needed to adapt to a new country and new expectations. Perhaps more sleep and more daylight would bring greater perspective.
Morning came all too early the next day. We had to travel to another town for church, where Ken would be preaching in the morning service.
Daylight quickly warmed the humid air left behind by the heavy rains the night before. We rode the still rough but now well-lit roads through Tema, Accra, and into Medina on the way to church. The urban neighborhood streets leading to the church were washed out by the rains the previous night, and we had to call for help to get us to the church — just in time for the end of worship.
We were quickly ushered to the front of the open air service, facing the cheerfully singing congregation. Though the songs were not familiar, the spirit was. The air was filled with not only the sounds of praises from our church, but 5 other churches in the immediate area. The cacophony of worship wafted to the heavens in a dissonant melody that was grotesque and glorious at the same time.
Ken preached an moving message with the help of Rev. Ocran, who translated into the local language of Twi. The pastor of the church, Rev. Kwame Frempong closed in prayer. After the service was over, we were greeted with hugs and handshakes from our Ghanaian brothers and sisters in Christ.
The next 24 hours would be filled with conversations and meetings regarding the state of The Wesleyan Church, especially in southern Ghana. While we had seen a beautiful example of God’s people worshiping together, the church overall is experiencing growing pains. Of the dozens of Wesleyan Churches in Ghana, there are only four ordained ministers. There is no Bible college for Wesleyan pastors in Ghana, so creative methods have been employed to train pastors as quickly as possible.
One pastor pulled us aside after one of the meetings and quietly asked, “Do you have a study Bible? Next time you come would you bring me one? I need help preparing messages.”
At another point a different pastor asked for Sunday School curriculum. “We don’t have any Wesleyan curriculum, and we struggle to know what connects us to The Wesleyan Church as a whole.”
Another reminded us that since he had an open air church without walls, his congregation would leave when the rainy season came, to attend one of the neighboring churches that provided more shelter from the rain. “Some walls would protect our congregation from getting wet during worship while it storms.”
Their requests and wish lists were not complex.
A study Bible. I knew that I have at least 5 sitting at home on my shelf.
Curriculum. Ken and I are curriculum collectors and writers. My first job out of college was writing curriculum for The Wesleyan Church. Ken has written or adapted his own curriculum for the past two decades. They had none.
Walls for their church. Not marble floors, nor a baptistry, nor a giant spinning globe to prove how missional they were, nor air conditioning for the awful heat. They wanted walls to enclose them and protect them from the rain during the rainy season.
The remark, however, that challenged me most was being asked, “How much does it cost Americans to convert one person to Christianity?”
I didn’t know the answer. I was afraid of the answer. Since I’ve returned to the States, the answer has been more disappointing than I had anticipated. Research has shown figures as high as $1.5 million dollars spent by churches per baptism in the United States. Not that we spend that number directly on each person, but others studies show that of all of the money spent by The American Church, there are relatively few converts. Statistically speaking, if a church is older than 10 years, it takes an average of 85 people to win one person to Christ. The vast majority of church budgets are spent on staffing and maintaining the church, not reaching new souls. For years, I have wrestled with church dinners, youth group all-nighters, seasonal children’s parties, ski trips, even mission trips where not one new person is reached with the gospel. We have become master maintainers, instead of master soul winners and disciple makers.
“I tell you,” he contrasted, “that it is very inexpensive in Ghana to reach people with the gospel. Here, people are coming to know Christ for the first time, not merely changing churches. People of other religions are calling on the name of Jesus, and we are struggling to support them. If a Muslim converts to Christianity, and he is seen meeting in a Wesleyan church under a mango tree, or in a church without walls, his life is in danger. Even if he does come, do we ourselves have the ability to disciple him in his growing faith without curriculum?”
Another pastor continued, “Our dilemma is this: Should we stop reaching out to people with the gospel if we cannot support them after they surrender their lives to Christ?”
The dissonance of the Western culture of Christianity and the dilemma of the church in Ghana was just as cacophonous as the melody of worship on Sunday morning. While we are all worshipping God simultaneously, we were doing so in such different ways. I had defined the activities of the church according to cultural Christianity in the United States, rather than having the global perspective of The International Church.
When in America had I ever been a part of a church that considered stopping evangelistic efforts because the church could not support all of the newly converted Christians?
Just as I had to redefine my expectations of the police in Ghana versus Congo, I had to begin to rethink my expectations of Church and my role in God’s Kingdom.
What is the purpose of The Church? If I have but one life to live, where would God have me invest my life? Where will I be most effective accomplishing the mission of The Church?
Was God calling me to change my tune?