Ken and I sat in the back of the first ever Ghana North Wesleyan District Conference behind dozens of other delegates. We were thankful for the fans overhead, which blew against the mid-90-degree heat, providing some relief from the rising temperatures. After Ken gave the morning devotional, we sat watching this newly formed conference conduct business for the first time.
A pastor and his beautiful statuesque wife arrived a few minutes later, and sat near the back just in front of us. As the wife sat down, I noticed their sweet chunky baby strapped to her back. The baby definitely noticed us. Her deep brown eyes were wide open and affixed on our very white skin. She likely thought she had seen two ghosts, or that her vision was failing. I attempted to entice her to smile, giggle, wave, with no success. Her lips sucked on her dimpled fingers and her Afro-puffs bobbed in the air, but she would not react to our attempts to woo her. Still, I adored her.
Aren’t babies the best? The chubby cheeks. The fat rolls on the legs. The babbling of newly formed words.The slight-tipsy awkwardness as infants learn to touch, grasp, crawl, and walk. Babies are fascinating to watch. You can almost see their brains processing new information, figuring out how to apply it, making mistakes, and learning from them. What babies learn is so important in their early years because it shapes much of how they will grow for years to come. Yes, babies can be a lot of work, but the work is so gratifying because there is so much immediate learning when something new is taught.
The business of the district conference began, and we were fascinated to hear the reports of the officers. In this northern region of the country, where 62% of citizens live on less than $1.25 USD/day, 75% are illiterate, and only half of children are enrolled in school, funding ministry efforts is a significant concern. How can churches be built to provide for congregations in the rainy season? How can pastors be paid to care for flocks when most members can barely care for their families?
The goals of the Northern Ghana District are to be self-administrating, self-propagating, and self-supporting. The district delegates discussed the use of farming to supplement income brought in by tithes and offerings, and ways churches could work together to raise crops and livestock for God’s glory.
Not one car wash was discussed. Nor were there any fundraising dinners suggested. No jewelry sales, bake sales, or gift auctions. Disposable income is not a concept they are familiar with. But they are familiar with farming, and hard work. They even voted to require all members of all churches to give above the amount of their tithe to build new churches in the district.
Another moment later on that caught me off guard was the discussion of childrens ministry. The goals of the childrens ministry was to train the Sunday School teachers how to teach a Bible story, sing a song, and play a game with children. No discussion of video production techniques, worship band formation, or security tracking systems. The simplicity was fascinating. Children’s ministry was so new and unencumbered by things most of us consider essential.
Christianity itself was new. At one point one of the delegates raised his hand and asked, “Can I ask? What is a Wesleyan?” The church is exploding at such a rapid rate in northern Ghana, most Wesleyans were Muslims or animists in the recent past. Discovering who Jesus was is central to their journey of faith, and John Wesley isn’t found anywhere in their Bibles. How does one explain not only what a global church is, but also John Wesley’s role, in two minutes or less?
As I sat and listened to the discussions, contemplations, and questions, I realized that this is how the apostle Paul must have felt on his missionary journeys, working with new churches, training pastors, clarifying doctrine. Everything churches were doing was being done for the first time. How exciting it must have been to see churches grow and learn in their faith first-hand!
Yes, new churches can be a lot of work, but the work is so gratifying because there is so much immediate learning when something new is taught. What new churches are taught is so important because the information will shape how they grow for years to come. In all of Ghana, there are only 10 licensed ministers and 4 ordained ministers for over 50 churches. With no Wesleyan Bible schools in Ghana, training pastors is a challenge, but a tremendous opportunity for hands-on investment with monumental Kingdom rewards. A significant part of Ken’s job in northern Ghana would be working with these new converts-turned-church leaders, training pastors, clarifying doctrine. Everything these churches are doing is being done for the first time. Watching these new gatherings of believers grow and change has to be one of the best parts of building God’s Kingdom. After all, aren’t new churches the best?!