Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Evangelical Church in the Republic of Niger - November, 2011

In the region surrounding Maradi, the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Niger (EERN) has numerous congregations in villages where Christians are a very small minority.  Oftentimes, they are less than 2 to 5% of the population. 

In these villages, the church’s pastors and evangelist can be the only residents with a formal education.  As a result, many people – both Christian and Muslim – come to them in order to learn to read and write.  There is a great need for this, in a country where the literacy rate is estimated to be only 29% nationwide.

While almost none of these pastors and evangelists have training in literacy education, teaching people to read and write Hausa, the indigenous language of the region, has become a large part of their job.  The EERN has even begun to see literacy education as an important means of evangelism. 

First and foremost, the goal is to teach people to read and write.  But at the same time, literacy education is a way to spread the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The Bible is often the only book available in West African languages, and therefore it becomes a good tool for literacy education. 

While a small number of people embrace Christianity after going through these literacy programs, most remain in their Muslim faith.  But the effort has created an incredible amount of goodwill for the church.  The church is seen as a place that is willing to help its neighbors, regardless of their faith.  And because of this, there is a much increased interest in Jesus and his teachings. 

Without a doubt, the EERN is laying a strong foundation, both for the future growth of the church and for the holistic development of Niger and its people.  When I see the work the EERN is doing in Niger, it brings to my mind Jesus’ words from Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is looking for ways to support the EERN in its literacy and evangelism efforts.  The EERN is also a church that would love to grow its connections with the PC(USA).  If you are interested, there are wonderful opportunities for friendship and partnership. 

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This time of year in West Africa, countries like Ghana, Nigeria, and especially Niger, enter the harmattan season.  The harmattan is the dry time of year, when the skies turn hazy and the air becomes bone dry.  The wind originates from the Sahara desert in the north, and as it blows south, it brings with it a fine layer of dust that covers everything in sight.  Daytime can be hot, but the night is often cool from the lack of humidity.  The harmattan begins in early to mid-December and can last through February or March. 

To me, it’s striking how the land in Niger that appears to be a desert in the harmattan season can spring to life when the rains begin to fall in May and June.  Dusty, sandy earth can produce fields of sorghum and millet, and sometimes even beans, onions, and rice. 

The transition of seasons in West Africa evokes for me the images in Isaiah 35, a common lectionary reading in the Advent season:

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.

Later in chapter 35, Isaiah continues with this message of hope:

For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Although it’s the dry season right now, people are already looking forward to the spring, when rains will begin to fall once again. In the same way, we look expectantly to the future, but know already that God is doing wonderful things among the people and churches of West Africa

-Josh
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In the region around Maradi, Niger, pastors and evangelists from the Evangelical Church have begun literacy education programs to teach people to read and write.  Simple churches, made from mud bricks or millet stalks, often double as informal schools.  Many, if not most, of those who come to learn are Muslim.  In teaching literacy, the church is helping to improve the lives of people in Niger, as it reaches out to them with the Good News of Jesus Christ.  
This small mud-brick church building near Maradi, Niger, doubles as a worship space and a school.  While only 20 people can fit inside the building, about 10 by 15 feet big, more than 50 gather outside during worship.  The doors and windows are left open for people to see and hear.  During the week, the pastor conducts literacy programs for adult residents of the village.  
This evangelist and his family have moved to a village outside of Maradi, Niger, to plant the first church.  For now, the structure is made out of millet stalks.  It can accommodate about 20 people inside.  Offering literacy programs to village residents has become an important means of evangelism and church growth for the Evangelical Church in the Republic of Niger.  
This village field in Niger, already plowed by hand with the help of a donkey, will soon be planted with millet.  In the dry season, the land appears to be nothing more than vast expanses of sand.  But in the short rainy season, from June to August, enough crops are grown to sustain a family through the year.  

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A video showing the literacy training in progress.  

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Upper Northern Presbytery, Evangelical Presbyterian Church Ghana - October, 2011

In March, 2010, a group of eight representatives from Lake Erie Presbytery in Pennsylvania came to Ghana to explore the possibility of a partnership with the Upper Northern Presbytery of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana.  The Upper Northern Presbytery is based in Yendi, a town of about 50,000 inhabitants located in the semi-arid and predominantly Muslim Northern Region of the country. 

During their visit, the Lake Erie group toured rural areas around Yendi, where they saw E.P. Church congregations and schools, as well as health clinics, agricultural facilities, and development projects being run by EPDRA, the church’s Development and Relief Agency.  In one village aided by EPDRA, a young man has developed a local salt lick for farm animals.  The village plans to start production and marketing of this salt lick, and the money earned will go to support the economic development of the village.

One Muslim elder from the village told the group from Lake Erie that the village’s residents have never known the government of Ghana to come and help them in any way.  However, when it comes to education, health care, and social and economic development, they see firsthand the work of the E.P. Church.  For all practical purposes, he explained, the E.P. Church is the village’s government.

When they learned that Lake Erie Presbytery was considering a partnership with the E.P. Church, the residents were excited to know that the work EPDRA is doing in the north might grow and spread with help from Lake Erie.  Both the Muslims and Christians were grateful for the Lake Erie group’s faith, and for their response to Christ’s call to love and serve their neighbors.

This October, four representatives from Lake Erie will be returning to Ghana to sign a formal partnership agreement with the Upper Northern Presbytery.  I know all are looking forward to the friendships and relationships that will develop between the presbyteries, and for the ways in which God will be present among them as they work together in mission and ministry.  



Three elders from a village near Yendi, Ghana, which is being assisted by the E.P. Church Development and Relief Agency, EPDRA.

The village residents show the Lake Erie visitors a locally developed and produced salt lick.  The proceeds from sales of the salt lick will go to support the economic development of the village.  

A young man from the village and an employee of EPDRA give the Lake Erie visitors a guinea fowl, in gratitude of their visit.  

When arriving in the village, the Lake Erie visitors encountered some residents constructing a mud-brick house.  The work was put on hold during the visit.  

Some young men from the village near Yendi, Ghana.  Most residents attend school through the primary and middle school level, at which time they begin work on family farms.  

BBC map showing Yendi in Ghana.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

PCUSA Presbyterian Women Grant Recipient

In 2011, the Presbyterian Women from the Presbyterian Church USA gave a grant to a women's cooperative near Kasoa, a seaside town to the west of Accra.  The women of this cooperative currently use traditional techniques to dry and smoke fish.  Most of this work happens within the household, and the resulting smoke can cause health problems for the women and children.

The PW grant will help the cooperative to build a community fish smoking facility.  Take a look at some of the pictures below.  



Currently, the women smoke fish in the yard of the house, where they also do the cooking and the wash.  The new facility will eliminate the need to do this at home. 
Women buy the fish at the beach, when the men come in from fishing, to sell what they catch. 

Sun dried fish! 



The new facility, under construction. 


Monday, September 26, 2011

Kasoa Fishing Harbor

In the pictures below, you'll get an impression of the fishing harbor near Kasoa.  This is where the women come to buy the fish that the men have caught and brought back to the harbor.  In the pictures, you see people mending nets and repairing boats.  Even the very young boys help out with the work.  












Friday, July 15, 2011

What I Love About Ghana - Akpafu Odomi

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Wednesday night worship at the Akpafu Odomi Evangelical Presbyterian Church. 

Akpafu Odomi is a village just north of Hohoe, in the Volta Region of Ghana, about 4 hours northeast of Ghana's capital Accra. It's small, but nonetheless, the congregation is vibrant and has an incredible music ministry. I always enjoy when I can visit them and listen to the choirs sing.

In 2003, a group from the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago traveled to Akpafu and helped work on the early stages of the chapel construction project.  Additional funds given by Fouth Church allowed Akpafu to completely roof the chapel.  In November, 2010, the church celebrated its 100th anniversary with a dedication of the finished chapel -- although there is still quite a bit of finishing work to be done.

Here, you can see some pictures of the anniversary celebration in 2010, and the construction in 2003:

The church choir, as the centennial service is about to begin.
Rev. Francis Amenu, moderator of the EP Church, cutting the ribbon into the chapel. 

When Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago, came to Ghana in June, 2003, this is what they found.  The group worked alongside the residents of Akpafu Odomi, hauling sand and water from the river to make concrete blocks. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Healing and Deliverance

One of the things I have been trying to understand and appreciate since coming to Ghana is the healing and deliverance services that have become and more and more visible and important within Christian congregations. In the Presbyterian churches across West Africa, the younger generation of pastors and church members have made healing and deliverance a focus of much worship and ministry.

I encourage you to watch a video that is posted on the web, by the filmmaker James Ault. Although the video is more than 10 years old, it is a good picture of what healing and deliverance is like.

www.vimeo.com/album/123087

I think this is an area in which our different churches and cultures need to have more dialog. I would also like to hear more theological reflection from the church in West Africa, how healing and deliverance is part of the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Deliverance session with Nana Yaa & her mother led by Abboa-Offei from james ault on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

March, 2011 - Ghana

During my visits to Presbyterian congregations in Ghana, I’m often asked to find for them American church partners.  Although there is an expressed desire for international friendships, when I probe about why congregations want foreign partners, I’m almost always told that these partners have the ability to bring in needed money and resources.  When Ghanaian congregations begin construction of a new chapel, there seems to be an especially strong desire to find someone from abroad who can help speed up the building process.

I believe that a legacy of poverty, colonialism, and past unequal connections have led many Ghanaian congregations to believe that they can only be the recipients, while foreign partners can only be the givers.  If we aren’t careful, it seems our partnerships run the risk of reinforcing these stereotypes and repeating past mistakes.

Last year, after the Haiti earthquake, I noticed some conversations in Ghana that were quite striking for what they implied.  There were a few appeals within the country asking people to assist Haiti financially.  And on more than a few occasions, I heard people questioning, why would we give, how can we give, when we are the ones who have such great need.

If anything, I think the Presbyterian Church (USA) can help its West African partners by lifting up the conviction that they, too, have been given gifts by the Holy Spirit.  They, too, have something valuable to give, both to serve the common good and to build up the body of Christ.

Over the past several years, First Presbyterian Church of Arlington Heights, Illinois, and the Kaneshie, Accra congregation of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana have joined together as mission partners, helping to build a school and chapel in a rural and undeveloped area on the outskirts of Accra.  I love the work they are doing, because it’s not Arlington Heights giving and Kaneshie receiving.  Rather, the two congregations have come together to help build up a third party in Ghana.

I think this model of mission has been particularly empowering for Ghanaians.  As parts of Ghana get richer, I pray that we in the PC(USA) can help encourage our Ghanaian brothers and sisters to realize that they do have quite a bit to give, and they can be the ones helping those in the country who have less.



Above:  The dual use school and chapel, which Kaneshie and Arlington Heights are building in Udontia.  
 


One of the lay preachers in the newly-established congregation, giving me a tour of the construction site.

 

This is the "chapel" that the Udontia congregation is currently using.  One of the associate pastors at Kaneshie, Rev. Samuel Ofoli, frequently leads worship in the village. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

PCUSA Mission Yearbook - Nigeria - February 18, 2011

The Presbyterian Church of Nigeria traces its origins to 1846, when missionaries from Scotland arrived in Calabar, at the invitation of the local kings.  In its early years, the church spread to the nearby cities of Port Harcourt and Aba.  In more recent times, it has expanded into Lagos, the economic capital of Nigeria, and Abuja, the political capital.  The Presbyterian Church of Nigeria is a large, vibrant, and growing denomination.  It is a wonderful example of how a church can be African, charismatic, and Reformed, all at the same time. 

The church has placed a high priority on establishing a university, named Hope Waddell University, in honor of the first Presbyterian missionary to arrive in the country.  The church envisions “a dynamic institution built on the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria’s tradition of academic excellence and the Church’s commitment to the regeneration of society toward service to God and humanity.”  It sees the university as a way to train leaders who will serve Nigeria, just as the church has served the country. 

Nigeria’s potential is enormous.  It has a large and educated population, and vast natural resources.  But the problems are also daunting.  There is periodic violence between religious and ethnic groups, and wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few while most are poor.  Let us pray, therefore, for the church and its work. 

Lord God, you have promised that in Christ, there is a new creation, the old has past and the new is come.  We pray for the Christian mission, ministry, and service of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria.  With the power of your Holy Spirit, may they bring about transformation and regeneration of church and society.  

The moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria, Rev. U. B. Usung, standing in front of a historic congregation in the city of Calabar.  

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

PCUSA Mission Yearbook - Ghana - February 16, 2011

In 1869, Swiss missionaries Fritz and Rose Ramseyer were captured and imprisoned by the Asante people of Ghana.  During their five years in captivity, they became the first people to preach the gospel of Christ in the Asante capital of Kumasi

In 1896, the Ramseyers returned to Kumasi, this time to establish a new preaching post for the Basel Mission.  Those five years in prison had prepared them well, as they once again began to evangelize among the Asante people. 

Today, the Ramseyer Memorial Presbyterian Church sits atop one of the highest hills in Kumasi, Ghana’s second city.  More than a thousand people pass through its doors every Sunday.  It is a vibrant and important congregation of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana.

One block away from Ramseyer, on the grounds of the old Basel Mission, the congregation has begun to reach out to the many Ghanaian northerners who have moved south to Kumasi for work.  Although the northerners often come from families with a Muslim or traditional African religious background, they have embraced Christianity with zeal.

This Frafra-language speaking fellowship, part of the PCG’s “Northern Outreach Program,” is about 100 strong in number.  Almost all are under the age of 30.  It is wonderful to witness their new faith in Christ and the powerful way the Holy Spirit is working in their midst. 

Prayer:  Lord God, we are grateful for those who planted the seed of your gospel in years past; we are grateful for those who continue this work today.  We pray for the Presbyterian Church of Ghana and for its Northern Outreach Program.  May it continue to spread the good news of your Son Jesus Christ among all the many peoples of Ghana.  


The Ramseyer Memorial Presbyterian Church, founded in 1896, located in the heart of Kumasi, Ghana's second city.

A member of the Northern Outreach Program Frafra-speaking congregation choir, standing in front of the old work shed which they use as their chapel.  

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

February, 2011 - Togo

One Sunday a few weeks ago, I crossed over the border from Ghana to Togo, to attend church in a village called Badja.  The congregation there, part of the Eglise Evangélique Presbytérienne du Togo, has a friendship with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana, congregation in Nima, Accra, 150 miles to the southwest.  Nima is the closest congregation to my house, and I often worship there when I’m not pulled elsewhere for work.  As a result, I had met some Badja church members in Accra, and I was now looking forward to seeing them in their home village.

I have to say, I was amazed by this small church and its congregation of about 75 people. Their deep faith, the hospitality they extended to me, and most of all their wonderful worship and music, gave me a renewed sense of peace and hope that I really needed at that moment in time.

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The youth choir of the congregation.

Throughout Ghana and Togo, there is something I really like about small rural and urban congregations, both of which are perceived as insignificant within their denominations. In these congregations, people are so grateful to see visitors from far away. They express a gratitude and affection to those who simply take time to visit them. It’s as if just showing up is enough to make you a saint.

I’ve also especially come to like the Togolese Presbyterians for their commitment to justice and compassion ministries. This past year, the EEPT chose as its annual theme, “Life in Abundance: Preserving Human Dignity.” The denomination seems unique in West Africa, for the central focus it places on this aspect of Christian faith and practice.

As more and more churches in West Africa are influenced by a hollow charismatic prosperity gospel, let’s pray that the EEPT can be a model of something different and better. Pray that others will follow their lead, being faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, who live joyfully, trusting in the promises of God, and who serve others with Christ-like love and compassion.

It surely is a striking contrast to what has become so common these days – those who shout Jesus’ name loudly, who make empty promises of wealth and prosperity, and who do everything in their power to appear as a strong “man of God,” claiming to predict the future and perform “miracles and wonders.”

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Members of the Badja congregation, greeting one another after worship.