Friday, December 11, 2009

During my first month in Ghana, I took part in a consultation organized by the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, which brought together the PCG’s ecumenical partners from around the world. There were representatives from Presbyterian and Reformed Churches in Cameroon, Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Korea, Scotland, U.K., Netherlands, Germany, Canada, and U.S.
It was nice to be back in Ghana, seeing old friends and meeting new people, building personal connections, and learning about PCUSA partner churches in other countries. In particular, it was great to witness growing connections between the Presbyterian Churches of Africa. I believe these connections – ones that aren’t mediated by European or American churches – will be a valuable resource for the PCG in the years to come.

While it was an overall positive gathering, in the consultation’s meetings, it sometimes seemed like we were talking at one another, and not really hearing and understanding each other in substantive ways. It made me wonder to what degree we can have real dialogue across differences of language, culture, and tradition.

In gatherings like this, for example, Ghanaians sometimes talk about the need for practices in the church such as faith healing and deliverance, and for a more hard line approach to Islam. (Some Ghanaians believe the country should enact legislation to limit Islam, similar to the way certain Islamic countries have laws limiting Christianity.) While Ghanaians see these things as necessary for a vibrant and dynamic church, I struggle with them, because to an American like me, they can appear to be a backwards and repressive form of Christianity.

When Europeans and North Americans convey struggles our churches are facing – an increasingly secular society, declining church membership, fights over the inclusion of gays and lesbians – Ghanaians are quick to jump to one conclusion: that our faith is weak, and that we’ve abandoned the Bible and true Christianity. Even though we attempt to explain it as an effort to make the church relevant in our culture – a wrestling with what it means to follow Jesus’ command to love God and love your neighbor – the Ghanaians don’t seem to buy it at all.

In the end, the consultation put something of a damper on my fresh energy and enthusiasm.

I sometimes find myself thinking that the best American-Ghanaian relationships are superficial ones. At the superficial level, things are much much easier. As an American, you can enjoy the lively singing and dancing, and the glimpses of a colorful Ghanaian culture. You can appreciate the hospitality and warm welcome that Ghanaians extend to foreign visitors. At the superficial level, you can overlook the profound differences.

With an increased level of understanding, and especially a greater knowledge of our differing world views and beliefs, maintaining a cordial relationship becomes much more complicated. I believe strongly there is a need to move to the next level, to a place of mutual appreciation and understanding. But this is not an easy move to make. Pray that God will guide us and our churches in this task.

Before I forget, you can give money to support my work in West Africa at this webpage. Thank you!

Regional Liaison for West Africa
Gifts to this ECO provide travel and operating expenses for the work of regional liaisons in supporting partner churches and programs, mission personnel, involvement of PC(USA) presbyteries and congregations, and organizations and mission networks in the region, which includes Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.