Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Kaajaano, Accra - Presbyterian Church of Ghana

In March of 2008, Trinity Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas, closed its doors and sold its church building in order to merge with another nearby congregation.  One final wish of the church was that one-sixth of the proceeds of the sale of the building – an amount of money equal to $97,000 – be given to the Epiphany congregation of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, in the Kaajaano neighborhood of Ghana’s capital Accra.

Some years before Trinity closed, a relationship had developed between them and Epiphany, due to a Ghanaian family who had emigrated from Accra and settled in Dallas.  This family, Mr. and Mrs. Fiase and their children, helped their two Presbyterian church homes – one in Ghana and one in the United States – develop a friendship and partnership.  In 2007, a group from Dallas traveled to Accra, where they spent time with the Epiphany congregation.  There, the Trinity group witnessed first hand a vibrant congregation in an urban West African setting.  

The Kaajaano "Epiphany" chapel, built about 18 years ago.  
The Kaajaano congregation of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana sits along Accra’s Atlantic coastline, not far from “the Castle,” the 400-year-old Danish-built fort that currently serves as Ghana’s presidential offices.  Kaajaano is now almost 50 years old.  The congregation has over 600 members and an additional 600 children and youth. 

These members are primarily the native Ga-language-speaking people of Accra, but there are a sizable number of Ewe-language speakers, too, migrants who have come to Ghana’s capital from the eastern part of the country.  Like almost all of the Presbyterian congregations in Accra, the church has an active youth program, young adults fellowship group, and women’s Bible study class.  

Looking west along the coast from Kaajaano, a view of "the Castle," Ghana's presidential offices, with the Accra harbor lighthouse in the distance.

On the same piece of land as the church, the Epiphany congregation runs a kindergarten and primary school. A total of about 300 students attend the school, which is run in partnership with the government, through the Ghana Education Service.  Over the past 30 years, temporary wooden structures have been put up to house the school, and at times small improvements were made to them.  What was intended to be temporary, though, in fact became semi-permanent.  Kaajaano knew for a long time they had to rebuild the school, but the question was how.  The church was praying that God would give them the ability to make a way forward. 

While in Accra, the group from Dallas saw the dilapidated state of the Epiphany church school.  They knew they wanted to work together to improve the condition of the buildings.  But they also had the same question, how?  Only later, when Trinity decided to close its congregation, did they realize where the funds could come from. 

The Kaajaano Church primary school is made from rough hewn wood and sits on a piece of land that is prone to flooding.  The money given by Trinity Presbyterian Church, through Grace Presbytery, will allow the ground to be graded and improved, and multi-story concrete block school building to be constructed on the same premises.  

In December of 2010, Grace Presbytery gave the final approval for the Trinity proceeds to be sent to Ghana.  At that point in time, the work in Ghana truly began.  Kaajaano hired an architect to draw up plans for the new school.  A surveyor was brought in to calculate the costs of construction.  There are hopes that ground will be broken in the second half of 2012. 

I know it can be a sad day for people when their church – the place that has been a home for them – decides to close its doors.  But even though Trinity is no longer in existence, the members can take heart knowing that their church’s resources are going to help build a Presbyterian school in AccraGhana

One person from Kaajaano even mentioned to me the story of the prophet Elisha’s death, in II Kings 13.  Even there in the grave, the bones of something that was once holy and anointed by God were able give life to another.  The same thing, he said, was true of Trinity and Epiphany.  Although Trinity might no longer be alive, it has given life to the school at Epiphany. 

As they have learned about the progress of the school, some of the former members of Trinity have expressed interest in coming to Accra, maybe on a working mission trip, or maybe to be present for the day when the completed school building is dedicated.  We’re grateful to God, therefore, that a connection between Grace Presbytery and the Epiphany congregation of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana will continue.  

Another classroom at the primary school.

Some current student of the Kaajaano Presbyterian Primary School, sitting in front of the building that serves as the kindergarten.  There are about 300 students enrolled in the school. 

A view from inside one of the classrooms.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

West African Church Music

One of the things I enjoy most about the Presbyterian churches in West Africa is the music.  The early missionaries brought with them hymns from Germany, and later England, and many of them were translated into the local languages.  Over time, some were adapted to the local musical style, while others remained unchanged.  

In worship, there are times when you can even hear the same tune, sung once with organ and formal choir, and sung later with drums and local instruments.  

In the video above, you can watch the Duke Town Parish Choir, from the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria congregation in Duke Town, Calabar, singing an English hymn entitled "Once, Only Once."

Once, only once, and once for all,
His precious life he gave;
Before the cross in faith we fall,
And own it strong to save.

In this video, the same hymn is sung in the Ewe language of Ghana and Togo, in a style of music often called borborbor (or bobobo).