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A letter from Josh Heikkila in Ghana

March 2011

During my visits to Presbyterian congregations in Ghana, I’m often asked to find American church partners for them. 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?”

Photo of an L-shaped building

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

If anything, I think the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 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.

  Photo of Josh and a man standing in covered walkway.   Photo of two men standing by a wallless framework with a thatched roof.
  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, the Rev. Samuel Ofoli, frequently leads worship in the village.

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.

Josh

The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 48


The youth in Badja, as in all Togolese Presbyterian congregations, are a vital part of the church. During the week, they gather on two nights -- once for Bible study and once for choir practice. Here you will see them singing in Sunday worship.

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After worship, the members of the Badja, Togo, Presbyterian congregation process out of the chapel and greet one another. You could call it their version of coffee hour, just without the coffee. The church choir continues to sing during the time of greeting.

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