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A letter from Josh Heikkila, West Africa regional liaison, in Ghana

Christmas 2013

In the south of Ghana, it's common to find Presbyterian pastors who serve church districts that include three or four congregations.  As you move to the north of the country, though, which is poorer and more rural, and where the church is younger, these districts grow in size. Ten or twenty congregations in a district is not unusual. 

Several times each year, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church students at the University of Ghana go out on weekend evangelism and health campaigns. They lead a time of worship, prayer, and singing for community residents, while the medical students conduct health screenings. In addition, used clothing is donated to families in need. These campaigns are completely run and financed by the university students.

I know of one pastor in the north of Ghana who serves a district that includes about 35 congregations. This means that over the course of a year, the pastor is able to visit each congregation in the district only once or twice on a Sunday morning, one or twice for Wednesday Bible studies, once or twice for Saturday weddings and funerals. Clearly, the work he has at hand is not easy.

In 1957, when Ghana gained independence from Britain, some estimates put the Christian population at about 20% of the total.  The most recent estimates have found that Christians now exceed 80%. This is phenomenal growth.  More than 60% of the population has come to Christian faith over the course of the last 60 years.

When you look at the Presbyterian churches in Ghana, if you wanted, you could choose to focus on the shortage of pastors and the problems associated with it. There are not always enough trained clergy to disciple new converts, to celebrate the Lord's Supper, or to preside over Christian weddings and funerals. These problems are real, and we are working together with our partners, the Presbyterian Church of Ghana and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church Ghana, to respond to them. 

One presbytery from the PC(USA), Lake Erie, is partnering with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church to help lift up women in ministry, especially in the north of the country, where the culture doesn't always encourage women’s leadership. There is a program in the works that would help the Presbyterian Church of Ghana to become a mission sender, sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with neighboring countries like Burkina Faso, where the church is much weaker and faces much greater obstacles to growth.

Although the shortage of clergy is a real problem for our partners, and I don’t want to downplay it, I believe it has also been a blessing in disguise for them. I’m always amazed in Ghana by the strength of lay leadership in the church.  Elders, men's and women's leaders, and youth are preaching and praying on those Sundays when the pastor isn’t present in church. They are leading evangelism campaigns, sharing God’s love, and teaching others how to be Christ’s disciples. They are telling people about the wonderful things God is doing in their lives. 

A small Presbyterian congregation near Tamale, in the Northern Region of Ghana. An ordained pastor can probably only visit small and rural congregations like this one once every few months. During the Sundays when the pastor is not present, the preaching, praying, and liturgy of worship is completely led by lay-members of the congregation.

Wherever you go in Ghana, it’s easy to see that these church members have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to carry out mission and ministry that is transforming the country.

As much as helping our sisters and brothers in Christ in Ghana, I believe we also have something very important to learn from them.  When American Presbyterians come to Ghana, I can see us slowly relearning the practice of testimony. Ghanaians are quick to share with us about the things God is doing in their lives, and they expect us to share the same in return. 

Maybe our Ghanaian brothers and sisters can help us to see with greater clarity the gift that Jesus Christ is for us. With their help, perhaps we American Presbyterians can once again learn to speak in honest and humble ways about how God is present in our lives, showing us care and love, and to share with others how it is a blessing to live life as a disciple of Jesus Christ. 

Without a doubt, God has blessed the churches in Ghana, and they are slowly but surely living into their calling to be a blessing to others.  As a result, I think we need our Ghanaian church partners as much as they need us! 

This is an exciting time to be working with our partners in Ghana, the Presbyterian Church of Ghana and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church Ghana.  I want to thank you for the support you have given to Presbyterian World Mission in the past.  And I would like to invite you to come along with me, as we continue to help the mission and ministry of the churches in West Africa, and as we learn from them in return.  I look forward to our mutual work in the years ahead.  May God continue to be with you, and bless you, this Advent and Christmas season.

-Josh

The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 96
Read more about Josh Heikkila's ministry

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