Our Church in Mission | Jessica Denson
‘Religiously incurable’: reaching emerging African ministries
Meet Andrew Aboagye.
Andrew Aboagye didn’t know God’s plan for him when he arrived in the United States in 1989. Formerly a minister of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, he came planning to study at Union Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, and later at Boston University, where he received his master’s in biblical studies.
He planned next to get his PhD and return to Ghana. But education is expensive, so Aboagye worked part-time teaching Sunday school at Ogden Memorial Church in Chatham, New Jersey, while completing his PhD. In forming new friendships in the area, he saw a need among the Ghanaian population in nearby Brooklyn, New York: the nearest Ghanaian Presbyterian congregation, in Manhattan, was just too far away.
“We thought it was important for there to be a Presbyterian Church of Ghana in the people’s community,” he says. “A sociologist describes us [Ghanaians] as ‘religiously incurable.’ And that’s how we see ourselves. When Ghanaians go to a place, they want to go to church, but many struggle to even find a way to get to church, because they don’t have a car.”
In 1992, Aboagye and Obiri Addo started Bethel Presbyterian Reformed Church in Brooklyn. Bethel began with 82 members but now has over 150. It offers two services on Sunday, in both English and Twi, the principal language of southern Ghana.
The local church is the central community for Ghanaians. Many immigrants feel alone and look for a congregation where they can interact and connect with those who understand their situation.
Aboagye moved to Toronto in 1994 to help establish a church that is now 600 members strong. The experience helped him to discern his reason for being here: to plant churches for fellow Ghanaian immigrants.
In 1998 he founded Emmanuel Presbyterian Reformed Church in the Bronx, New York. After beginning with 33 members, Emmanuel now has to worship in two sanctuaries to accommodate everyone.
The following year he began providing leadership to an 18-person worshiping community in Worcester, Massachusetts, that was without a pastor. And in 2004 Aboagye connected with a congregation in Columbus, Ohio. Like the others, it too has grown: from 55 members to almost 300.
Aboagye started the Conference of Ghanaian Presbyterian Churches to empower these communities. “I realized [that when churches] had problems, they didn’t know how to go about finding solutions within the PC(USA) or even within American ideas,” he says. “But if we had a conference where we came together, it could help the leadership and help each of the groups find solutions and pool resources.”
Originally the conference had only five participating congregations, but 14 were represented at the June 2013 gathering in Montreal, Canada.
Now, 24 years after coming to the United States, Aboagye has returned to Bethel, the first church he started.
When asked what he wants the larger church to know about these Ghanaian congregations, Aboagye offers a simple answer: prayer is extremely important to them, and the smallest acts of kindness can help a struggling immigrant. Aboagye adds that Presbyterians can reach out to African immigrants in their own communities. As he has found, those who want a church and faith community are right in our neighborhoods; they just need an opportunity to connect.
Jessica Denson has worked with the PC(USA) as a communicator for Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries.
Learn more about Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries and consider making a donation at pcusa.org/racialethnic.
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Use the Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, published annually and packed with stories and mission information as well as daily prayers and lectionary readings. Order the book, read selections online or subscribe to receive entries by email or podcast: visit the Mission Yearbook website