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It’s all about people and relationships

U.S. and Ghanaian Presbyterian congregations inspire one another through mission partnership

by Josh Heikkila | Mission Crossroads Magazine

A midwife at the Dzemeni maternity clinic in Ghana, supported by First Presbyterian Church of Fairfield, Connecticut, weighs an infant to check on healthy growth and development. (Photo by Josh Heikkila)

GHANA – In an age of tightened budgets and limited financial resources, congregations are understandably counting the cost to engage in mission. Supporting the work of African partner churches in areas like evangelism, poverty reduction and reconciliation does, after all, take money.

At the same time, it is crucial to look beyond simply what it costs to engage in mission. It is equally important to consider how mission gives Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations opportunities to grow in faith and be spiritually nurtured and enriched by our African partners.

Let me share with you two stories of U.S. churches that became involved with mission in Ghana, and the impact it has had on their congregations. These churches are proof that mission partnerships deepen the faith of those directly involved in international mission, while sparking revitalization stateside in new and unexpected ways.

Westminster Presbyterian Church in Albany, New York, first became interested in mission in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on American soil. According to Elder Carolyn Smith, the congregation felt a need to “increase awareness of marginalized people in our own community, particularly communities of color and immigrant groups.”

Around this time, the Westminster congregation met a Ghanaian Presbyterian pastor who was visiting the U.S., the Rev. Alice Kyei-Anti, who convinced them to visit Ghana. Rev. Alice’s connection to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) began in the early 1990s, when she worked with World Mission in Malawi, assisting the Malawian Presbyterian partner on its journey to ordain female pastors.

Over time, Rev. Alice helped Westminster develop a partnership with Presbyterian Church of Ghana congregations in the port city of Tema, near Ghana’s capital, Accra. Because issues like education, health and the environment were affecting the community in Albany, Westminster took a special interest in these areas in Ghana as well.

Elder Tom McPheeters, who has been involved with mission in West Africa and Albany, felt there was a special synergy between the two efforts, and that each has gone much further because of contributions from the other. “Community revitalization knows no boundaries,” he explained, “even if some of the issues are quite different. In the end, it’s all about people and relationships.”

According to Carolyn, before Westminster became involved in Ghana in 2001, they were a congregation whose membership was 99 percent white. But as mission inspired them to reach out to the local community, they have now become a congregation where 20 percent of the nearly 400 members are immigrants from West African countries like Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

As the West African membership grew, the congregation began to learn and sing traditional Ghanaian songs in worship. Westminster was particularly excited that one of these songs, “Da N’ase,” — a paraphrase of Psalm 117 — is hymn 328 and 605 in Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal.

Elder Lois Wilson, who has been especially active in reaching out to the African immigrant community in Albany — welcoming them to worship and to church community programs — spoke about the transformation these new members have brought to Westminster. Friends from West Africa “have enriched our lives,” Lois said.

A second congregation that has experienced transformation through African mission work is First Presbyterian Church of Fairfield, Connecticut, whose involvement in Ghana began more recently. In 2016, after a second exploratory visit, the congregation decided to support PC(USA) partner the Evangelical Presbyterian Church Ghana in its efforts to develop and expand a maternity clinic in the fishing and market town of Dzemeni.

Sib Law, a member of First Presbyterian Church of Fairfield, Connecticut, learns how Ghanaian kente cloth is woven. (Photo by Josh Heikkila)

First Fairfield knew they couldn’t take on this project alone, so they reached out to other congregations in Southern New England Presbytery to join together with them in supporting the maternity clinic. One of those congregations, Turn of the River Presbyterian Church in Stamford, Connecticut, was excited that mission in Ghana was helping bring these neighboring congregations closer together, heightening the sense that they were part of the one body of Christ.

Those from First Fairfield who have traveled to Ghana also knew that only a few from the congregation would ever have the opportunity to take part in a mission trip, so they began looking for ways to include a local component of mission. Several from the church joined a Ghanaian Presbyterian congregation in the Bronx, New York, for worship and lunch last year, and in May, a contingent from that Bronx congregation worshipped with them in Fairfield.

Elder Patti Law, who has been leading First Fairfield’s effort to develop a partnership in Ghana, was especially touched by the joint worship on Mother’s Day, knowing that the money they raise for Ghana will support the development of a church-run maternity clinic. She called it “a fabulous convergence of the theme of new life.”

Learn more and consider support opportunities at GhanaPartnership.com.

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The Rev. Josh Heikkila is Presbyterian World Mission’s regional liaison for West Africa. Josh also served as a PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) in Ghana from 2002–03.

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STRENGTHEN MISSION PARTNERSHIPS IN WEST AFRICA
Support the work of Presbyterian mission co-worker Josh Heikkila.
pcusa.org/donate/E200353

Support the work of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana
pcusa.org/donate/E864106

 

To support the Ghana Maternity Ward Partnership, follow these steps:

Click on this link to visit the PC(USA) donation site: pcusa.org/donate/E864106
Click “Give.”
Enter the amount of your donation.
Click the box next to “This is an honorary donation”
Then click in the “In Honor of” box and type “Ghana Maternity Ward Partnership.”

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This article is from the Fall 2017 issue of Mission Crossroads magazine, which is printed and mailed free to subscribers’ homes within the U.S. three times a year by Presbyterian World Mission. To subscribe, visit pcusa.org/missioncrossroads.


Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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