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May 25, 2016

A letter from mission co-worker Ingrid Reneau Walls:

Even when expected and necessary, change is not easy because inevitably it means loss—and gain(s) too. Unfortunately, the gains are not as readily discerned as the loss because they usually come as we embrace shalom within the loss. Mission reassignment from serving in South Sudan to Akropong, Ghana, has been a languishing change for me because my heart had embraced the unique South Sudanese people and the place of South Sudan. The South Sudanese people are unique because they are the “salt of the earth,” whose needs are dire, even as opportunities for transformation are constant. The merciful, graceful presence of Almighty Jah makes daily living possible, manageable and, yes, joyful, despite the ever-present conflicts and loss of lives that are, also, a constant reality.

It takes time to recover from such life transitions, and for this reason, more than any other, I have been silent in corresponding with many who have continued to uphold me faithfully in prayer and financial support, for which we are grateful. I ask your understanding and forgiveness for this lengthy absence, and as ever I ask unabashedly for your continued prayers and financial support as I wholly adjust to my current home of service.

I’d arrived at the Akrofi-Christaller Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture (ACI), Akropong, Ghana, on February 4. On February 6 I was in the classroom, participating in ACI’s orientation. It was a quick change from the PC(USA)’s orientation for reassigned and new mission workers to ACI’s orientation to academic writing for incoming students. By request I came at the start of ACI’s spring 2014 semester, having suspended my Sending Interpretation Assignment itineration to later in May–July; thus this was a short first semester. Because it was short, I’d immediately begun to learn my way around ACI and Akropong, as well as learn a little about ACI’s inspiring students.

Representing the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Kenya, Tanzania, both northern and southern Ghana, and the United States, this cohort of MA and MTh students are avidly engaged in acquiring the theological tools to assist them in fulfilling their calling in Christ’s ministries in their respective countries. I am touched, especially by the story of my sister Candace (a pseudonym), possibly because she is the only woman currently in course work and one of the few women pursuing theological study at ACI. Candace will be here for course work in African Christianity, Bible translation track, for more than a year before she returns home. This means being away from her 10-year-old daughter until she can afford the return trip, after she’s submitted her MTh proposal. In the meantime, she’s on the phone daily, weekly with her little girl and the aunt with whom she is staying. Then, there is culture shock; yes, Africans from one African country do experience culture shock when visiting and residing in another African country. There are the different foods to eat, and the varying food preparations; there is also the climate to get used to, and the reality that few to no one else speaks your mother tongue–thus a need to learn another language. There are the various cultural manners and behaviors to assimilate. It is never easy for a woman (or man) alone in a foreign land, which is why our Lord sent his disciples out in twos. Clearly there are sacrifice(s), losses and gains, too, in all kinds of ways when one chooses to pursue theological education; for women, the sacrifice(s) may be harder because inevitably children are left behind.

Then there is Peace*, wife of Paul, who is pursuing his M.A. at ACI. Both of them are professional singers, and he is also a gifted instrumentalist. Both are involved in evangelistic ministry. But life has become increasingly difficult for Christians and Muslims in their country as conflicts between these two groups escalate. As Christians active in evangelizing and church planting, Paul and Peace’s lives were threatened during the initial conflicts. According to Paul, he was targeted for death, and indeed Muslims did come to his home to kill them. They’d searched the entire house, more than once, but could not find Paul and Peace, who were hiding in the house! Sheltered by the direct, immediate protection of the Almighty, they were kept safely unseen by the would-be-killers. Afterward Paul and Peace escaped to a refugee camp, where they started a church. Eight months later, when they left for ACI, a thriving Christian congregation of more than 150 worshippers remained in the camp, including peacekeeping soldiers to whom Paul had shared the gospel.

Recently Paul and Peace learned that the rebels have returned to their home and destroyed everything they owned. This latest news devastated them both, but more so Peace—when I saw her upon returning to ACI I hardly recognized the saddened woman as the one I’d known before who always had a sunny disposition. But it’s hard to keep a good woman down: while here Peace undertook a three-month English course in Accra, and her English has improved greatly; now she is studying with me to improve her written English in hopes that come January 2015 she will matriculate at ACI in pursuit of her M.A. in Theology.  In the meantime, as their funds are depleted and it has become increasingly difficult to provide for their basic necessities, they have sought to plant food to eat, and Peace has taken up sewing and weaving handbags from plastic cords she buys in the local market. They are unstoppable in living life to the full. They persevere, absorbing the human costs to continue equipping themselves for Christ’s ministry upon their return home.

Along that vein, Paul had inquired about Trauma Healing and Reconciliation training through which they may acquire skills to minister to his communities, especially to the wounded children. Because this is not something ACI currently offers, I’ve researched possibilities and learned that the Bible Society of Ghana can come and offer such seminars at ACI, so we hope to make this happen.  Because he accepts the responsibility that this is ministry he and Peace must prepare themselves for, he humbly asks for the help in doing so. Moreover, as a musician understanding music’s role in the trauma-healing process, he knows that musical instruments for the children are a must.

Their lives, as well as Candace’s, and the sacrifices they continue to make to acquire the varied theological training they need to engage their society’s contemporary sociopolitical realities with the gospel in some healing, restoring, reconciling ways, attest to what the Almighty is up to in Ghana, at ACI and through ACI in other parts of the African continent. In many ways their lives of committed faith remind me of our South Sudanese brothers and sisters for whom faith living yields the surpassing peace and providence of Lord Jesus in the midst of unimaginable losses and sacrifices.

Won’t you join me in praying for these dear sisters and brother as they continue their studies, which are even more difficult especially because they are learning in English, which is their third or fourth language. And it’s not easy because long, wrenching separations between mothers, fathers and their children, who are as young as 7 years old, are a premium cost sometimes in attaining theological education in Africa. Won’t you join me also in praying about the ways in which you may be able to support them, both in completing their studies here at ACI, and in supporting them in their respective ministries once they’ve returned to their native countries?

Overall, you may want to prayerfully consider supporting God’s mission in Ghana.

Thank you most kindly for your prayers for these sisters and brother. And abundant thanks also to all those who continue to uplift and support us in prayers and financial giving as Andrew and I continue in discerning and fulfilling the mission of our Lord Jesus.

Yours together in Christ’s mission,

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Sherri Pettway, PMA
Mary Elizabeth Pfeil, BOP
Jim Phares, PMA

Let us pray

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.  (John 14:16–17)

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