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‘Mission in reverse’

Immigrants from African countries are joining PC(USA) congregations and planting new ones

by Joshua Heikkila, Regional Liaison to West Africa | Mission Crossroads

The Ghana Mission Network at its last in-person meeting, June 2019. (Contributed photo)

Around the world, international partners of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) often invite our mission personnel to share in the ministry of their local congregations. The Church of Central Africa Presbyterian Synod of Zambia, for example, expressed to Sherri Ellington, a mission co-worker who coordinates the Young Adult Volunteer program in that country, how they appreciate the presence of YAVs in their communities as it enriches their life of faith. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana has welcomed me to serve as an associate pastor of one of their church districts in Ghana’s capital, Accra, where I live.

To what extent, then, are we ready to welcome our partners into the life of the PC(USA), to embrace and learn from the gifts that God has given them?

In years past, western churches sent missionaries around the world, and while these efforts were far from perfect, partner churches took the message that missionaries brought them and shaped it to speak to their local cultures and histories. Today, vibrant and faithful churches have taken root, and these churches are now eager to share with us how they worship and live as disciples of Jesus Christ.

In what has been called “mission in reverse,” immigrants from African countries are coming to the United States, and they are joining existing PC(USA) congregations and planting new ones. Some of our African church partners have also expressed an interest in sending missionaries to us, to help our denomination grow and thrive.

Like cold water to a thirsty soul is good news from a distant land. — Proverbs 25:25

The Ghana Mission Network (GMN) started 20 years ago, largely as a forum for PC(USA) congregations and presbyteries engaging in mission in Ghana to come together and share experiences. Over the past several years, as it has welcomed more and more people into its midst, the network has been greatly enriched by “mission in reverse.”

The Presbytery of Lake Huron installed as moderator the Rev. Philomena Ofori-Nipaah in December 2019. (Photo by Staci Percey)

GMN members like the Rev. Philomena Ofori-Nipaah, who was born and raised in Ghana and studied for a Master of Divinity at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, now serves as the interim pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Saginaw, Michigan. When I visited a Presbytery of Lake Huron meeting several years ago to speak about PC(USA) partnerships in West Africa, many people shared with me how the presbytery was strengthened by Philomena’s presence. She is also a nurse and continues to support the Presbyterian Midwifery Training College in the Ghanaian town of Duayaw-Nkwanta.

In their new book, “Freeing Congregational Mission: A Practical Vision for Companionship, Cultural Humility, and Co-Development,” former World Mission Director Hunter Farrell and co-author Bala Khyllep mention GMN member the Rev. Ben Nti, a Ghanaian-born pastor educated at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary who served First Presbyterian Church in rural Brooklyn, Iowa. Farrell and Khyllep write that Ben and his family “had a crystal-clear understanding of themselves as missionaries: imperfect people called to cross lines of difference to share God’s love with a particular group of people — the people of Brooklyn. They sought to do that following the model of Jesus Christ, and their missionary strategy can perhaps best be described as a theology of companionship.”

Philomena and Ben have been wonderful gifts to the GMN, to their local congregations and to the entire PC(USA). Together with other pastors and members with roots in our African partners, they are actively helping to make to make the PC(USA) a denomination of vital congregations in which all of God’s children are welcome — a central focus of the Matthew 25 vision.

The article first appeared in Mission Crossroads. Find it and other articles here.

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