In January this year, Steve Cooper – our Circuit Manager – travelled with a small group from the Liverpool District and beyond to Ghana for 12 days to view a number of churches and mission projects. Here are just a few reflections.
Methodist Rafiki Satellite Village – based around an orphanage of four “houses” of 10 children each, and a school serving the local township. The mother of these triplets had died shortly after giving birth; according to tribal belief they were a bad omen and must be killed to salve the death of the mother. The Methodist Church was able to save their lives and they are now thriving and joyous in their school surroundings.
All too brief a time at Cape Coast Fort, where we were reminded of our connections to the slave trade, 7 million Africans exported through Ghana and its neighbours over the 200 years or so of slavery. But we were reminded too, later in the visit of modern slavery, particularly girls from the northern town traded to become the “pot sellers” – selling wares from pots on their heads in the rush of Ghanaian traffic (at least that was their respectable day job).
Nzulezo, a World Heritage site, a stilted village only accessible by boat on the shores of a lake. It was founded 600 years ago by refugees from the Sahara as a temporary safe space, but the residents still felt the need not to put down roots too deeply for they would be “called” to move on at some point. The Methodist Church had collapsed into the water so they were worshipping in the community hall – perhaps a lesson for us?
We worshipped on the Sunday in churches in Kumasi (the crossroads of Ghana where all major routes from the north (including Burkino Faso and Mali) to the southern ports converge on one huge roundabout –the highways engineers would have an impossible job maintaining the road surface, it looked like they had given up trying! As we were travelling further north that day we went to the early services (typically 7:30am until 9:00am) and where I went there were around 250-300 at that service, which would immediately be followed by Bible Study until the main service around 10:00am (until 1:00pm) where they would expect some 500-600. This was the smaller of the main Methodist churches in Kumasi. And then on to Tamale – 200 miles into sub-Saharan Africa, about 8 hours on a good day!
In Tamale we were hosted by the Diocesan Bishop, Nathan Samwini. Nathan’s son is currently studying at Liverpool John Moores and attends Kensington Methodist Church. Nathan is a wise and wonderful man of God, holding the Methodist Church Ghana to account in its connexionalism – they have the same north/south divide as we do (only more intensely – being stationed for ministry in the north is sometimes openly described as a punishment!).
We encountered reminders of slavery again in Salaga, first at the “last baths” where those captured by their own tribal leaders were able to be washed down, fed and watered to attract a better price in the local slave market.
But we also saw evidence of redemption. In Salaga we assisted in a ground breaking ceremony for a new manse. I even got to wield the pick axe (if somewhat ceremonially – it was about 45 degrees C!), breaking the ground three times; in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It was reminiscent of a baptism – giving new purpose to the stained earth,. The challenge was for the church to build the manse (the bags of cement to make the concrete blocks would now be ordered) in good time for the Probationer Minister who is to arrive in Salaga next January. I have no doubt they will succeed.
Wherever we went, we were struck by the welcome we received – the people are so loving and gracious, providing for us in ways that have certainly gone out of fashion, and we were struck that in worship, at times for the offering to be taken up, the people danced to the offering box, genuinely delighted at the privilege of giving to the work of God. Their worship was quite formal, but certainly vibrant and enthusiastic – they hung on the readings of scripture and on the sermon.
Are there lessons we can learn from a church that has been growing at as fast a rate that we have been declining? In truth I’m not sure, their culture is so different from ours and in some ways their worship is structured in a way we gave up some decades ago. But the wonderful Ghanaian folk wear their faith and allegiance to the Methodist Church quite literally on their sleeves.
The Ghanaian Methodists I encountered are engaged in their worship in a way that in truth I rarely see in our churches, they joyously recognise how blessed they are, and genuinely seem to enjoy the privilege of sharing what they have – both financially and materially – in furtherance of God’s kingdom. Perhaps these are lessons enough. – Steve Cooper