Yesterday I finished teaching a course on the History of the Church in West Africa. This is the first time I taught it for this particular program, the Baccalaureate in Theology track at IBB. In North America I think it would correspond roughly to a junior college level program. The students meet for two, six-week, intensive sessions twice a year. I met with them three hours a day for the past two weeks to get through the 30 hour course. Besides the 3 hours with me the students had 6 additional hours between two other courses they were taking at the same time. Needless to say having 9 hours of class a day for the entire session makes it a challenge for them to keep their energy level up! Yet they managed to be attentive throughout and seemed especially taken with one aspect of the course, the important role played by Africans in the establishment of Christianity in this region.
The contribution of foreign missionaries is well know among Christians in Benin, but African pastors and evangelists were perhaps the most significant force for the establishment of West African churches during the 19th and 20th centuries. Thousands of freed slaves settled in Sierra Leone where they became a thriving Christian community that provided resources, economic and personnel, for the propagation of the faith to other regions. One of those first initiatives was the establishment of churches at Badagri and Abeokuta, just across the Nigerian border about 70 kilometers east of Cotonou. Invitations from those churches to the Methodist mission eventually resulted in the establishment of their work here in the 1850s. That example was repeated in other places and with different groups. From their base in Sierra Leone Africans returned to their home areas with their new faith, and the Gospel spread farther and farther into the interior and grew deep roots in African soil. The many vibrant faith communities whose leaders make up the student body at IBB are the result of that African contribution to the missionary task in West Africa. The story is a good reminder and encouragement to Christians here and in North America as we continue to work together at the missionary task of the church.
A few weeks ago I attended graduation ceremonies at Good News Theological College and Seminary. Good News is Ghanaian seminary that trains leaders from African Independent Churches in West Africa. You can see more about them here.
Among the 16 graduates were two from the Ghana Mennonite Church (GMC). One was Emelia Amexo, the first woman leader from GMC to graduate with a theological degree. She was supported in her three years of study by a grant from Mennonite Women USA. Emelia is a young woman with much energy and is always willing to lend a hand. In fact she received one the the Principal’s Awards for her “volunteerism” during her time at Good News.
Emelia receiving her diploma
Receiving the Principal's Award with members of the Nkwanta Mennonite Church
Below see excerpts from a letter I received from Emelia last week. She’s been quite busy as you can see.
Dear Pastor Bruce,
I greet you in the name of Jesus Christ who said “As the father sent me, so I send you” as the great commission.
Glory and honour be to God for the wonderful things he is doing in the life of the church especially the Northern Ghana Mennonite Church this year.
I left for Christmas in 2008 to Nkwanta to see the church and my family. I met them in good health and they have just finished with Christmas convention which was so successful, many souls won for Christ.
The church leaders and some few members in total we were twenty people. Some people were from Brewaniase including the Prophet. We took a car from Nkwanta to Kabiti and boarded an engine boat to the village, just as Jonah was on his missionary journey to Nineveh. We were not afraid of capsizing the boat or loosing our lives because Bible says “If you loose your life because of Christ you will gain it back” We saw the eternity of humanity as very important as Jesus said in John 3:36 “He who believe in the son has eternal life”
During the new year, we went on mission trips to so many places in the District. Two places we went to were Mafikope and Kitari (Kabiti area). The church is at Mafikope already but we went there for revival. We revived the church to be on fire for the Lord always. I had the chance to preach the salvation message and souls were won for Christ before we left the town for the whole one week that we stayed there. Three people were baptized and added to the faith. Some await baptism
We also went to Kitari where we had a big crusade and souls were won for Christ. We had 30 people at Kitari who we have used to start the church and the chief also gave the church a land to put up a chapel on it.