The wind whistled in my ears as I gripped the seat rack while riding behind our DS Rev. Frank Mills on the motorcycle. We were following the dusty paths of the remote villages in northern Ghana. As we bounced along the rough trails I could see the signs of simple village life between the grass thatched huts and bark banded granaries. Here in a dry place where rain is either pounding the clay soil for a few months or missing for months causing dry desolation a person must prepare for a hard way of life.
These villages have been left in the darkness for many years both physically and spiritually. In this place there is no hi-speed internet, no running water, no electricity. Fires cook the yam pounded paste, kerosene lanterns provide light in the home, and getting your garden produce to the market means hours of walking or pushing it on a bicycle. The heat had reached 107 degrees F in the bright glistening sun and I was feeling the sweat running down my back.
As we weaved between pigs and goats, we heard children shouting “nyasara, nyasara” (meaning white man). I was amazed as Frank would point to the right and shout “See that large tree? That is a Nazarene church.” Just a little farther down the trail as we passed another grouping of huts that bustled with life, he would shout again, “see that mango tree? That is a
One might doubt the real strength of a church started under a tree, but as we pulled into the little village church led by Pastor Richard my faith and heart was changed. Around a large mango tree marched and danced nearly 200 people. There were children laughing, youth playing instruments and dancing in unified motion. The women were leading the march, clapping their hands and shouting praises to God. Men continued to lift their voices and as the pastor shouted “praise the Lord,” they all responded in one mighty voice, “hallelujah.”
What a celebration of what God is doing in the northern Sahelian corridor. In the past 3 years with the help of the Jesus Film teams and the persistent obedience of dedicated leaders, we have seen dramatic church growth. In a place where most denominations have abandoned but the Nazarene churches are evangelizing, God is opening the doors to the gospel to a people bound by superstition and darkness.
Pastor Richard is just one example of a pastor who has only pastored his church for 2 years but has already planted 5 other churches. His membership in his own church is over 200 members. His church supports the district and they are in the process of building a worship center of their own to protect them from the rain during monsoon season.
Through the entrepreneurial leadership of Rev. Frank Mills almost every church has some kind of self-sustaining income generating project to help the church grow and the district to reach out to other areas. Many girls in this area have trouble getting the funds to go to school.
Faced with few choices, many at the ages of even 13 to 15 are selling their bodies to older men in order to pay their school fees. The Nazarene church is responding to this need by giving a girl two pigs. She must raise them and then give two piglets back to the district. Once they have multiplied she has a means of income to pay her school fees and the district has 2 more pigs to give to another needy girl.
“Women love our church,” Frank says with a smile. We are a church that says “one man – one woman.” In a society dominated by polygamy this is good news to the women. They see the benefit of a loving family and a supportive husband lived out in the lives of our leaders and pastors.
Almost every pastor’s wife is having a project that gives support to her family. A healthy vibrant church brings about a healthy vibrant community. The district purchased a 3-wheeler motorcycle that is designed to carry produce to the market. This 3-wheeler passes by the churches bi-weekly to collect the produce given in the offering.
Most of these remote villages do not have cash flow but do have value in the things they grow. In attempt to make their tithe support the work of the church, the district collects the tithe of produce and sells it in the marketplace. Support for the church and the district have never been higher. In fact, during the week the 3-wheeler tithe cart is producing extra income by transporting goods to market for the members who pay local rates for the service.
One of our stops on the three day whirlwind tour of the district was to the Namankwan church. This was one of the first churches in the valley and has a thriving school operating out of the church property. The local church is expanding services by building mud brick classrooms for the expanding program.
Additionally on one edge of the property there is the new Nazarene Theological Institute. A vision of continuing education for pastors on the zone prodded the development of this center complete with library and class rooms. Every month courses in the pastor’s theological training are being held in these class rooms dedicated to Wesleyan heroes of the past.
The skills pastors are learning are beyond the day to day needs of the church, but include a base in theological training with a heavy dose of practical
implementation into a complex context of superstition, darkness, and social structure that needs the penetrating truth of the gospel and the transforming spirit of God.
As we visited the group of more than 200 youth in a packed local community building my heart was encouraged once again. Here was the first generation of Christians in this community.
Here was the first generation of Nazarenes in these villages. Here they were learning the bible and were engaged in bible quizzing preparation by their young pastors. Many of these youth had skipped a day of school for the Christian education they were being given from the Book of Life.
One thriving church is being pastured by a 16 year old, spirit filled leader. Each week he preaches the truth he knows and is being mentored by leaders like Rev. Frank Mills who himself is completing his masters on line with Northwest Nazarene University. There is a culture of education and excellence that is being passed from one leader to the next generation like a baton in a well-run relay race.
Our concluding event that day was a visit to the local village chief. Ushered in by our local leaders we were asked to squat and clap our hands three times in submission to this local leader. When recognized we returned to our seats, presenting our names and mission in this local village. This earthly chief had given our church permission to hold youth rallies in the local community building and we gave thanks for his cooperation. He laid back on a lawn chair perched on a cement slab two feet above the floor showing his high authority on his earthly throne in his small domain over darkness, fear, and poverty. His large intricately carved wooden staff bore the images of a lion and bore the furs and beads that had obviously been steeped in traditional incantations and fetishes to the evil spirits that so dominated this region.
As we left this village our youth presented us with a guinea fowl – live of course! This was the third feathered friend we had been given that day and I was running out of hands to carry our treasured gifts home on the back of our motorcycles.
Our partnership team had experienced much and were tired from the journey and covered in dust from the long day. As we made our final winding way on foot paths and found our road leading back to our hotel rooms, I couldn’t help but reflect on the truths I had discovered as we drove into the setting savannah sun.
Jesus said, “the kingdom of God is here today!” Here in the midst of desert plains between villages of people trapped in the darkness the kingdom of God was growing. Not necessarily buildings and instruments and programs and presentations and rituals, but real church growth – souls won for Christ!
The natural kind that comes from changed hearts, transformed communities, and ever branching growth like the broad mango trees that sheltered the people – the church. A church that represents hope in a heavenly authority that does not poster itself on high chairs and superstitions and fear, but on hope and light and love. There is no need to carve images of lions on staffs to gain authority, but young men and women walk with the lion of Judah, in the face of persecution and hardship and pierce the darkness with faith and hope with authority from on high.
I will always remember my gifts of guinea fowls from those young people but that day they gave me a much better gift; a realization that they are the future of the Church of the Nazarene. Maybe I should call it “the Tree of the Nazarene,” because from these tree gatherings there is the potential to win thousands for Christ.
Pray with me that their fervor will never die.
Join with me to bring a work and witness team to build the district center that will train the future leaders and young pastors of Ghana and the future missionaries to the north African countries. Most of all, may God be praised for what He has done in the lives and hearts of his people.
Isaiah 43:18: “See I am doing a new thing, do you not perceive it? Like springs of living water in the desert.”
For the sake of the cross,
Timothy R. Eby
Africa West Field
Church of the Nazarene