The church is made of people not materials. I witness this in West Africa where believers gather in houses of concrete, mud, or leafy shade. They are rich in joy and hope.
My host and former student, Austin, directs an organization known as Training Tomorrow’s Leaders. He and his wife Amanda live in Tamale (TA-ma-leh), the capital of Ghana’s Northern District. From this base, he works to develop leadership for the Fellowship of Christian Churches. This work finds focus not only in Ghana, but in the neighboring countries of Togo and Burkina Faso. Austin needs to make contact with several congregations between Tamale and the Togo border and uses the occasion of my visit as an excuse to go into the bush.
I am grateful to tag along. I have no idea what to expect, but look forward to meeting believers in eastern Ghana. It is an underdeveloped region of forest and savanna populated by yam farmers and herders. Many live in traditional villages of mud and thatch.
We load the four-wheel drive with our packs and camping gear (just in case!), bags of used clothing for distribution, and four bicycles. The bicycles are destined for circuit-riding leaders who need them to do ministry.
Our loop takes two days to complete, and despite some discomforts and surprises, is a very rewarding experience.
In the village of Naakpa we meet with believers who have established an elementary school near the church building. They recognize a need and address it. The school gives assistance in a place with few educational options. We laugh with the kids and visit with church leaders.
In the village of Simboma, we visit a brand new church facility. It is a mud structure with an earthen floor and a shiny metal roof. While inside, we sing songs, listen to rhythm musicians, watch the dancing, and even try a few steps ourselves (no photos, please!). When it is time for the women’s dance, the mothers wrap their babies on their backs and just go. The babies bounce along and do not seem to mind the action.
In Gulubi, we meet with folks from many villages. Some have walked more than twelve miles on muddy paths to be a part of this meeting. I teach a class for the teachers in the afternoon, and when night comes, preach to a evening gathering. The heat radiates, the bugs swarm, my clothes drip, but the people seem appreciative.
It is a thrill to visit a new church plant in the village of Pulgnado (not on any map!) near the Togo border. Getting into the place is a challenge though, as the “road” in the rainy season is all but washed out. We would never make it in a lesser vehicle. We follow a circuit-riding pastor who leads us through the bush on his motorbike. While there, we share life under a tree and distribute clothing and candies. The new believers, isolated in this rural region, are enthusiastic to hear that they are not alone and that the larger body of Christ is aware of their existence. We are the first outsiders to visit them.
In Pulgnado and elsewhere, I am humbled to hear stories about indigenous leaders (many connected to Ghana Christian University) who are working to bring spiritual, emotional, and physical assistance to folks who are joyful, despite lacking ready access to education, electricity, or even a bore-hole for fresh water.
Of course, we can not give without receiving in return. On this tour we distribute all the things we have prepared. In return we receive many yams, four chickens, one goat, and a lesson in priorities from these generous people.