LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Bewildered grimaces betrayed their confusion. No matter how Ron Trotter phrased his gospel presentation, language and cultural barriers prevented the two Ghanaian women from comprehending.
In an instant of inspiration, Trotter began to trace a canyon and a cross in the dirt. As he completed the evangelistic “bridge illustration,” the women’s faces lit up.
“I could see she understood our message,” said Trotter, a Dahlgren, Ill., native and a master of divinity student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky. “Both those women prayed to receive Christ before we left that day.”
The conversion of the two women typified the movement of God experienced by the 13-member mission team from Southern Seminary on a Jan. 3-14 trip to Ghana, West Africa.
“There is something going on in Ghana that no man has anything to do with,” said team member Perry Polnaszek, a master of divinity student from Thorp, Wis. “The Spirit of the Lord had already been working in the hearts of these people, and we were just there as the harvesters.”
Less than a year ago, Southern Seminary forged a four-year partnership with the Ghana Baptist Convention aimed at providing practical missions opportunities for seminary students which would hopefully result in the spread of the gospel in Ghana.
The seminarians teamed up with four Kwahu Baptist Association churches — all located near Mpraeso, a highland town several hours north of Ghana’s coastal capital city of Accra. Ghanaian Baptist leaders had chosen the area after much prayer, and they had requested that the students evangelize in the region as well as provide training for the Christians.
“We realized Mpraeso is one of the associations that needs help and encouragement in the area of church growth and in the area of evangelism,” said Yaw Ofori, director of missions and evangelism for the Ghana Baptist Convention.
“The leadership [of the churches] was greatly encouraged by our presence,” said Daniel Hatfield, leader of the trip and Southern’s vice president for student services. “They capitalized on our evangelism to promote the presence of their congregations and the importance of their standing in the community.”
Most days during the trip the team divided up among the four churches to spread the gospel arm and arm with Ghanaian laypeople. Each night, the team and the churches hosted services and crusades to continue the gospel proclamation.
“They were very eager to deploy us,” said Hatfield, a former missionary to Panama. “We came prepared to help train their members, but they wanted us more on foot with them in the community.”
The team, partnered with Ghanaian Christians who both shared and translated, met with a God-given success in their efforts.
“I had the great privilege of leading approximately 30 people to Christ,” said Randy Hommel, a master of divinity student from Kingsport, Tenn. “I was amazed as I saw the promises of Scripture jump off the page and go from being theory to reality.”
The eagerness and rapid acceptance exhibited by the converts surprised many of the team members.
“I was personally impacted by the openness of the people to the gospel,” said Trotter, who also serves as a director of missions for the Goshen Trail Baptist Association in Illinois. “It is not that easy here on my home mission field.”
Claudia Veres agreed. When she shared Christ with a Ghanaian teen, she expected a response she had received many times among American youth.
“I thought, ‘He’s 19. He’s going to say that life has to offer me more than that,'” said Veres, a master of divinity student from Romania.
She carefully explained the need for repentance and a changed life. To her amazement, the teen readily responded.
“You should have seen the joy of that young man after we prayed,” Veres said. “He was just glowing and smiling. I think it was a glimpse of understanding at that moment that the Lord is at work.”
The team’s example discipled and also imparted an evangelistic enthusiasm among their Ghanaian co-workers.
“[The church members] are revived now,” said Ghanaian church planter Emmanuel Mustapha, who helped coordinate the team’s efforts. “They are on fire now. It’s like they have been quickened to move.”
Ofori added, “We’ve been telling all the churches, ‘Please do not let this fire die down. Continue flaming. … From an evangelism and missions perspective, we can continue to use [the team’s] coming to stir them up and keep them on fire.”
The Ghanaian Christians believe the team’s presence also helped the churches make a statement in the community.
“I think that in the communities, some of the people don’t know what is a Baptist church,” Ofori said. “[The team’s] presence in the community will bring that kind of awareness that this is a church that I can belong to. The sense of belonging is very important.”
One occurrence particularly heightened the students’ standing in the public eye. In a dramatic ceremony, the team made an appearance before the tribal chief of the Mpraeso area. As a result of the encounter, the chief promised to help the church in Mpraeso with future needs.
“I guess I was a bit overwhelmed by the meeting with the tribal chief,” Hatfield said. “Afterward, [the Ghanaian leaders] in conversation with me kept telling me that the people in the community were going to remember that and that they were going to look at us differently and look at that church differently.”
But as much as the team members might have encouraged Ghanaian believers, the group returned to the states even more encouraged by the Ghanaians.
“We were trying in this trip to be a blessing to them,” Veres said. “In my experience, they were more of a blessing to me, and that is humbling.”
The Ghanaians’ gospel fire fueled the evangelistic embers of each team member.
“Even though they have so little, they have such a passion for the work and such a commitment to evangelism and discipleship,” said Lizette Beard, a master of divinity student from Mountain Home, Ark., and missions coordinator for the seminary. “They give so much to reaching the world for Christ. It’s a continuous conviction to me.”
The Ghanaians joy and graciousness also blessed the team.
“I was really amazed at the generosity and love of the people in Ghana,” said Chris Parker, a master of divinity student from Brevard, N.C.
In fact, Veres felt a little homesick as she immersed herself in Ghanaian society.
“My surprise was to realize how this culture is so close to Romanian culture — the way people relate, the way they interact,” she said. “I really felt home. … And I wanted to be one of them. I didn’t want to be the American who comes for two weeks.
“This trip … just revived me again,” Veres said. “Although we were tired, it was good to come home and think, ‘Today, God gave me the opportunity to share the gospel with so many people.'”
The trip also provided a fertile ground for training in missions principles. “There’s something to seeing God move in a different language, on a different continent, in a different people group that you’ve never met before,” Polnaszek said.
God also ingrained another missions principle.
“God has taught me … that missions is not a duty,” said Chris Blackwell, a master of divinity student from Columbia, S.C. “Missions is not obligation. Missions is a joy. Missions is a privilege. … To be able to join him and be his instruments as he calls people to himself is truly a privilege and a joy.”
One way that the seminary and future teams hope to join God is through the continued partnership with the Ghanaian Baptists.
“It’s good that we come together like this to do this work,” Ofori said. “We need to pray hard concerning this partnership.”
And the team and the Ghanaians hope that harvest begun with the January trip will continue with future joint missions.
“We have a task ahead of us — all Christians, not just Southern Baptists, not just Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,” Beard said. “I think in the next four years we can look back and say we have been on mission with our African brothers and sisters, and there are those that we will see in the kingdom of heaven because of our faithfulness.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: LOVE FOR ALL and OBEDIENCE IN BAPTISM.