LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Ed Stetzer believes a church plant in Ghana is cultivating solid truth in an area thick with an undergrowth of marginal religion.
Twenty students and two professors from the Louisville, Ky., seminary spent two weeks there in late July on a cross-cultural mission to the West African nation.
In the village of Apatrapa — where the students helped plant a church — Christians, Roman Catholics and Muslims exist alongside Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Stetzer said Ghana is similar in religious temperament to the American south — the Bible Belt — in that nominalism seems to be the leading ideology.
Stetzer, assistant professor of missions and church planting director at Southern Seminary, said the area’s religious affections were a mixed blessing when it came to sharing the gospel.
“There are a lot of people there who profess to know God,” he said. “There is a sense of religiousness and a hunger for spiritual things. It’s not an unchurched area. It has a lot of churches. However, it is not very Christian. Still, most people believe they are saved because they are in a religious area.
“Students who go on this trip should go for the cross-cultural experience, not thinking that this is the most unchurched region in Africa. It’s not.”
In Apatrapa, the group worked with Ghana Baptist Seminary to launch a new Southern Baptist church.
The Ghana Baptist Seminary appointed a pastor for the church — pastor Abraham — who is a first-year theology student at the Ghanaian seminary. The school has already provided him with an assistant as the seed church appears to have taken solid root.
“We were very pleased with their choice,” Stetzer said. “He has just run with the ball in a positive way. Just this week, I got an e-mail that they had 40 adults in Sunday school … which is a big deal. They had about 20 in the first service. I don’t know the attendance, but I know it would still be over 100, which is unusual because you usually do a big launch and then it kind of dwindles down to about half that.”
During the first week, Stetzer led Southern students and 40 others from the Ghanaian seminary in a daily seminar on church planting. Each afternoon, students went house-to-house while sharing the gospel in the mud huts, cinder-block and thatched-roof homes of Apatrapa.
On their first Sunday afternoon in Ghana, many of the Southern Seminary students preached in various village churches. On the second Sunday, Stetzer, Southern missions professor George Martin and eight seminarians attended the first-ever service held at the church plant. In all, 121 Ghanaians and Americans worshiped together that day.
“The highlight of the week was the first Sunday morning of the new church,” Stetzer said.
“Probably the biggest difference for us was their worship. Dr. Martin had warned us that they would dance. Their worship would probably give most of our Southern Baptists a heart attack. It is very expressive.”
The Ghanaians asked Stetzer to preach a crusade as part of the village outreach. More than 1,200 of the 2,000 Apatrapa residents attended the crusade’s third and final night. Overall, Stetzer said there were dozens of conversions, including the village queen.
“In African culture, the Queen Mother is the authority in the village,” Stetzer said. “Her conversion is a major event in African culture.”
Southern student Brian Payne said he was most struck by the Ghanaians’ submission to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture and their reverence for God.
“You don’t have to be an apologist over there,” said Payne, a master of divinity student at Southern’s extension center in Auburn, Ala. Payne preached twice in village churches.
“The Bible is authoritative for them,” Payne said. “They believe it is God’s Word without question. That really humbled me. And they are very open about it. There were businesses with names like ‘Jesus is Lord Beauty Salon’ and ‘King Jesus Construction Company.’ Some of it is superstition and only time will tell if all the conversions were genuine, but they have a sensitivity and an awareness of God that we don’t have in America.
“One Ghanaian pastor summed it up best when he said theirs is a circumstance-driven culture. I think they see clearly every day when they wake up that they need God. Prosperity has veiled that reality in America. God is their life over there. One pastor told me that he does door-to-door evangelism on his day off because it is his hobby.”
Southern student Happy Chandler, a master of theology student from Bowling Green, Ky., found earnestness in the Ghanaians’ expressive form of worship.
“They worship the Lord in a free and open way,” he said. “They are very much less materialistic and they really love Americans. The kids there are fascinated with white people. They don’t have a lot of the hangups we do in America.”