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And it is. In southern Ghana, where cities like Kumasi—the location of OM Ghana’s base—are home to a church on every corner, church planting is a relatively simple and risk-free venture, as pastors need little help taking care of their congregations, Chris says.
But in the north—a region called The Overseas due to an extensive rainy season—churches are few, and pastors to lead the churches are, in some communities, even fewer, leaving the small groups of Christians without leadership.
It’s a sobering contrast: thriving, vibrant churches in big cities, with entire unreached communities just a few hours’ drive away. The spiritual disparity between southern and northern Ghana affirms a great need for the continued equipping of pastors in The Overseas, Chris says—especially those who are new pastors in connection with OM Ghana’s church planting efforts. While the northern regions are home to almost 100 per cent Muslim communities, southern Ghana is approximately 75 per cent Christian.
The contrast opens the door for evangelism and missions; however, it also proves to be a challenge for those who choose to follow Christ in The Overseas. Chris recalls a Muslim man from the north who, a couple of years ago, spent time in southern Ghana—where Christian acquaintances inevitably brought him to church.
Having accepted Christ and being discipled in the faith, the man returned to the north months later, only to find that his community, like so many others, had no church.
“He was so determined to worship God that he had no choice but to go to the mosque,” Chris says.
But the man found no satisfaction there; while others prayed to Allah, he was unable to worship Christ in the mosque.
And so, when he heard that OM Ghana was coming to his village during their annual Christmas outreach, the HOPEVisiT, with the intent to plant a church, he enthusiastically opened his home for the outreach team to stay.
Stories such as the journey this man is on, Chris says, are what drive the HOPEVisiT, which began as a church planting effort. Now, with a team of nearly 70 volunteers, the HOPEVisiT is much more—and in 2016, Chris has introduced a new, crucial component of the outreach: pastor’s training.
Even in The Overseas communities that do have churches, Chris says, the work is just beginning. Many pastors in northern Ghana—some of whom came from the Muslim religion just a few years ago—lack the necessary fellowship and resources needed to help them grow in their understanding of the faith.
“Even basic concepts of the Christian faith, such as salvation, are areas where pastors need to grow and be taught,” Chris says—not that the pastors are ill-equipped to teach, but that their ability to develop as pastors is restricted geographically. The churches themselves, in the developmental stage, “still have a need for basic teachings, such as baptism, and children’s ministry,” and the pastors—only six of whom have received formal pastoral training, Chris says, and two of whom are the pastors of more than one church—are often unable to meet that need.
And so, during the most recent HOPEVisiT, Chris set aside a day to meet with 19 local pastors in Yagaba—the central Overseas location of the HOPEVisiT.
During the training conference, Chris set aside time for intentional discussion about the pastors’ biggest difficulties and needs. Meeting the needs of the pastors will be the foundation of the developing training programme Chris is hoping to implement in OM Ghana’s future.
Developing a working relationship with local pastors allows OM Ghana to maximise discipleship. As an interdenominational organisation, OM Ghana can’t 'own' churches themselves, Chris says. But as they plant churches alongside other efforts in The Overseas, Chris is able to come alongside pastors of all denominations. And so he suggested more intentional communication to the local pastors, and they agreed.
“They were very pleased with the idea when I shared it with them, because they are concerned themselves with the need in communities to plant churches,” he says.
For Chris, the pastors’ training programme hearkens back to the reason he even began mission work in the first place: “I realised how handicapped I was when I became a Christian, and was needing more information and materials,” he says.
Through the training, Chris hopes that the unification of churches in the south and north and the best of times will come with pastoral equipping, and that Ghana soon will be known as a top sending country in the world.
Published: Friday, 24 February 2017
Credit: Andrew Fendrich