Rev. Dykstra is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Doon, Iowa.
Early in the morning of January 31 of this year, two delegates of the Foreign Mission Committee [FMC] of the Protestant Reformed Churches stepped off British Airway flight number 79 [London to Accra] in Accra, the capital of Ghana, West Africa. It is impossible fully to describe this moment in print. Mr. Henry Bleyenburg and I, having left the farmland of northwest Iowa some thirty hours earlier, were definitely out of our element in this tropical city of over one million people. We were greeted by [for us] intense heat and high humidity, tight security, bewildering forms to fill out, and a sea of unfamiliar black faces.
Although at the time we were nervous, a bit disconcerted, excited, awed, and not a little afraid of the unknown, we were also quite aware of the significance of our visit. Never before had anyone been sent by the FMC to an African nation. In spite of the fact that many other churches had sent missionaries into this huge continent, we were walking in uncharted territory, not only personally, but for the Protestant Reformed Churches! We were privileged indeed!
If you are wondering why the FMC sent men to this particular country, consider yourself gently chided for not reading the Acts of Synod more carefully. For the FMC has had a long-standing contact with a Mr. Gabriel Anyigba of Ghana for over 20 years! He is part of an independent mission-minded group in Ghana known as the Volta Evangelical Association [VEA]. Gabriel has been receiving and distributing tapes and literature from the ERC for years, and at one point the FMC recommended that he be brought to the US to be trained in the PR Theological School [a request turned down by synod]. In addition, the FMC had other contacts in Ghana, and in fact received more letters from Ghana yearly than from any other country in the world. So last year the FMC decided it was time to visit the country, examine the past work done there, and investigate the possibility of establishing a mission field there. The Synod of 1991 agreed, and the trip was on. The delegates spent nearly three full weeks in Ghana.
The climate of Ghana is hot and humid year around. It does, however, have two distinct seasons – rainy and dry. The rainy seasons are approximately mid-March to June and Sept/Oct through November. The dry seasons are ushered in by the harmattan, a hot, dry northwest wind off the Sahara. Conditions in the far north are severely hot and dry, but were less so near the coast during our stay.
The present government of Ghana, in power since 1981, is led by President J. Rawlings. The government is, as one might expect, very authoritarian, heavy on rules, regulations, paper work, and bureaucracy. But the important thing for our purposes is that the government seems to be quite stable, and no major barriers exist to mission work in the country. Currently a constitution is being written which may lead to a more democratic form of government in the near future.
The Ghanaians are a very friendly people, and they welcomed us everywhere we went. Although the population is almost entirely black, after a week or so we felt very much at home, and often forgot that we were a different race.
We were thankful to notice that the Ghanaian society is much less sexually promiscuous than the U.S.’s society. Additionally, the family structure seems to be quite well established. In the Christian groups we saw that the norm was a [married] father-mother household, although most marry quite late in life because of the poverty.
The living conditions in Ghana vary, depending on where one lives. Outlying villages are primitive, with none of the conveniences we take for granted, even drinkable water in some cases. Living in Accra would be like stepping back 20-30 years from U.S. development.
Ghana is definitely a third-world country, but is trying very hard to catch up with western nations. In fact it has made tremendous strides in the last 10 years. One result of this has been rapid urbanization, i.e., development and growth of cities. Almost the whole population can be divided into three groups:
1. People who both live and work in a city like Accra or Kumasi. These people are one generation from the village. A good wage would be $100 (US) per month, but would not permit much luxury at all. A loaf of bread costs about $.50 (US). Nearly all income must be used for food and shelter.
2. A second group of Ghanaians are those trying desperately to escape the village. Such individuals have their home in a primitive village, and travel to a city to work.
3. The third group consists of those who still live contentedly in a primitive village and farm. It is among these people that the VEA does much of its work, in the Volta Region.
The people of Ghana are definitely divided by tribal differences in culture, language, and attitude. We had contact with three tribes. The largest group is Ashanti. They are found in the Central Region (including Kumasi, the second largest city at 500,000). In earlier centuries they had an empire which included much of Ghana. Their chief still has much respect and power with Ashantis, who are rather proud of their culture and influence.
The Fanti tribe is related to, though distinct from, the Ashantis; it is found in the west and coastal areas.
We had the most contact with people from the Ewa tribe, such as Gabriel. The Ewas have their roots in the Volta Region; on the eastern side of Ghana.
The main contact of the FMC, and thus the main reason for visiting Ghana, was the VEA and Gabriel Anyigba. The VEA arranged most of the details of our stay, and were most helpful and hospitable. We would have been at a total loss without their gracious help.
The VEA is made up of Ewa-speaking people. Thus, while most members of VEA live in Accra, they do most of their work in the Volta Region. They use the Ewa language in their Bible studies and evangelism.
The group is led by the VEA Executive, a group of about 20 people. Most of the members are from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ghana [EPC], but not all. One member of the executive is, in fact, a Pentecostal. The VEA has refused to become the mission arm of any denomination, including the EPC. They support their labors by their own donations.
Our goals were especially two: 1) to learn more about the Ghanaian contacts and 2) to tell them more about us. The schedule that the VEA set up was ideally suited for this. They arranged for two speeches – one on “The Second Coming of Christ” [I gave essentially the same speech as was given at the 1991 YP Convention] and one on “Reformed Theology.” Both were well received and many good questions were asked, especially after the speech on Reformed Theology.
In addition, I was given opportunity to preach twice in Evangelical Presbyterian Churches. This was truly an experience, because the sermons were translated into Ewa – sentence by sentence. The translator, Mr. James Agbeblewu [head of the VEA], was evidently quite capable, but Mr. Bleyenburg will testify to the fact that this is less than ideal, and not an exciting way to preach. The first worship service was only two days after we had arrived in Ghana, and we were still suffering much from culture shock. We worshiped in a covered, open pavilion in the heart of Accra. The sermon preached was on the parable of the sower.
The next Sunday, we worshiped in a village church under a thatch roof. This time the preaching on Daniel 31 went somewhat better, because we were better acclimated to the culture and style of worship.
The VEA also set aside adequate time for discussion. We had many opportunities to exchange views on our doctrines and practices, to discover our points of agreement and difference.
In general, we were kept quite busy by the VEA and by other labors expected by the FMC, visiting as many contacts as we could. Well over 1,000 miles were traveled inside the country.
Space limitations forbid much elaboration on these things, but we found in Ghana a wide variety of beliefs – from Pentecostal to essentially Reformed. We met contacts that could be dismissed after a few minutes of discussion. We met others with a sincere appreciation for the truth and a desire to learn, with whom we had many hours of enjoyable discussion and study. In addition we can say that the seeds of the Reformed truth were sown. The antithetical fruit of this was evident – both love for as well as opposition to the truth.
The goal of any mission work is to establish a field and get missionaries working there. The field in Ghana is not ready for this yet, but this remains the goal of the FMC. The FMC is enthusiastic about the possibility of future labor in Ghana, and has determined to work toward another visit in two years, the Lord willing, assuming that the work with the contacts in Ghana progresses as expected. Until then the FMC is committed to maintaining diligent and steady communication with a number of contacts in Ghana, chiefly with the VEA.
This work of missions in Ghana is exciting for the FMC. It marks a milestone in the history of the PRC. We thank our God for this work. It is our prayer that Christ will continue to open doors for us in Ghana, and give us the grace to be diligent in obeying His command to go out to all the world with the riches of the Reformed faith. Pray for this work!