Previous article in this series: January 15, 2022, p. 185.
A third example of the PRCA’s commitment to the three-self formula in foreign missions is her work in Ghana, West Africa.
After many years of contact with individuals in Accra, Kumasi, and some other places in Ghana and according to the reports of several emissaries that visited these contacts in Ghana in the early 1990s, in June 1996 synod approved opening Ghana as a PRCA foreign mission field and the sending of foreign missionaries to Accra, Ghana. Synod appointed Hull (Iowa) PRC as the calling church. Hull PRC called and sent three missionaries to labor in Ghana. The first missionary was Rev. Richard Moore, who with his wife, Mrs. Jannet Moore, served in the work from 1999 to 2002. Rev. and Mrs. Wayne Bekkering served on the field from 2001 to 2005. Rev. and Mrs. Rodney Miersma served in Ghana from 2003 until the field was closed in 2006. Several missionary assistants were sent to help the missionaries in their day-to-day life in that developing country. The mission work was carried out in a sharply cross-cultural and cross-economic setting amongst a population with a religious diversity of 45% traditionally animistic, 43% Christian, and 12% Muslim.
According to Standard Bearer articles on the subject in 1995, the mission work in Ghana was different than the PRCA’s work in Jamaica or in Singapore in its method of entry into the field of labor. What made the method of entry into the Ghanaian field unique, and a first for the PRCA, was that it began with no particular group of believers. When Ghana was approved as a field of labor for PRCA foreign missions, synod was not responding to a Macedonian call to “come over and help us” from a previous existing, core group. Instead, synod approved that the mission work would begin in Accra, Ghana, “with a few committed believers to whom we can preach and give instruction.”1 The intention of synod was that the mission work would be independent of a previously established and un-instituted gathering of believers and their seed, and it would seek the establishment of a church in the city of Accra from whomever would eventually gather under the preaching of the Word. According to the missionary’s reports from Ghana, that was the method implemented at the beginning of the work.
Although the method of entry into Ghana was something new for the PRCA, its stated goal expressed a continuing commitment to the three-self formula. In the decisions of synod to begin their mission work in the capital city of Accra, one of the grounds included a description and an application of the three-self formula to the proposed work in Accra, Ghana. It stated that
[there] is also another principle consideration to be kept in mind. When establishing indigenous churches in a third-world country, the goal that needs to be met is to make these churches self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating. (Cf. the book by John L. Nevius entitled Planting and Development of Missionary Churches.) If we begin a work in a remote village, these three important requirements of an indigenous church will be long in coming. To be self-governing requires men with an education and an ability to read and study the Bible. To be self-supporting requires men who are beyond mere subsistence living. They must have jobs which earn for them enough money to support the church. To be self-propagating there must be a proper family structure in order that the covenant might be continued in the generations of believers, and they must have finances for mission work. This will be able to be achieved more rapidly if a work is begun in the city with families that have an education and employment and children. Most of the contacts we have in the city are educated and self-supporting. To begin our work among these people would place us a step ahead of the work we performed in Jamaica.2
Apparently, the FMC had studied the demographics of those among whom the PRCA labored in Jamaica and of the middle-class people among whom the FMC proposed to labor in the city of Accra. Synod adopted the FMC’s conclusion that the goal of the establishment of a self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating church institute looked optimistic within the city of Accra in comparison to the PRCA’s past mission experience in the hills of the Jamaican field.
When starting a mission work in the fashion the PRCA did in Ghana, one would not expect much discussion about the three-self formula in the work. In fact, references to the three-self formula in the records do not appear until a few years after 1999, when the first missionary began laboring. This absence of specific references was not because the goal had been forgotten, but rather because the first few years of labor involved the gathering and development of contacts and a stable gathering of people in the weekly worship, catechism, and Bible study activities of the mission station.
As far as we can tell, it was not until January 2001 that the missionary in an article in the Standard Bearer mentioned something related to the self-propagating principle. He described the results of the preaching of the Word among members in the mission station in the town of Ashaley Botwe, which is located on the outer fringes of Accra. The missionary reported that “…as God’s children come under the preaching they speak of the Word that they have heard to others, and bring others to come and hear.”3 The periodic newsletters from the field around that time indicate that same activity of the mission members inviting others to the mission station’s Sunday worship services and weekly Bible study.
In February 2002, the missionary reported the need for the training of men for the work of the elders and deacons, and also specific training for the office of the ministry of the Word. In regards to the latter, the missionary reported one particular man, who regularly translated sermons and lectures in the TWI language, that appeared to be suitable for training and the work of the ministry of the Word.
However, two years later in regards to any progress in the development of the mission station towards the goal of an indigenous church, the FMC reported to synod that
there continues to be at this time a lack of men capable to serve in the church offices of a future congregation there. That does not mean there is no potential whatsoever. The missionaries do see potential in the young people and young adults. However, at this time there are only a few who might be ready to be trained to serve as officebearers.4
This information indicated that there was a conscientious desire to monitor the work, to measure the progress of the work, and to labor in the work according to the goal and principle of the three-self formula.
This continuing commitment was evident when, after a year of investigation, the FMC and calling church came to the difficult but realistic conclusion that the mission work needed to be brought to a closure. The conclusion of the FMC’s comprehensive assessment in 2005 was that
the grounds for beginning the labor in the city of Accra…namely, that of establishing a self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating congregation, cannot be fulfilled in the present location of our work.5
In support of that analysis, the FMC noted some errors and factors on the mission field that hindered progress in the mission labors. In regards to the self-support principle, there were errors with the handling of money. In regards to the other two aspects of the three-self formula, the evidence showed that
(1) In the past year there has been a marked decline in the number of those faithfully attending the worship services and Bible studies.
(2) After several years of labor, we are left at present without any men who have shown themselves capable of serving as officebearers.6
Synod agreed with the analysis that there appeared to be no prospect of a self-supporting, self-propagating, and self-governing congregation from our mission labors, and approved the closure of the field.
This example illustrates a conscientious commitment to the three-self formula, even though the Lord led the work toward a painful and disappointing closure for various reasons that He brought to light. This historical example shows an exemplary willingness to self-examine ongoing mission work so that mission work is not being done just for the sake of doing mission work, but rather in faithfulness to the Lord of the harvest. Such self-examination can be undoubtedly painful, especially when errors may come to light. Yet, such examination, in a spirit of transparency before the Lord and a willingness to learn and, if necessary, to reform, is necessary for an ongoing commitment to the three-self formula in obedience to the Lord of the harvest.
In the next article, we will look at one more example of the three-self formula in the involvement of the PRCA—its mission work in the Philippines.
1 PRCA Acts of Synod 1996, Art. 70, p. 3. 2 PRCA Acts 1996, Art. 70, p. 2. 3 R. Moore, “From the Mission House in Ghana,” Standard Bearer (Vol. 77), 159. 4 PRCA Acts of Synod 2004, Suppl. 22, I, A, 4, p. 169. 5 PRCA Acts of Synod 2005, Art. 45, pp. 44-46. 6 PRCA Acts 2005, Art. 45, c, (2), p. 45.