Reggie Warren visits with members of a village in Ghana, a west African, sub-Saharan nation. (Photo provided by BGAV)
Riches and poverty have been on my mind following a recent missional trip to Ghana.
This west African nation is a sub-Saharan, impoverished, largely undeveloped country that is multilingual and multireligious. It is hot with lengthy wet and dry seasons.
Ghana is poor in many ways, less corrupt and freer than many African nations, devoid of any major evident religious conflict and rich in many important ways.
I describe it as the opposite of the U.S. in key areas - much of my homeland seeming materially rich and spiritually bankrupt, and Ghana seeming to be the opposite.
As background, the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV) has a partnership with the Ghana Baptist Convention.
The primary goals are, first, to start almost 500 Baptist churches in the towns and villages of the Yendi region in northeast Ghana. Second, we hope to distribute and install 100,000 mosquito nets in homes in those villages under which people can sleep.
These chemically treated nets are designed to reduce mosquito bites and accompanying malaria. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 200 million cases occur annually.
Between 500,000 and 750,000 people die of the disease each year, many of them children in Africa. The nets are documented to reduce that number substantially.
Four laypersons and four pastors from the Appomattox area of Virginia went in late January and early February.
Our host was Emmanuel Mustapha (nicknamed "Muss" and pronounced "Moose"), founder and director of the Global Missions Resource Center in Yendi, the main city of the region.
He is sold out to the gospel, to church planting and to loving the people of Ghana. He has survived more than 100 bouts with malaria and has lost two children to the disease.
"Muss" is an energetic, charismatic, driven leader; he is a gifted administrator, visionary and preacher. He knows the people, and I was awed by his work for more than a week as we strove to reach the goals.
The process was fairly simple. With some preliminary contacts having been made with interpreters and some villagers, we would go to a given village and ask the "chief" for the right to talk with the people.
If given permission, the people would come from their houses (huts) and meet at a central outside place.
Most people we visited live in one-room mud huts with grass roofs, having no furniture, sleeping on the floor, cooking outside and materially subsisting.
After being led in songs by an interpreter, one of our team would share the message of Christ and an invitation would be given.
Decisions were made collectively rather than individually. If the leaders accepted the word, the community did and vice versa.
If there was a positive response, the new "church" would select leaders from among themselves to work with one of the area church planters who received prior training from Muss and other leaders.
Over time, the new church is provided a Bible and a drum and may be assisted in the construction of a crude building.
Each of the new leaders, as well as those who chose to come to church, go through a discipleship process before being offered the invitation for baptism.
This helps ensure that those making the initial decision to follow Christ do so for themselves and not as part of the community.
All these were key steps to the establishment of the church and the sense on the part of the village that God had come to be there permanently.
Embarrassed, I admit to going with some misgivings born of age and some heartbreak over some mission experiences and information.
Some mission groups claim more conversions and "success" than are real, while others seem to do good Christian deeds without majoring on sharing Christ in word.
Currently, we are aware of cutbacks in many mission-sending and mission-doing organizations due to shortages of money and person-power.
My hope was that we would preach and teach the Christ of Scripture as well as do the works that he did.
I studied the works of Walter Rauschenbusch in college. Considered to be the "father of the social gospel," he considered doing good deeds without preaching personal salvation as empty as preaching personal salvation without making a social difference.
I wanted to be sure that the distribution of the mosquito nets was in no way dependent on the starting of churches and ensuing baptisms. In fact, I asked if that was the case.
"Muss" assured me that the nets and church starts were only marginally connected.
The connection goes like this: Once a church is formed, the village leaders are asked if the nets can be brought and installed. If given the go-ahead, the nets are brought free of charge in any home where they are allowed.
It is significant that many of the villages - however remote and backward they may seem by Western standards - have Christian, Muslim and "Traditionalist" religions living side by side.
Traditionalists are those, usually older tribe members, who hold to a "traditional" religion that is often polytheistic, believes in spirits, is oral rather than scriptural, venerates ancestors, uses magic and eschews modern medicine.
That coexistence could rightly be repeated by much of the world.
The trip was transformational for me. I have been on a few mission trips.
Recently, I went through part of Ghana. Along the way, Ghana went through me. I hope to say more about that later.
Reggie Warren is pastor of Union Hill Baptist Church in Brookneal, Virginia, and a former member of the board of directors of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
Editor's note: This is the first in a series of articles highlighting mission initiatives of local churches and denominational organizations.