Kurt and I took a team of six (Sarah Boles, Laura
Duke, Chris Goodman, and Paul Sheeran) to Northern Ghana, July 25 – August 4,
to do five days of discipleship training with 30+ church leaders. Southeast Christian Church sponsored us. We had
planned to go in February, but Ebola delayed us. Looking back, we’re happy that
we went in July, since that’s the coolest time of the year for them—with highs
in the upper 80s and lows in the lower 70s (cooler than Louisville!). Of
course, there’s not much A/C, so it’s still tough sledding, but the sledding is
probably easiest then!
After flying from Amsterdam into the capital city of
Accra, we avoided a 5-8 hour van ride by taking a 45-minute flight to Tamale (a
city of about 300K people; the center of Northern Ghana). We stayed in a
village north of Tamale—in the compound run by Bob and Bonnie Parker’s Seed
Ministries. From there, each morning, we traveled about 45 minutes north by van
to a training center in the town of Savelugu.
We had met Francis Bukachi more than a year earlier
through Charlie Vittitow in Missions at Southeast. As Charlie hoped and anticipated,
the three of us had an immediate connection. Francis left ministry in Kenya
with Life in Abundance (LIA) about eight years ago (with their blessing). Continuing
LIA’s focus on empowering people, he has built a team on the ground in Northern
Ghana—a ministry called Hope Alive Initiatives (HAI). They have a range of
efforts to empower: schools, economic development, medical, dentistry, vision,
evangelism and discipleship.
Although we discussed a number of topics with the
church leaders, our focus was on making disciple-makers and how to implement DC: Thoroughly Equipped or DC for Students: Getting Equipped. Given
HAI’s focus on empowering people—and in particular, empowering people to
empower others—DC is a natural fit. (We worked with their subset of
English-speaking church leaders. They can take DC directly to their English-speaking
members. And the translation efforts of Seed Ministries with “DC for Students”,
already well underway, will help with the use of DC in other native languages.)
Our primary goal in DC is to make disciple-makers. (The
Great Commission calls us to “make disciples”, but if you read between the
lines, a “disciple” is someone who can himself make disciples. See: the
“multiplication ministry” of II Timothy 2:2 and Joel 1:3.) In the Church, it’s
common to give lip service to the importance of discipleship while treating it
lightly—as a church and/or as believers. Churches often provide (exceedingly) modest
opportunities to be discipled—typically relying on relatively passive
absorption of information (through sermons or lecturing in a “teaching”
context), calls to serve within the church, and encouragement to reach out to
Of course, all of these are good activities. But they
aim at some fruit of being a disciple, rather than addressing the roots of
discipleship and why it is often so limited. Beyond robust discipleship, it’s
rare to find a church that has a vision and a plan to make disciple-makers who
can make other disciple-makers. As such, the usual approaches to “discipleship”
are neither all that effective nor consistent with the ministry practices of Jesus.
Work: Training the Trainers
On Monday, Sarah and Laura opened with “our Identity
in Christ”. If you don’t understand your identity, then you’re unlikely to get
much of what God has for you. Along those lines, Paul spends the first half of
Ephesians on this topic, before the pivot verse of 4:1—to live a life worthy of
the calling one has received (in those first three chapters). Again, we often
focus on the exciting categories and tangible action steps of Ephesians 4-6, without
understanding our identity. Putting it another way, Paul starts with our
resources in Christ before moving to our responsibilities in Christ. If we
don’t do the same, we will not bear much fruit.
Later on Monday, Kurt segued to Spiritual Warfare—in particular, how Satan
attacks our identity in Christ. Kurt continued with the broader topic on
Tuesday, before handing off to Paul who went through Neil Anderson’s “Freedom
Appointment” booklet. Spiritual warfare is probably less prevalent and is
certainly underestimated in the U.S. But it’s much more obvious in
less-developed countries, particularly where various forms of pagan religion
invite more trouble. We heard a number of cool and chilling stories—and saw a
few things—when we were in Ghana.
On Wednesday, we divided into three co-led small groups and did a simulation of
the “Managing Conflict” week in DC201. Many of the participants had prepared
the material already. So we treated it as both an op to illustrate how DC works
and to discuss an important topic. In the afternoon, Kurt and I covered our
version of Dann Spader’s “Four Chairs” model (e.g., chair 2 is usually a couch;
and the big gaps between the first three chairs) and our first DC training
session (on the importance of “shoulder-tapping”, the need to “just say no”,
the vitality of continued personal growth, the usefulness of goals, the
importance of “shepherding” within all small groups, etc.)
On Thursday, Chris opened with a discussion of
principles in hermeneutics. And then I led the full group through a thorough
discussion of Genesis 3, covering ways to read and teach the Bible more
effectively. In the afternoon, we went back to small groups for another
simulation (“Intro to Leadership” in DC202).
On Friday morning, we used material from four weeks of
DC201-202 to discuss stewardship and marriage in our small groups. In the
afternoon, Kurt and I returned to the topic of making disciple-makers;
revisited the topic of unity; and closed with a small group exercise where
churches made plans to implement DC in some form (to be encouraged and held
accountable by Francis’ team).
The daily schedule was 9:00ish until 3:00—with opening
comments and a prayer from Pastor Immanuel (who runs the training center, pastors
a nearby church, and is a part of the HAI team); Isaak led worship with three
or four songs; we trained for an AM session; had lunch; one worship song to
bring us back; trained for an afternoon session; and closed with comments,
announcements, and prayer. (As an aside, it's interesting that when the group prayed, it was always out loud. Very cool!)
After the five days of training with the 30+ church
leaders, we had a meeting on Saturday afternoon with the HAI team leaders. We
talked further about making disciple-makers and learned about their team’s
structure. More important, we heard some of their stories—on life, ministry,
and how things had changed with the HAI training. It was great to hear about
Samson’s work in developing schools and Mordecai’s broad efforts to help the
ministry. Zak’s story about being chased out of Mali by gunfire as a missionary—and
the long recovery for him and his family—was compelling and encouraging. And
Immanuel’s story of transformation in ministry—from mostly a Sunday-only,
“spiritual” approach to something much more holistic, including economic
development (for him and his people) was impressive.
On Sunday AM, five of the seven of us (including
Francis) preached at local churches. From a human perspective, the assignments
were random. I was given Yong—a small, largely-Christian village east of
Savelugu. They had a light rain that morning, so their usual “Sunday School”
was disrupted. People were slow to gather; we arrived about 15 minutes before
the service and only one man was there. He showed me their new church building under
construction. It was about six times larger. Given the light attendance, I was
wondering why they would want that!
But by the time we started, we had 50 in
attendance—moving toward crowded—with 47 men and 3 women. (I was thinking that
the men were more spiritual, but was told afterwards that the women were still
working in the home! More later on the importance and baggage of cultural
influences.) Halfway into the worship music, we were at capacity (and beyond)
with about 110 adults. (I learned later that two children’s groups of about 50
kids and four adult leaders were meeting elsewhere.) There was no room in there
to do more than sit/stand—no dancing, in particular—so one might wonder how
that will impact their practices going forward.
It was really warm in there—even on a relatively cool
day. Sweat had beaded up on my arms—even before I started to preach! I had a
translator. (It’s a bit disruptive, but I also like that it gives me more time
to collect my thoughts.) Before the trip, the Lord had given me the message
from Revelation 3:7-13—the “open doors” for the church at Philadelphia. Going
into it, I was excited to learn that Yong had the most “open doors” of the five
sermon ops—given their two schools, dental clinic, and emerging vison
clinic—even though they’re only in a small village. I was able to share the
Gospel’s salvation message twice. But the best of the good news was probably the
opportunity to encourage the believers there about their “open doors”. This led
to the most powerful moment of the morning for me—when I broke down at the
amazing thought of God sending me on four airplanes to a remote village to
deliver this encouraging message! After 30-40 seconds, the translators led them
in a song for a few minutes while I got my act back together.
There were a number of interesting small
--We had four women in the training, including one who breast-fed
often. I was sitting next to her the first time it happened and got a
surprising eyeful when I turned to my right. After that, it was funny to see
the little girl often trying to pull down her mom’s top!
--We had to deal with
the heat; we had ceiling fans, but without A/C, it got tough at times.
groups, we had some interference from passing children, wandering goats, and the
brays of an occasional donkey.
--One of the Elisha’s had such a beautiful smile.
Thomas was quite a character—and it was fun to see him (and Zak) dance.
handshakes varied widely—from straight up to the fancy stuff I learned from a North
African 25 years ago. It was difficult to predict/remember what each person
wanted to do!
--Some of them traveled 3-6 hours to get to Savelugu (and stayed with
friends locally). And given the roads, everyone had to travel 10-45 minutes
--The worship was fun and inspirational. And at the end, we were surprised
to get “some shine” from Zak—everybody rubbing his hands together vigorously
before shooting one hand off the other, away from their body.
All of those were a smile, but I want to focus on some larger details from the training
time. First, to the primary point of our trip/training: to make disciple-makers
requires vision, a viable plan, and reasonable execution of the plan. In the
U.S., most church leaders will give at least lip service to “discipleship”. But
only some have a vision for any sort of robust discipleship—or more to the
point, a vision for making disciple-makers and training up competent
lay-leaders. Of those with a vision, few have a viable plan. But then the good
news: For those with a vision and a plan, execution of the plan presents
challenges, but is usually accomplished in some substantive form.
In Ghana, they might be better on the first two steps.
(I’m not sure; my sample size is too small to say!) But the last step is more
difficult, culturally, for them. “Getting things done” is (far) more American
than Ghanaian. Thankfully, HAI focuses on that challenge through various forms
of exhortation, encouragement, and accountability/follow-up.
Second, when we arrived, we learned that some of the
HAI-trained churches are wrestling with a significant organizational issue
which has threatened their unity. It was providential that we were there at this
time—and to talk about “managing conflict” during our time together. We saw
many reasons for hope—from the general dialogue we had with them to the
character and faith of those with whom we worked. We trust that the Lord will
continue to work in this matter. And we pray for our brothers and sisters in
Christ that they would practice humility, patience, “bearing with one another”,
and mutual submission as they work through the details.
Third, the intersection with Islam in Northern Ghana
is an important feature of life there. The population is about 80% Muslim (although
many of them are “cultural” Muslims). There are small mosques sprinkled every
half-mile or so in villages, towns and the city. One of the team leaders is a
former Muslim (with some fascinating stories). That said, (most?) everyone
seems to get along well. Everybody was at least neutral and generally friendly;
kids and especially women often waved at us and started/returned smiles and
waves; Muslim children go to Christian schools; and so on. Occasionally, we
heard about tension. For example, we were told not to walk as a group to a
nearby village, because a group of white people would be assumed to be
Christians actively evangelizing. And the Christian leaders are concerned about
Boko Haram coming into Ghana.
Fourth, empowerment is a big issue for HAI—not just lip
service or run-of-the-mill empowerment, but empowering people to empower
others. In their language, they have “training of trainers” (TOT) to that end.
In DC language, we want to move beyond making disciples to making
disciple-makers. Or in popular language, we want to move beyond giving a man a
fish—and even, teaching a man to fish—to teaching him how to teach others to
fish. This focus on empowerment extends to all aspects of their ministry,
including economic development.
For example, it’s common for Ghanaians outside the
city to be productive in the six-month wet season—and to save resources to
survive the six-month hot, dry season. They often settle into a cycle: six
months of work and six months of sitting under a tree. It’s a challenge to get
them to think longer-term—say, to save more than what they need for the six dry
months. Ideally, they would try to save and accumulate productive capital—say,
a goat or two.
Pastor Yuba has done this, accumulating some goats and
a few sheep—and most recently, his first pig (which gave birth recently to
eight piglets!). Pastors are prone to want to depend on their congregation for
support, but that’s really difficult in a less-developed country. (I don’t
think anyone gave even the smallest currency [5 ceti] in the church offering at
Yong—what would be less than $1.50 for us.) Instead, HAI encourages the pastors
to provide for themselves, avoiding dependency and modeling a better life for
their “flock”. (As an aside, it was interesting that one of our review memory
verses for our DC simulations happened to be I Thessalonians 4:11-12!)
Fifth, the cultural influences were noteworthy; and some
were quite obvious. (I’m sure ours are noteworthy as well, but since we’re
immersed in them, can we see them?!) One of the obvious “surface” effects was “tribal
markings”—various marks carved into the faces of the people, particularly the
men. More important, tribe, culture, and family had an important impact on thoughts
about work, marriage and family dynamics, etc. Geographic constraints, legal
institutions, and economic (dis)incentives added to the mix. In that context,
the church leaders definitely saw the vital need for Christian/biblical discipleship
to combat the cultural errors—particularly in marriage and stewardship.
for us in Ghana: The Small Things
During the training, our daily routine was a light
breakfast at 7, the van ride to the training center, the training from 9-3, the
ride back, a debrief and whatever we needed to do to tweak our plans for the
next day, an early dinner at 5—and then walk, study, and/or play games
(Splendor, Dominion, and Bridge) until bedtime.
We had a number of inside jokes. Paul became “P-Diddy”
after wearing his baseball hat sideways. Laura “looked refreshed” once—and then
frequently after that. Eric and especially Kurt had trouble at the airport with
giving tips to some of the people trying to “help” us at the airport with our luggage.
In the trainings, all of us had trouble in avoiding idioms. I don’t know if
Kurt struggled more or we just gave him more of a hard time. But I think our
favorite was his use of “throwing them a curveball”.
We were well-fed. At Seed Ministries, we ate in a
lovely gazebo and the meals were brought on a wagon constructed from a large tray
on top of two large bike wheels with two long handles. For breakfast, we had
some combination of eggs, oatmeal, bread & jelly, biscuits & gravy, and
fruit. They packed us a lunch each day: a delicious egg sandwich on toast one day
and a chicken pastry another day. But usually, it was PB or cheese sandwiches.
For dinner, we had fruit and/or veggies and a starch, with a main dish of ground
nut soup (twice; excellent!), spaghetti, veggie soup, chicken & dumplings,
or roast chicken. The little bananas were good. But the mangoes were awesome; I
couldn’t get enough. To drink, we had fruit juice, lime-aid, tea and coffee. And
always, we had access to bags of water. I think we only had dessert one night,
but it was special: pineapple and home-made ice cream served inside the
The compound was surprisingly nice—maybe a half-notch
below my in-laws’ lake house. It had AC and every two people shared a small but
complete bathroom. We took cool showers, but their staff even did our laundry!
Kurt had to deal with a roof leak the first night with a heavy rain, but
otherwise, it was far nicer than we had expected. (And although very impressive
to build such a great facility in that setting, it was relatively inexpensive in
terms of money.) The compound was home to many of the birds we saw; it was one
place where they were safe. (They’re often hunted for food; no property rights can
be exerted! And they’re seen as a nuisance, since they eat the rice heads.)
There was a baobab (?) tree with pods that yielded a sweet-tasting substance.
The Parker’s ministry is called Seed Ministries and they do many things, the
largest of which is equivalent to our “Bible Bowl”, with thousands of kids.
They have been implementing “DC for Students” over the past six months, working
to translate it into eight different languages.
Given the nice facilities, we slept well. Early AM,
our sleep was often disrupted by the Muslim calls to prayer and a few roosters.
But usually, we went back to sleep easily enough. I don’t think we experienced
jet lag per se. The trip over there jacked up our sleep pretty well. We were four
hours “ahead”, but we got tired a few hours after their early sunset (6:30ish)—when
it was mid-afternoon back home. Since I’ve gotten home, I’ve been more tired
than normal. But our family went to two drive-in movies on Friday night before
a Saturday AM DC training session, so maybe that explains my fatigue!
Sunday afternoon, we got to see an Assemblies of God
ministry baptize about 25 young adults in the baptistery at Seed Ministries.
Very cool! It was interesting to think that many of them were being submerged
in water for the first time in their lives!
The Ghanaians were very well and brightly dressed. We
only saw a handful of men and women with Western dress and hair—and as a
result, they stood out quite a bit.
The animals: tons of goats; some sheep and cows; a
handful of donkeys; many chickens and guineas; in some place, many bats but few
birds; only a few horses, cats or dogs. Insects? We were worried about
mosquitoes, but they weren’t much of a problem (at least vs. all of our
defenses and God’s protection!). There were tons of flies. The termite mounds
were impressive, but there were only a few wasps. (I don’t remember any bees.)
The roads ranged in quality. We had some rough dirt
roads for assorted short drives, including the last mile getting to the
compound. We generally had decent paved roads, but there were many and varied
vehicles on the road (from bikes, mopeds and motorcycles to buses and trucks)
and lots of people and animals on the shoulder. The varying speeds led to
Puerto-Rico-like driving conditions—with a number of pulse-enhancing efforts to
pass other vehicles. There were also potholes, speed bumps, numerous villages,
and checkpoints to slow you down as well. By far, the easiest drive we had was
on the new roads toward Yong (another one of their open doors). There was
“nothing out that way”. So we were able to get above 60 MPH for the only time
on the trip! One last thing: few people bother learning how to drive in Ghana,
since few of them will have the opportunity to drive a car anytime soon—aside
from the few wealthy people or those who drive professionally (taxis or drivers
The landscape was similar to rural Alabama, at least
in the wet season—lots of rich greens and deep red clays. Along the roads,
there were expansive gas stations, lots of fields (many with walls to mark
their [largely unimproved] territory), modest fences (but sufficient to keep
the goats out). We saw some amazing feats of transport, including four couches
and a guy on the back of a motorized cart. Women and girls (and some younger
men) often carried impressive loads on their heads. Small children carried
smaller children. There were tons of little shops, selling everything from food
to water, from doors to bricks, from spare tires to furniture and clothing.
As for travel, Delta had a hilarious safety video. (I
watched it twice. Can you imagine it would need to be?!) But we had some
trouble getting our boarding passes. There had been a severe weather incident
in Amsterdam the day before our arrival that disrupted flights. This prevented
us from getting boarding passes without standing in the slowest (four-hour)
line in the history of the world! (Fortunately, they brought us food and water
while we waited in line!) The airport in Accra was tumultuous, leading to some
difficulties with locals “helping” us and wanting “tips”. At the much smaller
airport in Tamale, things were much easier. The entertainment options on the
planes were many and diverse. Among the 100+ movies available, I watched Argo
again and caught “The China Syndrome” (a classic and really good) for the first
We visited the market in Tamale on Saturday AM. It was
crowded and crazy—the sort of thing you see in the movies. There was food
everywhere—from fresh veggies and clothing to sun-dried fish and sides of beef
with flies all over. We were advised to wait until we got to the “cultural
center” to make our purchases. It was much calmer there with a lot more room to
move. We were told that we would get to haggle a lot, but there was a lot less
than advertised. Still, the prices were good. So, I bought two backpacks, three
shirts, and a duffel bag (all beautiful/colorful), an over-the-shoulder leather
satchel for Daniel’s bike-riding, and a popular wooden carving of the Trinity
(three interlocked persons in one piece of wood).
In Accra on Monday, there wasn’t a full-blown market,
but lots of street-level vendors in front of established stores. I’d spent most
of the money I had allotted and had already bought gifts for everybody, so I
was still looking but implicitly driving harder bargains. For $5 each, I picked
up a “Jesus Saves” soccer ball with the Ghanaian flag’s colors and a
rectangular painting on some sort of vinyl (its reference to fisher-men and its
exhortation against “laziness” will remind me of the trip). We also went into a
really nice, American-style grocery store and hung out on the beach for a few
hours (at a resort in-town where our driver knew the people).
One last thing: when we were there, I was focused on
the trip. At one point, I felt bad for not missing Tonia and the boys. To some
extent, I knew that I needed to focus on the trip. But the larger issue is that
if I indulged many thoughts about home, I would inevitably start thinking about
all of the things I would need to do when I got home—and that wouldn’t be
helpful to my state of mind there or the nourishment I would receive by fasting
from American things while I was there. Once the trip was over and I turned my
thoughts toward home, I missed them badly and was so thankful to see them
Thanks to Francis for his vision and leadership; it was a pleasure to work with such a wise and humble man. Thanks to his team on the ground in Ghana for their support and their ministry. Thanks to Bob and Bonnie Parker for their hospitality and their ministry in Ghana. Thanks to everyone who provided financial and prayer support. Thanks to Southeast which underwrote a significant part of the trip's expense. Thanks to the Missions Dept at Southeast for their wisdom and support. And thanks to the terrific team of DC'ers we took to Ghana!To God be the glory for this trip. We had a great time
and we think we made an impact. But only time will tell—and only God will know
the extent. We know that we were faithful to our calling/mission and we have
high hopes for disciple-making in Ghana. May they have the vision for
disciple-making, may they have a viable plan, and may they persevere in
executing it—for the glory of God and the growth of His Kingdom.