Trip to Ghana puts missionaries in the midst of the poor
NORTHERN GHANA—Sometimes we don’t realize just how good we have it. We moan and complain about things like having a truck that takes up too much gas, having an air-conditioning bill that’s way too high, or having to pay crazy amounts of money to get an education, just so we can complain about getting a job that isn’t paying us enough.
From Aug. 6-17, two of the staff at the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) went to a land where they don’t have big, gas-guzzling Chevy trucks to help get them around, an abundance of air conditioning, opportunities to receive an education, or jobs with health insurance and other benefits.
MBC Partnership Missions Specialist Norm Howell and his wife, Karen, who works part-time as a Cooperative Program / Biblical Stewardship Ministry Assistant, traveled to Africa.
The Howells went on a mission trip into the “bush” of northern Ghana, called “The Upper Northern Regions.” Chadd Pendergraft, pastor of Splitlog Baptist Church, and his worship leader, Stephen Shaddox, accompanied them on this church-planting trip. This was a follow-up of last year’s trip that Howell went on with Missouri Baptist Pastor Keith Vawter. On that trip, Howell and Vawter helped plant two churches.
“The people are very poor, rural farmers that grow peanuts and yams,” Norm Howell said. “Most of the villages have no electricity and no water, meaning in some areas people would have to walk as far as four to five miles for drinking water.”
Sometimes people in Ghana give their only chicken and yams to feed their new guests.
“It was very humbling,” Howell said, “and I was reminded of what Jesus Christ said when He said that ‘you will always have the poor with you.’”
Since it was essentially impossible to live exactly as the natives of Ghana did, the Howells were placed in a small facility for their stay.
“Karen and I always want to be in a ‘cutting edge’ ministry, where we can be involved in the sowing of the Gospel seed, watering, and yes, the harvest of souls,” Howell said when asked about the living conditions, both physical and spiritual, in Ghana.
Although they had a roof over their heads with electricity and even air conditioning, they still had no hot water for showers, which meant they had to bathe with cold water. This was how they started a normal day. They then went to the home of the national pastor, Mustapha, for breakfast.
“Every day would start off with a cold bath,” Karen Howell said. “After that we would get in a vehicle and drive to other villages on unpaved, rough roads. Sometimes we’d visit other believers, while at other times we’d go to villages not yet reached with the Gospel and go directly to the chief to ask him if we could share with the people.”
“We were there during the rainy season,” he said, referring to the time roughly from June through September. “This made the roads muddy and at times difficult to travel.”
But it never stopped the spreading of the word of God among the people who were described as having open hearts and ears to hear.
“On one occasion, Pastor Chad Pendergraft and myself baptized a group of believers in a swamp,” Norm Howell said. “They were upset when they couldn’t find a place to get baptized, because the river had flooded. They thought that we would not be able to baptize them. Some were even crying! (But) when the local pastor suggested the swamp, we agreed that it would work.
“We walked about four miles to get there, then walked in the swamp for about 10 minutes. The entire church walked with us to the swamp in order to witness their brothers and sisters follow Jesus in believer’s baptism. It was absolutely incredible to see their love for Jesus.”
In the United States, which is filled with conveniences, it would be rare to find individuals so dedicated to the Word that they would hike though mud- and insect-infested swamps just to see a simple act of obedience to the Lord.
While in Ghana, Pastor Mustapha set up something that was new to the women of the northern region of Ghana. He helped organize their first-ever Christian women’s conference. Karen Howell was able to speak at the conference.
“They were so excited and encouraged when I was able to tell them about the different roles of women in the Bible, and they had no idea how significant their roles as women were in impacting God’s kingdom,” she said. “Being hungry to learn about God’s plan for their lives, they were eager to put into practice what they had learned.”
“So many people don’t get the chance to see what I saw,” he said. “I feel privileged to have seen the harvest. I know what it looks like. Every time I turned the corner someone wanted me to preach.”
The people of Ghana are a very celebratory people, which is evident in all that they do.
“When we would enter a village, the entire village would gather to hear us preach,” said Pendergraft. “One day when we gave the invitation at the end, the entire village got saved!”
Examining the intent of that collective decision, Pastor Mustapha asked some confirming and convicting questions to the entire village. The result was that they understood. In fact, they were so excited that they began clapping, singing and dancing.
“We got the opportunity to harvest the fruit from the seed planted many days, months or even years before,” Norm Howell said. “Pastor Chadd Pendergraft is leading a church that wants to do Kingdom work. He is planning on sending two teams a year to work in Ghana and help with a church planting movement that will harvest thousands of souls for the kingdom of God.”
Pendergraft went to Ghana with a simple goal of just getting an idea about what was happening there. It turned into much, much more than that.
“I am not looking for churches that want to take a one-time trip so they can say, ‘Look what we did!’” Howell said. “I am trying to connect churches in places where they will plant their feet for three to five years and make a difference for the kingdom of God.”