by Bruce Schoup
Pastor, Peace Congregational Church UCC
Whether they intended it or not, my parents bred into me the mission field, as they were serving as United Church of Christ missionaries in the middle east at my birth. While much of my teenage and adult life has been spent on US soil, the call of the other has always been there, leading me to Ghana for the 1995/96 academic year, where I taught at a small seminary in Peki, and then for two years 2012/14 where I was faculty/staff at a small university in Beirut, Lebanon. When I accepted the call to Peace Church UCC in Clemson as their designated pastor, it was with the understanding that I/we would be developing a ministry plan where I would be spending approximately one month every year in mission. The beginning of August, saw me on a plane back to Ghana for “discernment”.
It had been twenty years since I had been in Ghana. I wondered: what has changed? What hasn’t? Will there be a plan that will excite me AND my congregation that we can develop over the years and that one month a year will be enough time for a viable AND helpful ministry?
And so I arrived, and waited for lost luggage, then another day waiting for a funeral…waiting, patience. This had not changed, despite more paved roads, nicer cars and vehicles. The people I met smiled a lot—this had not changed. More western clothing, but traditional Ghanaian patterns were still evident even though styles had changed slightly. Mobile phones, everywhere—our castoffs—this was a change. And still, people seemed to have time. Slogans, many of which were almost proverb like were still on vehicles. There were fewer mud huts and more concrete block building, and yet the extreme poverty of many people was ever so present. English, the national language, was poorly spoken with limited vocabularies by most people, who preferred to speak in their native dialects. As I visited institutions, I saw that buildings and grounds were by and large improved, and yet the needs continue to be ever so profound. Churches were full. The service I attended on the Sunday I was in Ghana was an English speaking service (7:00 AM), the later service, the main one, was in the local dialect, still had lots of music and a few still danced at offering time. My understanding was that the Ewe dialect service had more music and more dancing. As I visited and learned about new programs, I saw the Evangelical Presbyterian Church nurturing and supporting programs for street children, vocational training, professional domestic help, the elderly, a university (surprisingly this was not encouraged by their Western supporters), and of course their seminary. All fascinating programs but limited in size due to limited budgets.
As I traveled I gave two kinds of gifts away—just because—and which my congregation in Clemson and former one in Schleswig helped to make happen. Soccer balls for children. What a pleasure to put a ball in a child’s hands and say, “enjoy.” Naturally half went to boys and half to girls. A couple LGBTQ books for the Peki Seminary, Library. I also gave out some sewing kits, which I called “for the Mary’s of the World”, another story. I was always welcomed with generosity, grace, hospitality, smiles, and African handshakes. Oh they are wonderful! Always though, the question in my head. Where can I/we engage “in person” and where it might make a difference that a local person could not do better?
I’ve come back to Clemson with an idea, and just sent the initial proposal to the General Moderator of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Ghana and the President of the Evangelical Presbyterian University College in Ho. The main part which would involve others would be to take a small group of educators (and helpers) to Ghana for two weeks. One half to the time to spend experiencing the country and the other half to spend one week at the Evangelical Presbyterian University College where we would create a one week program developing English communications skills—writing, research, speech, etc. — possibly one or two other brief programs depending on the skills brought by participants. This would be non accredited but could help the university professionally prepare their students. If a “go” from the Ghanaian end, our plan is to do much of the developing/networking through a web site called MeetUp.com. I am hopeful. As is true though in Africa, and yes also in the church all over the world, we have to be prepared for things to take longer than planned. Then again, one of the gifts of the African world, they do not need to wait to have every “t” crossed and every “I” dotted to move forward. The church I attended on Sunday in Ghana was under construction twenty years ago. They are now installing ceiling tiles. Through that entire time it has been actively in use.
I’m looking forward to summer 2017 in Ghana.