Monday, August 17, 2009

The Church in Action: Wholistic Ministry as Jesus Intended

See this guy? This my hero. We were privileged to have him speak at our church yesterday and to have him, and his wife Brenda, for lunch in our home. He is one of the greatest Christian leaders of our time, but hardly anyone knows about him because he is the opposite of a self-promoter. We have known David and Brenda for 25 years and they are the real deal.

David Mensah is the Director of twin organizations: Ghana Rural Integrated Development and the Northern Empowerment Association. The NEA is the organization founded by David and a group of his friends, all of whom grew up poor in Ghana, went to the West for higher education and then returned to Ghana to minister to the poorest sector of the country. David's story is incredible and can be read in his autobiography Kwabena: An African Boy's Journey of Faith, which is described here.

He came to Ontario Bible College (now Tyndale University College & Seminary, where I teach) and got a B.Th. He followed it up with an M.Div. from Acadia University (where I was one of his classmates) and then a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto. He married Brenda, an Ontario girl who has become his partner in the incredible ministry they now carry out, and they have three daughters, all of whom are doing graduate studies in development-related areas.

The NEA is a wholistic Christian ministry in an extremely poor Muslim/Animist section of northern Ghana (the population is concentrated in the South). It includes a peanut cooperative for women who would otherwise have no employment, various micoenterprises and cooperatives, fish farming, educational work, well-digging etc. They have a group of women who harvest shea nuts, which are sold to the Body Shop for Shea Butter. This enterprise generates 1.3 million dollars a year for salaries, community development etc. in a very poor region of Ghana. You can read more about their various projects here.

The NEA also plants churches. They usually do development, environmental and peace-making work in an area first and the chiefs watch them at work. Then, only with the approval of the village chief, they go to a village and begin to preach the gospel. This happens during a huge weekend convention featuring hundreds of believers from surrounding villages who come to hear preaching, testimonies and music. Those who believe are organized into a new church and a team of elders/pastors begin to visit regularly. In the last three years the number of churches has grown from 17 to 33, but the major impediment to further growth is the lack of trained leadership for the new churches. Only a few current leaders are able to read and even fewer can read English, which limits their opportunites to attend Bible college. One non-Christian chief recently complained that his village had been skipped, while another village further away was evangelized!

David has never done any real fundraising. He does accept donations, but seldom seeks them out. There are no direct mail appeals and no TV commericals; a few years ago his Canadian board finally got a website up and running. The Canadian organization, GRID, was formed by a few of David's friends who wanted to help. They give regularly and a few churches (including Westney, I'm proud to say) donate as well. All Canadian donations are matched 3:1 by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), which regards the NEA as a model for devlepment work in Africa. However, NEA refuses to take money from the Ghanian government, which they regard as coming with too many strings attached.

Is this organization capitalist or socialist? Is it conservative or liberal? Is it statist or liberertarian? How do you pigeon hole it? The answer is that you can't define it with labels. David is an organic leader; he was recently elected as a chief of his tribe and he is recognized by the people in his region as an honest broker and as above partisan politics. In recent years, peace-making has become a major part of his work.

He is concerned about people - body and soul - and he wants them to be better off in this life and to go to heaven when they die. His theology is conservative, his methodology is pragmatic, his love for his country fervent. As a conservative who is wary of government, he might seem to be an unlikely candidate to be an environmental activist, but that is what he is. He is currently leading the fight against deforestation of the North to satisfy the lumber needs of the South. But he also wants to buy a bulldozer to help dig fish ponds more cheaply than by renting all the time. Some of the projects are co-ops; some are business opportunities for individuals. He is always working toward self-supporting, sustainable projects that leave the people independent of government, independent of foreign aid and independent eventually of David's organization.

Is it any wonder that he literally has a waiting list of villages to be evangelized?

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Sue said...
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