The article overviews a fifteen-year partnership between a Ghanaian and a North American congregation. The reflection provides a model for partnership based upon a structured proposal and considers five lessons learned from the experience.
The evangelistic partnership between the Nsawam Road church in Accra, Ghana, and the North Boulevard church in Murfreesboro, TN, emerged when several components converged. First, in the 1990s, workers in Ivory Coast had developed a number of contacts in Bamako, the capital of Mali, Africa, through French Bible correspondence courses and visits. Sustained follow-up was needed. Second, at the 1999 World Missions Workshop hosted by Oklahoma Christian University, Doyle Kee, long a worker in French-speaking Europe and beyond, approached me looking for a good church to take the lead in evangelizing in Mali. He suggested supporting three West African preachers at a school-teacher’s wage and furnishing each a motorbike for transportation. Third, most seasoned missionaries and readers of missionary research are aware of the numerous risks involved in direct financial support from one country to national workers in another country, so an alternative arrangement was sought. Surely some way existed for North American churches to steward their wealth so that it helps the kingdom rather than harms it. Fourth, by that time I had met Samuel Twumasi-Ankrah and learned something about the Nsawam Road church (approximately 1,400 members with impressive elders) in Accra, Ghana, and its history of sending out missionaries both nationally and in neighboring English-speaking countries. Fifth, this led to my developing a proposal that involved a North American church’s financial and spiritual support with the management or shepherding of the work by a West African church.
Samuel Twumasi felt the Nsawam Road (NR) elders would give serious consideration to working in a French-speaking, predominately Muslim country. With that in mind, I wrote up a proposal for the initial consideration of Samuel and the North Boulevard (NB) missions committee. Since the proposal was favorably received, slight alterations were made, and it was sent to the elders of the Nsawam Road church. Initially, the proposal assumed in principle that Nsawam Road should provide partial financial support, but when the proposal was made the Accra congregation was already fully committed to various ministries: evangelizing, helping refugees from Liberia, liaison with the government for water well drilling, and so forth. As developed, therefore, the proposal stated that North Boulevard would provide
all of the financial support, part of the prayer support, and limited personal contact with the Nsawam Road church; and that the Nsawam Road church select the appropriate personnel, decide on a just financial support level for the evangelists and their families, administer any working funds, supervise and evaluate the workers, and eventually bring the work to a conclusion.
The proposal had focus:
We have in mind the financial support of these workers until such time as they establish several growing churches which can take up their support. In other words, we do not have in mind to continue support of the evangelists and their families unless they and we (NB and NR churches) agree upon their going to new territories to repeat the same process. It is not our intention, because we feel it unhealthy, for new churches to have someone at a distance provide support for preachers (like Samuel Twumasi-Ankrah, your preacher) for their work with churches large enough to provide their support.
The intention was to teach churches from the beginning to accept financial responsibility as a part of their development.
The proposal also included the use of a working agreement or ministry covenant between Nsawam Road and the workers, spelling out precisely what they were to undertake in the initial stages of their work. A similar agreement was to exist between North Boulevard and Nsawam Road for the sake of clarity and understanding.
Worker Selection and Initial Work
The NR elders accepted the three families proposed by Doyle Kee and brought them to Accra to establish relationships. Those families spoke French and came from three different countries: Benin, Ivory Coast, and Ghana. Two of the families had attended the same Bible training school. Their assignment was to work as a team for evangelization and church planting in the capital city.
Contacts for study were easily made, even among Muslims, and all three evangelists seemed to be competent in teaching. It did not work out, however, for the three families to live in the same large living quarters. There were too many differences, some cultural and some personal. Besides, serious efforts had not been made in team-building among the three families. Africans, like many North Americans, do not easily and automatically become life-sharing teams, especially when they come from different tribes. Because Bamako’s nearly two million inhabitants populated a large area and its public transportation was poor, the evangelists decided to have two assemblies and divide their work geographically. That decision further hampered a team effort, but conversions to Christ continued. Bamako was being evangelized. Peter Ofori of Ghana began a radio broadcast with World Radio, a work that continues.
In time, the group noticed that many of their contacts were located in Kati on the outskirts of Bamako. It was a developing area that seemed to hold great promise. Thus, one of the evangelists decided to move there to work. It was not a group decision, but the NR elders approved it after considering the situation. It proved to be a good move, and the congregation has grown both numerically and structurally. Several conversions were realized, and among them were several siblings who had good jobs with entities like the United Nations and local businesses. People with leadership potential became believers.
While the three evangelists knew their financial support was coming from a North American church (deposited into a Mali bank account), they had to learn that the administration and direction of the work was to come from Accra. Time and again, the workers had to be told to discuss matters with the Nsawam Road elders. Having that arrangement prevented many of the classic blunders in cross-cultural relationships between foreign supporters and national workers.
One evangelist had to be sent back to his home country because of morals and money problems. The problem was discussed in Mali when representatives from both churches met for a scheduled evaluation. Subsequently, the NR elders brought the brother down to Ghana, spent several days with him, and eventually decided he was not ready for that work. NB was happy for NR to handle the matter, and they did so with wisdom and justice superior to what any congregation in North America could have done.
The work undertaken by this partnership has been going about fifteen years (2000–2015). The relationships between the partnering congregations have been pleasant and fruitful, even though at times they had different perspectives. According to the initial proposal/agreement, representatives from both churches jointly engaged in evaluations of the work and revised “job descriptions.” Currently, there are six congregations in and around Bamako that are maturing in an encouraging manner—happy results in a predominately Muslim country. Additional workers have moved in to help. A Congolese family works with 200 children in five villages on one afternoon per week. A new worker from Ghana is now teaching rhetoric in English (for translators) on Saturdays at a local University, using the Bible and other works with about 40 graduate students who are Muslims.
What have the two churches learned about partnership in global evangelizing?
- This has been a fruitful partnership. The six congregations are growing, though at different levels; the numerical growth varies and the nature of the members varies with the location of the work. Conversions to Christ continue. An encouraging number of members are maturing in their faith and developing into leaders.
- Such a partnership as this is possible only when the supervising/shepherding church is strong and mature enough to carry out the responsibilities. While it is desirable and necessary to evangelize broadly and plant many small churches in new territory, it is also important to develop a few churches with sufficient size and maturity to carry out different levels of ministry, as in a partnering arrangement. NR already had considerable experience in sending out workers and supervising them in other countries.
- In retrospect, both partnering churches agree that it would have been desirable for Nsawam Road to select its own workers or spend more time with the workers selected by someone else. Clearly, more time needed to be spent in team building since that likely would have forestalled some of the relationship problems between workers and unhealthy individualism. North Americans need to recognize the culturally conditioned tribal and national differences among Africans. Those differences often can be managed constructively through Christian commitments, sensitivity, and good communications; they will be ignored to the peril of the work.
- One evangelist had to be dismissed and eventually sent back to his home country. The NR elders handled that in a manner superior to anything that could have been done by a church several thousand miles away in a very different culture. The African elders prudently exercised disciplinary action while affirming the worth and potential of the disciplined evangelist.
- Partnering as described here involves cross-cultural church relationships. The NR church had previously attempted a partnership with another Western church that backed out of the arrangement, so NR was understandably cautious. Good front-end agreements and good on-going communications are vital when churches from different cultures partner in work. It is important to listen to each other’s perspectives, since both sides have strengths.
All in all, this has been a fruitful partnership. The participating representatives from both churches have enjoyed each other’s fellowship, especially as they engaged in evaluations and planning for the ongoing work. Variations on this partnership arrangement would seem promising in many parts of the world.
C. Philip Slate is a missions consultant for Churches of Christ worldwide and an adjunct teacher at Harding School of Theology. He holds a DMiss from Fuller Theological Seminary and has authored and co-authored numerous popular and scholarly works. Dr. Slate was a missionary in Great Britain for over a decade. He has also served as the dean of Harding School of Theology and subsequently as chair of the department of missions at Abilene Christian University.
Bonk, Jonathan J. Missions and Money: Affluence as a Western Missionary Problem . . . Revisited. Rev. and exp. ed. American Society of Missiology Series 15. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2007.
Slate, C. Philip. “Proposal for Partnership between North Boulevard and Nsawam Road Churches.” Working paper, North Boulevard Church of Christ, Murfreesboro, TN, 2000.
1 C. Philip Slate, “Proposal for Partnership between North Boulevard and Nsawam Road Churches” (working paper, North Boulevard Church of Christ, Murfreesboro, TN, 2000).
3 Tribal differences even within the same country are well known in most African countries. The Biafran war in Nigeria and the genocide in Rwanda are cases in point. Working cross-tribally is a form of cross-cultural work.
4 The bibliography on this is large. For summaries see Missions Resource Network, “Resources and Suggested Reading,” , and Jonathan J. Bonk, Missions and Money: Affluence as a Western Missionary Problem . . . Revisited, rev. and exp. ed., American Society of Missiology Series 15 (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2007).