Ghana Mennonite Church

From Anabaptistwiki

Ghana Mennonite Church (GMC) is the only Mennonite Conference in the Ghana. GMC is officially associated with Mennonite World Conference. In 2006 GMC had 23 congregations and in 2009 had 5,014 members.[1].

History

Origins and Early Years

George Thompson

The Ghana Mennonite Church (GMC) was founded in 1956 by native Ghanian, George Thompson. Prior to the founding of GMC, Thompson, who was baptized into the Methodist Church as a child, had been active in both the Anglican Church and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 1955 Thompson served as a delegate to the YMCA World Convention in Paris. There he met Jules Lombotte, a Mennonite from Belgium. Thompson became interested in learning more about who Mennonites were, and the two discussed the subject. As Thompson became more and more interested in the Mennonite Church, and the convention came to an end, Thompson spent time visiting numerous Mennonite congregations throughout Europe. Eventually he ended up at the Mennonite Centre in London, where he remained until 1956, in order to learn more about the Mennonite faith. While there in London, Thompson began to consider membership in the Mennonite Church, and on January 4, 1956 he was baptized as a member. Thompson had expressed interest in returning to Ghana to develop and grow the Mennonite Church there, and was subsequently commissioned by the Church to do so. 1

Mennonite Board of Missions

In 1956, missionaries from the Mennonite Board of Missions (MBM) visited Ghana, hoping to see what kind of progress George had made. There they found that George was leading a bible study in Accra, Ghana’s capitol, with about one hundred persons in attendance. They also found that there were other smaller groups meeting in other nearby communities. The missionaries learned that George had plans to develop more study groups, youth hostels and a missionary center. Upon learning of the progress Thompson had made, MBM decided that it would send missionaries and resources to Ghana to help with the Church’s development. 2

On August 28, 1957, pastor of Belmont Church in Elkhart, S. Jay Hostetler, his wife, and two other individuals were sent to Ghana on behalf of MBM.3 When they arrived in Accra they found that much of the progress Thompson had made had fallen away. His study group had lost a significant amount of its attendees and some of the other smaller groups had disappeared altogether. It seemed that many of the individuals had been drawn to Thompson’s plans for scholarships and social services, and subsequently left when those plans did not come to fruition.4 They did find however that the Church was making great progress with the Home Bible Studies, a bible study course provided by MBM. The Church saw interest in the program grow rapidly, even beyond those directly connected with the young Church, in both youth and adults.5 This continued to be a major ministry of the Church for many years.

Hostetler and the other missionaries had decided that they would serve as support for Thompson, choosing not to make critical decisions on their own, but always to defer to Thompson’s leadership.6 The Church mainly grew through the development of schools. The Church would send missionaries or church members to villages by request alone. If they were invited into a community they would help establish schools, with the understanding that they would be allowed to teach bible studies and hold services in addition to the basic educational material.7 There were some concerns from both Hostetler and local church members that Thompson was unfit for leadership in the Church, due to his numerous failures to develop ministries to support the Church.8 In 1958 Thompson left the GMC, leaving behind a fellowship of eleven congregations and approximately three hundred baptized members.9

In 1963 GMC was accepted as a member into the Christian Council of Ghana (CCG).10 GMC is still a member of the CCG to this day. The CCG is an interfaith organization of seventeen different Ghanian Churches, whose shared focus is advocacy of social and economic justice, human and gender rights and interfaith dialogue.11

GMC was also was part of the formation of the African Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Fellowship (AMBCF), which was created in 1965. The group is composed of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches from “Ghana, Nigeria, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), Zambia, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Ethiopia and Somalia.”12 The group was established in an effort to build stronger connections between the many Mennonite churches in Africa and also to build connections between the African Church and the larger global Mennonite community.13 In the AMBCF’s third meeting in 1969, GMC expressed its concern towards its slow growth and a decrease in membership, down to about 200 members. The Church believed that part of the problem was due to a lack of leadership in the Church. By 1969 the GMC had no ordained leadership and limited personal resources.14

Never the less, by 1976 GMC had published its own worship book, Mennonite Asafo Lala Wolo, which contains 250 songs, many translated from English, and by 1978 the Church had grown to 607 members with sixteen active congregations throughout the country.15 16 The church was also in an active relationship with the Mennonite Church of Nigeria, every other year sending delegates from GMC to share and learn from the Nigerian church that is closely connected with GMC. Also, with its introduction into the wider Mennonite community through joining the Mennonite World Conference, GMC gained a stronger feeling of fellowship and connection with its global family.17

The Developing Years: GMC and MBM

By 1980 GMC was reporting continuing to growth, both in numbers and in spirit. However it was still concerned about its leadership, as there was a lack of appropriate training available to church leaders. The Church was also concerned about its standing with MBM, which had been a continuing source of personal and financial aid to the developing church. Their concern was that MBM’s other mission involvements in Ghana, such as its work with the African Independent Churches and the Good News Theological Seminary might detriment MBM’s ability to help sustain the GMC.18 In a 1985 discussion between Ronald E. Yoder, GMC moderator Emmanuel Galbah-Nusetor expressed that the GMC would be comfortable with MBM continuing to send missionaries to the Good News Theological Seminary, so long as the missionaries would still be available to help support the GMC.19

As Ghana was recovering from a food crisis, in a 1983 meeting between GMC officials and representatives of MBM, the GMC moderator proposed a new plan for an agricultural ministry project. Prior to 1983 GMC had been working on a tent making ministry to support itself financially. This ministry had not been very successful, and due to the time involved many GMC pastors were unable devote their full time to ministry and evangelism. The new plan they hoped to implement was larger scale church crop framing or potentially fish or pig farming. The hope was that this project would better support the Church financially and help to develop its community. GMC had hoped that MBM would be able to provide utilities for this project, such as a tractor, water pump and transportation.20

In 1985 GMC requested that MBM help provide funds in order to provide salary for one of its pastors. MBM denied the request on the basis that salarying a pastor with funds from outside the church the pastor is involved with could lead to issues of loyalty to GMC. MBM communicated that it preferred it to be the case that churches fund their own pastors.

In 1986 MBM began to feel reluctant to continue to provide GMC with its annual subsidy. The reluctance grew out of concerns that the fund was not being used as agreed upon by the two organizations, as well as a lack of transparency on the part of the Ghana Mennonite Church to provide a clear budget explaining where the money was going.21

Later in May of that year MBM responded to GMC’s proposal for some form of church sponsored agricultural development. MBM communicated that it would not have the monetary or personnel resources to help establish large scale church farms. Instead MBM stated that it saw the best way to help the community as helping to increase the self-sufficiency of GMC’s local independent farmers.22 MBM then began the process of finding an individual to serve as an agricultural consultant. The objective of this position was: “...to assist the Ghana Mennonite Church and it’s congregations achieve greater self sufficiency.”23 MBM hoped that who ever would be able to fill the position would be able to find ways of scaling down modern farming techniques to practical methods for individual farmers.24

In 1988 GMC began to express interest in sending some of its members to Mennonite schools in the U.S., with the hopes that they could be educated on Mennonite theology and history. Ultimately MBM was not able to afford such a program.25 MBM did however engage in discussions with GMC about their desire to learn more about their Mennonite identity. The leaders of GMC felt that its pastors were not receiving enough instruction about Mennonite and Anabaptist theology. GMC planned to engage in open conversations with its members to increase awareness, as well as to make Anabaptist literature available to all of its smaller communities. By the time of this consultation GMC had grown to about 1,200 members, participating in sixteen different congregations. GMC leaders informed the MBM representatives that their church was facing numerous challenges: shortages in monetary and personnel resources, as well as a lack of effective training for church leaders.26

Eventually after continuing differences in opinion over mission direction and expenditure, GMC, MBM and Mennonite Central Committee entered mediated negotiations. As a result it was decided by all parties that the best solution to foster a continuing relationship would be the formation of an endowment for GMC, in place of MBM continuing to provide a yearly subsidy.27 This plan would provide a stable source of financial revenue for GMC, allowing it to have greater independence over its programs and budget, its end goal being to establish “...a solid, independent financial footing on which GMC can stand in carrying out its church and mission activities.”28

The GMC Today

As of 2009, Mennonite World Conference (MWC) reported that GMC had 5,014 members, and was the only organized church body in Ghana affiliated with the MWC.29 By 2006 the number of congregations within the GMC had reached a total of twenty-three. The majority of those churches are located in the southern region of the country. All twenty three of the congregations are divided into six regional districts.30

The Church leadership is split up into several committees: executive, women, finance evangelism and youth committees. Church conferences take place annually, where committees come together to discus issues, and vote for new church leaders. Each congregation of the Church is represented by two of its own members at these meetings. There are seven different languages spoken in the different GMC congregations throughout the country.31 Despite these language barriers the “congregations relate to each other in all aspects as Mennonites.”32

The Majority of GMC congregations are located in small rural villages.33 Most of these congregations do not have permanent structures for places of worship. Instead the typical places of worship are temporary structures constructed out of palm leaves. Unfortunately these structures tend not to last into the rainy season, leaving the congregations without places to worship for extended periods of time.34 As of 2006, only 6 out of the 23 Mennonite congregations in Ghana had permanent structures to serve as meeting places.35

Church services in GMC congregations tend to be long and full of energy. Sometimes lasting as long as five hours, worship services typically include singing both praise songs as well as songs from the GMC songbook, Mennonite Asafo Lala Wolo. Dancing is also common in worship, accompanied by local instruments and shouts of praise.36

The majority of individuals attending GMC congregations are women.37 Though the church is open to women leaders in the church, as to date there have been no women ordained as GMC pastors.38

Challenges Facing the GMC

Leadership and Finance

GMC is struggling with a lack of coherent leadership. Finding adequate training for its leaders has been a continuing issue for GMC for many years. For some time GMC was not providing seminary training for its pastors and church leaders. Recently the Church has recognized this as a problem. Currently some GMC members are studying at the Good News Theological Seminary (GNTS), an institute based in Accra, associated with the AIC’s, and also has close ties with MBM.39

GMC is also facing challenges with funding. GMC has continued to receive money from the endowment established by MBM in 1993. However it seems that this money has been poorly spent.40 GMC is very dedicated to evangelism, but it lacks the resources it needs to effectively carry out its goals.41

In addition to difficulty concerning general church funds, congregations are also struggling on a local level. Pastors of GMC congregations are salaried through the donations of their congregations’ offerings. Often this is not enough to support a full time position.42 As a consequence pastors are unable to devote their full time to pastoral care and leadership, due to the need to find additional work in order to support themselves.43

Inner Tensions

In December of 2009, GMC saw a rise in tension between the northern and southern portions of the Church. GMC was able to prevent a church split, however out of the debate a sub-conference was formed within the larger conference of GMC. The sub-conference consists of some of the southern congregations, which tend to be older and more connected to the Church’s history, while the northern congregations tend to be much younger.44

Connecting with Youth

The GMC is also realizing that it needs to work on maintaining a better connection with its youth. Typically as youth grow up, out of a need to find work, they leave their village for urban areas where jobs are more prevalent. The congregations loose active members as a consequence.45 In addition to their need to leave their home congregations, many youth are becoming frustrated with the Church.46 During the national conference in 2009, many youth felt that they were not being given the respect they deserved, and were ignored when they proposed new projects and ideas to the Church.47 GMC is beginning to work more on attracting youth to the Church, and providing them theological education to encourage future church growth. Part of this effort has included providing education for some youth at GNTS.48

GMC Theological Identity

Though GMC was founded by MBM, and has continued to maintain connections with the global Mennonite church through MWC and other organizations, its identity as Mennonite is somewhat unclear. There are some members in the Church who are familiar with the Mennonite tradition of peace and nonresistance, but the majority of members lack an understanding of what the words ‘Mennonite’ and ‘Anabaptist’ imply.49

The 1978 Mennonite World Handbook reported that GMC took the Schelietheim confession as its confession of faith.50 However this document is unfamiliar within the Church today. This lack of a general understanding of its Mennonite roots may in part be due to the way in which missionaries from MBM were involved in building the Church and sharing their faith. Though the early missionaries were eager to help build the Church and spread Christianity, they avoided being too specific about pushing the Mennonite faith specifically. This arose out of a desire not to impose their faith directly onto those they were there to help.51

Despite some of its inner uncertainties, GMC still holds a unique place within the larger theological context of Ghana. The GMC does not identify its self as an AIC, but rather it is more of a “contextualization of the Western Mennonite religious tradition.”52 In her article titled Ghanian Mennonite Church Identity and African Independant Church Reality, from the 2010 issue of Mission Focus Annual Review, Sarah Thompson states: “Ghanian Mennonites are similar in culture to other Ghanians, though their theology calls them to a level of discipleship and peacemaking that is not prominent in the larger milieu.”53

Looking to the Future

Ghana Mennonite Church is at a crossroads. There are numerous financial, leadership and theological issue that are facing the Church. Some of these issues are starting to be addressed, like finding better training for church leaders. Still though, GMC likely has an unclear future ahead. If GMC fails to attract new members and youth, as well as fix a struggling administrative structure, its future will likely be a difficult one. There is currently a strong need for a conscious, directed effort to revive the Church.54

In addition to addressing its own interior issues, GMC is also looking to increase its connections with the larger African and global Mennonite church. Recently this past year (2011) the MWC Deacons Commission delegation visited the GMC, as well as several other churches in Western Africa to encourage dialogue and understanding between MWC and its West-African members. Since those visits there have been a series of followup meetings of the West-African churches to build stronger bonds, in anticipation of the proposed MWC Africa Caucus.55 In what ever future GMC finds itself it, it will likely be marked by deeper fellowship and connection with its neighboring churches and the global Mennonite community.
  1. "North America." Mennonite World Conference. http://www.mwc-cmm.org/Directory/2006carcsam.pdf