Special to the Advocate
As the plane descended toward the city of Accra, Ghana, several of the passengers wondered what they would find waiting. The wheels of the plane touched down smoothly, and the Lufthansa pilot and crew were rewarded with cheers of joy and appreciation from their African passengers.
After almost 20 hours aboard three planes, the mission team from Mississippi was glad to be on the ground.
The trip was organized by the 4M Foundation. The Rev. John Garrott of Senatobia, executive director, says the organization’s work centers around missions and evangelism for Mississippi Methodists. Included in 4M’s efforts is a focus on medical missions.
But this team was invited to teach and lead a three-day leadership school for pastors and lay leaders, and their emphasis for the event was evangelism. The team for the July 15-17 leadership school was Garrott, Youth Minister Jason Martin of Tupelo, the Rev. Timothy Prather of Avon-Glen Allan and the Revs. Eddie and Emma Ward of Oxford.
The leadership event was hosted by Gethsemane Methodist Church in Accra, a vibrant church with a strong ministry in its urban neighborhood. Topics explored included evangelism and church leadership, practical theology and evangelism, and youth evangelism and ministry.
Bishop Abraham Tagoe of the Accra Conference opened the event with prayer and a devotional. He not only attended all of the activities of the first day, but he also wrote letters and made calls to pastors and key lay leaders to encourage their participation.
While the 4M Foundation has led many teaching events in West Africa, this year’s school had a new offering. “A few years ago we decided to look into offering a youth ministry component. We saw a need for it as there were many conference attendees whose ministry focus was youth,” said Garrott.
Martin, youth minister at St. Luke UMC in Tupelo, taught material targeted specifically for youth workers and youth ministry. The response was positive, with many youth workers requesting personal consultation and advice. It was clear that a major concern for those in attendance was ministry with young people.
In addition to teaching in the leadership school, Martin was also invited to a youth meeting at Gethsemane Methodist Church on Sunday evening. “The youth of these churches are on fire for God and they understand what it means to love God with your whole self. They find hope for everything through their connection with the church, but more importantly through their relationship with God. The pastors and youth leaders are yearning for resources and were so grateful for those that we were able to distribute. This experience has confirmed in me the words of our Lord, ‘Go out and make disciples of all nations.’” said Martin.
Eddie Ward was the preacher for the leadership school, and his wife Emma Ward was responsible for daily devotions as well as presenting a session called “Churches Working Together.”
Prather, pastor of Avon-Glen Allan, said, “Eddie’s job was to set the thermostat for the day, and he did an excellent job getting both the students and presenters fired up and ready to go. Emma led us in reflection through sound devotions and Bible teaching. The students really loved their spirit and witness.”
One interesting aspect of the event was that it was comprised of mostly laypersons. Around 80 percent of the students were lay leaders and workers in their churches. “Their leadership system is almost the exact opposite of ours: elders receive a church at around 300 in worship; until then, a team of lay leaders, evangelists, and local pastors work with church starts, ” said Garrott.
Prather presented material called “Faith-Sharing” from the World Methodist Council written by Eddie Fox and George Morris. It focuses on what faith sharing consists of and helps Christians discover why and how they are to share it.
“The information shared was very practical and helpful. It scratched where there was an itch, and these resources will be taken by these leaders and used in their local churches,” said the Rev. Dr. Mathias Forson, a district superintendent in the Accra Conference.
Gethsemane Methodist Church has made a strong commitment to evangelism. The church has planted six churches in the last six years, all of which are growing. In fact, 20 people came forward on the last day of the conference to offer themselves as church planters.
All five team members were invited to preach in Gethsemane’s new churches on Sunday morning. Several were in the urban center of Accra, but some were also located in the rural outskirts of the capitol city.
“It’s been a privilege to go Ghana and the Mother Land to be a blessing to others and in turn be blessed. I preached at several local churches and was very blessed to do so. There was a sweet spirit in that place, and I felt nothing but love. It was odd preaching with an interpreter, but the Lord still blessed. The Lord moved so powerfully that seven people were saved that day. Glory to God!” said Emma Ward, who with her husband Eddie is co-pastor of Trinity UMC in Marks.
One of Garrott’s teaching sessions on evangelism focused on practical ways to lead someone to Christ. He explained and mirrored the “Listen-Link-Lock” method of faith sharing.“It was simple and powerful. It reminded us that listening is just as important as speaking, and most of the time it’s more important,” said Prather.
On Saturday the group was taken to Cape Coast and toured the historic El Mina Castle. Built in 1482 as a trading depot by the Portuguese, the castle also served as the door for the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
The preaching opportunities proved to be a blessing for the team members. “Preaching for the conference and in the local churches was such an honor. Although it was a new experience, it was great to share my faith with our brothers and sisters in the Mother Land. So, I give praise to God for this experience. It’s one I shall never forget,” said Eddie Ward.
Prather observed, “It was clear to me that the Africans have a deep and authentic spirituality. In every worship service we witnessed conversions and commitments, and of course joyous singing, dancing, and prayer. My eyes were opened to how God is able to move in our lives when we have eyes to see and obedient wills.”
The 4M Foundation has been active in Ghana in recent years. Within the last year four medical teams have been deployed, an ongoing ministry begun from the Mississippi State University Wesley Foundation and a leadership school. Additionally, 16churches have been planted from the efforts of Mississippi Methodists.
“Church planting is the most effective method of evangelism, and these conferences are the catalyst to speed up our efforts as participants are equipped with the tools they need for ministry,” Forson said. "It’s been a wonderful partnership with the Mississippi Conference and the 4M Foundation. The work has gone a long way in strengthening the churches that are being planted. It has insured that our churches are nurtured and growing stronger. Not only that, but we have been able to actually build each new congregation a church building. Mississippi Methodists are doing a great work in Ghana.”