When I used to listen to testimonies about Africa and invitations for members to get involved, I had to remind myself that these invitations were not meant for me. There are different types of services for the Lord, and I thought that serving in Africa would not be my area. I thought if I wanted to see Africa, I would either have to go on vacation there or marry a brother who was willing to take me. So in August 1998 when I approached the International Assembly (IA) about applying as a volunteer, Africa was not a place I had in mind.
I do not know exactly how the prospective trip got started, but before I knew it, Sister Yuyen Syukur and I had the opportunity to join the June 1999 missionary trip to Africa. Though the IA accepted our applications in October 1998, I knew there were many factors that could hinder our trip. For one, there must have been concerns at different church administrative levels about sending the first group of sisters to Africa. If not concerns, then there were questions, and even doubts, from the members about the practicality of sending sisters to Africa.
I knew that confirmation from God was the only way to bypass these questions and sometimes-idle comments. I started to pray about this trip even before I submitted the application. I prayed to God that if it was His will for sisters to join the African missions, then He would give me the courage to go through the entire process, from completing the application to preparing for and financing the trip, to actually making the journey.
Challenges Before the Trip
In the months before the trip, there were both personal and external challenges. Each one was resolved with Godâ€™s help through prayer. The most visible and painful challenge came from the people I love and need the most. Here is the account I wrote during that time:
March 25, 1999
I received an email from an IA pastor this morning regarding Africa. The family called him a few days ago voicing their concerns (and â€œeven objections,â€ as he put it) about the trip to Africa.
I saw this coming; I knew they would do something. Somehow I still hoped that they would change their minds. Tears filled my eyes as I replied to the pastor. My heart is broken in two because I know what Iâ€™m supposed to do and want to do, but my heart is being tugged at the weakest spot.
Yesterday I wrote a letter to Mom expressing my reasons and wishes for going to Africa. I love Mom and wouldnâ€™t do anything that would cause her pain or worry. Yet, Iâ€™m doing exactly that...
I had many thoughts yesterday as I wrote Mom. I thought about what Jesus said about leaving oneâ€™s family for His sake. Iâ€™m not sure if Iâ€™m being too extreme, but how far would I really go for Christ?
I thought about earthly relationships, especially with family, in relation to God. Am I crazy to think that thereâ€™s no comparison? It seems illogical for me to put myself at risk against my familyâ€™s wishes and knowingly cause Mom pain for this invisible thing called Godâ€”I question my own determination.
Reading my own words after returning from Africa reminds me again how gracious and awesome our Lord is. Not only did my family come around to support me, but they also came to support and comfort parents of other volunteers to Africa. My family was able to share with others how worried they were and how much they needed to trust God for my safety.
God is love. He does not like to see a rift between family members. What He does want is our heart and our complete determination. When God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, He wanted to see if he truly put God before his own son. Once Abraham proved that he had the faith, God blessed him even more. When my family tried to talk me out of going to Africa, I was sorrowful, but God gave me peace and courage. I made up my mind to go despite my familyâ€™s objections, and I asked God to grant them the peace that He had granted me. In retrospect, I am deeply thankful for Godâ€™s grace and His protection of my family.
Yuyen and I met with two other IA workers in South Africa. As the trip began, I spent a week in South Africa visiting the members and assisting with the work there. Most of the members in South Africa are immigrants from Taiwan. Though they have a better religious foundation than the rest of the members in Africa, they still need spiritual nourishment, encouragement, and love. It is evident that being minorities in a politically unstable country far from their homeland has taken a toll on some of the members there.
South Africa is a well-developed country, with modern facilities and comfortable living conditions. In fact, staying at church there is more comfortable than living at home in America. I stayed in a new room with a firm, queen-size bed. It is easy to live very comfortably in South Africa, especially near the southern coast. There is so much seafood available that it was beyond my ability to enjoy it all. I can still remember the experience of seeing and eating whole pieces of abalone.
After South Africa, I headed to western Africa, to a different kind of Africa. In Ghana, other than some minor inconveniences such as the occasional lack of running water and electricity, it was like camping. I heard a rooster crow instead of the telephone ring, I saw goats and chickens on the road instead of dogs and cats, I listened to the radio instead of watching TV, and I used a fan instead of air conditioning. Ghana has tropical weather, so there is lots of sunshine and humidity, but there is also plenty of sweet and juicy tropical fruits such as pineapples, mangos, coconuts, papaya, sugar cane, and watermelon.
When I look at the members in Ghana, I can only attribute their faith to God; for we True Jesus Church members outside of Africa, who have abundant resources, have not done nearly enough. They need more assistance in every respectâ€”particularly in the pastoral areaâ€”than we, the world outside Africa, may be able or willing to give. The pastoral resources for the entire country, with over ten churches and service areas, consist of three full-time workers and two full-time preachers. There are no other ministers serving the members. Imagine your local church or service area with ministers visiting once every four weeks if youâ€™re lucky, about four Bibles to share, and no access to sermon tapes and videos.
Moreover, since African members cannot afford to own a Bible or paper and pencils, it is quite difficult for them to learn and retain information. Imagine if today all of your learning is completely auditory. Unless you have someone who reads and is willing to repeat the Bible verses to you over and over, you will only get to hear them read once during the service. Also keep in mind that you do not have the luxury of electricity and a study area to do your spiritual cultivation. How then do you become knowledgeable enough to provide good spiritual food for the children of God? Indeed, for those in Africa it is quite difficult, but by the grace of God our members have kept their faith for the past fourteen years.
Africa is a beautiful place, full of natural resources and Godâ€™s wonderful creation. Today, Africa needs to have willing workers to stay long-term in each country where we have churches. Our African brothers and sisters do not have the same resources that we have. If we love them and want them to learn and mature in the Lord, then we need to sacrifice and be there to teach them. It is difficult for us to provide help without knowing how they live from day to day and week to week.
How can parents teach their children if they do not know how to read or write, or do not even have a Bible at home? Without the basic tools, how do we help them if they do not fully comprehend English? How can we help the general congregation be rooted in the Word of God?
We all have the calling to answer these questions. We could help financially through the IA, by praying for them, and/or by spending time with them personally. Let us answer Jesusâ€™ calling and be one of the workers, for â€œthe harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest fieldâ€ (Mt 9:37-38).
My three short weeks in Africa were full of good fellowship with the brothers and sisters. I saw the power of our gospel working in simple people and those in spiritual poverty. Most of all, I tasted the joy and fulfillment of serving God all day, every day. For a short time I became one of the missionaries. We prayed, planned, worked, ate, shared, and laughed together. In a land far from home and our loved ones, we had God and one another to rely onâ€”it was the most wonderful experience. When the workload called for us to separate for a few days, I was amazed at how much joy we felt when we saw each other again. It was as if we had been separated from our best friends for weeks. We recounted every detail, every emotion, and every reflection.
It was a privilege for me to serve God in Africa. What I have learned and gained from this trip is far more than words can describe. If you donâ€™t believe me, ask God to give you the opportunity to experience His grace and wonderful work as a missionary volunteer.
I thank God for giving me the opportunity to visit the churches in Africa. Iâ€™ve wanted to visit these churches for a long time, but Iâ€™ve always been afraid that I would be a burden to the preachers. When Sister Tracy Huang asked me in late 1998 if I was interested in going to Africa, I replied yes. From then on she arranged most of the communication with the IA.
When I applied for leave from my work, another senior technologist there was also applying for his vacation at the same time. I thought that this would be a problem, because for about three weeks there would be only three technologists working. I was prepared that I might not be able to make this trip. Yet my director approved my leave, and I was able to get all the necessary visas to the U.K., South Africa, and Ghana.
As I read up about Africa and the various diseases that I could possibly contract there, I asked myself if this was something I really wanted to do. I had to get four different vaccinations, including the mandatory yellow fever vaccination, and we would have to take malaria pills while we were there. Finally, I just stopped worrying and entrusted everything to God. It all went smoothly from then on.
We were scheduled to go to South Africa and Ghana. I would be in South Africa for three days and Ghana for twelve days. Sister Tracy would stay for an additional week in Ghana.
At the end of May, I flew to London to meet Tracy. We rested a bit in London before continuing on to our journey to Johannesburg, a ten-hour flight.
The True Jesus church in Johannesburg was dedicated in February 1999. It is a modified residential building. The city of Johannesburg has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, so like the houses around it, the church building has automatic double steel gates. As one gate closes, the other gate will open. It is surrounded by high walls, and on top of the walls are high-voltage electrical wires. This is supposed to stop intruders from trying to come in. As you walk around the church compound outside, you can hear a bzz-bzz sound.
The Johannesburg church is comprised of about four families. Brother Wen-Cheng Lee, the father of one of the families, was a member of the True Jesus Church before he went to South Africa more than ten years ago. He was a busy man, and he lived a comfortable life in South Africa. During his time there, he put aside his faith until an incident occurred in December 1997.
Brother Lee had bought a property for his business, and one day he and the real-estate agent went to the property to evict the seller, who had occupied the building way past the deadline. When they got to the building, the seller took out a gun and shot at them. Brother Leeâ€™s agent died at the scene, and Brother Lee was shot three times. He managed to escape and was sent to the hospital. Brother Lee told a brother who visited him at the hospital that if God allowed him to live, he would return to God and bring his family to believe. This was how his wife and two young sons came to believe and were baptized. Now they are zealously serving the Lord.
Next we went to Ghana. When I arrived in Accra, the capital, at night, it reminded me of Indonesia. We had to brush off the many porters who approached us, and a brother had to haggle with the taxi driver to take us to the church. On the way to the church, the engine of the taxi stopped several times, and I wondered if we would have to change taxis at some point. The taxi driver seemed unaffected by the problems, however, and each time the engine died he managed to restart it.
We visited other churches in the area as well, such as Kumasi and Amafrom. Kumasi is the second largest city in Ghana. There were about twenty members there when we arrived at the church for service. They had no electricity in the building, so we used kerosene lamps for the evening service.
The Kpandu church is another big church, and the building there is almost completed. They were adding another lodging area for ministers so they wouldnâ€™t have to stay in guest houses anymore. The members of the Kpandu church have experienced many miracles. There is Sister Felicia, who suffered from a boil on her finger which became so serious that she died. The members prayed earnestly for her for more than an hour, and she came back to life. Now her little finger, which canâ€™t bend anymore, holds the remaining sign of that miracle.
Another church we visited was the Abiriw church in the mountains. The church bought a plot of land there, but they havenâ€™t constructed a building yet. Currently they hold service in a rented house in a very small room. We could sense the joy of the members as they worshiped God.
Both Tracy and I wore head coverings there. The sisters in Ghana put on head coverings and wear skirts or dresses instead of pants. We covered our heads to show our respect and to prevent distractions. A lot of times, my head became extremely hot during prayer, but it was something that I had to get used to. I had to keep myself from taking it off. Another thing I had to get used to was kneeling on the hard ground to pray. It wasnâ€™t easy because the sharp, loose dirt pricked my knees. Sometimes I would take off my sandals and put them under my knees when I prayed. Praying on carpeted floors seems like a luxury now.
We also visited the Gbefi church. We walked for about twenty minutes through a village to get there. The simple design and material really touched me, because itâ€™s something that you donâ€™t see in the more developed countries. The church building was comprised of a straw roof and mud walls with a pole supporting it.
Throughout my visit in Ghana, I was touched by the fact that although we looked different, spoke a different language, and came from different cultures, we were still all part of the family of Christ. Sometimes I felt left out, and I yearned to understand the local language, to communicate with the believers, and to sing praises to God with them. But even so, these feelings do not separate us, nor should they. The feeling of oneness that we share is brought about especially by the one spiritual tongue, as we pray together to speak to God in His language.The future of the missionary work in Africa is to have long-term resident ministers on the continent. Currently there are three or four missionary trips each year that go to Africa from other countries. The IA assigns certain countries to be in charge of each African country or region.
More volunteers can help out in religious education and by holding student spiritual convocations there. There have not been any student spiritual convocations held in Africa before. An IA preacher has also suggested that churches in other countries can adopt a church in Africa, like a sister-church approach. For example, a local church in the U.S. could adopt Abiriw church in Ghana, and help them financially.
These are just some ideas of how we can participate in the Africa mission. My own stay in Africa was really shortâ€”too short, in fact, to understand the lives of the people there. There is still much work to be done in Africa. Please remember them in your prayers. All glory to God.
*TRADITIONAL BELIEFS IN GHANA
Many of the traditional beliefs among the tribes in Ghana that existed before the arrival of the European missionaries actually correspond to the truth in the Bible.
The Akans in Ghana comprise the Akyems, Fantes, Kwahua, and Ashantes tribes, who speak a local language called Twi. The Ashantes and Akyems are polytheistic, but they also believe that there is only one Almighty God who created the heavens and the earth.
During the pouring of libation (a drink offering to a god), they utter the words â€œOtwereduampon Kwame. Woa woboo osoro ne asase.â€ â€œOtwereduamponâ€ literally means a tree (dua) that, if a man leans (otwere) against it, will never fall (mpon). â€œKwameâ€ is the name given to a male born on a Saturday, whereas â€œWoa woboo osoro ne asaseâ€ means â€œthou who created the heavens and the earth.â€ As such, the drink offering is for a â€œhigh god,â€ the Creator whom we can trust in and rely upon.
The use of the word â€œKwameâ€ is significant, because the tribes believe that the Almighty God was â€œbornâ€ on a Saturday. They traditionally believe that Saturday is a day that belongs to the Lord. Saturday is called â€œMemenedaâ€â€” which is a shortened form of â€œMene nea menedaâ€â€”the â€œI Am that I Amâ€™s day.â€ The name given to this day parallels the name God gave Himself in Exodus 3:14: â€œI Am that I Am.â€
The Akans also call Saturday â€œDapaa,â€ meaning a good day, and the other six days â€œDabone,â€ or bad days. The other six days are â€œDaboneâ€ because these were days set aside to worship other gods and perform idolatrous rituals.
Saturday was a day treasured and respected by the Akans until the arrival of the European missionaries, who taught them to worship on Sundays.
Material provided by Pastors Joseph Danquah & Koma Jehu Appiah, Evangelism Coordination Council of the True Jesus Church, Ghana.