In Muslim-Dominated North Ghana, Christians See An Explosion Of Baptisms


YENDI, Ghana — Each day at 4:30 a.m., a Muslim imam delivered a prayer over a bullhorn next to the hotel where a Christian mission team stayed in northern Ghana.

It served as a wake-up call, a reminder to the team that Islam rules over this part of the West African nation.

“That means it’s time to go,” said Doc Turk, director of Ghana-Togo Missions. “If I don’t hear that, I’m not where I want to be.”

Time is urgent, because there’s a battle now for the hearts and souls of those in northern Ghana and Togo, he said. “Islam is racing south, and we are racing north.”

Ghana-Togo Missions seeks to follow the example of the apostle Paul, who sought to preach where the Gospel had yet to be heard, Turk said. “We look for the empty fields.”

The nonprofit found plenty of those fields in neighboring Togo, where many are departing animism. In recent years, campaigns have averaged more than 6,000 baptisms a year. Since 2019, campaigners have planted 300 new churches in Togo, which average about 80 people in attendance.

At the same time, leaders wondered if there were any empty fields left in Ghana, where 71 percent of the population consider themselves Christian and 20 percent consider themselves Muslim.

But a glimmer of hope appeared during the COVID-19 pandemic. While baptizing thousands among the Konkomba tribe in northern Togo, the team noticed that some had trekked there from Ghana. Could souls be won for Christ across the border?

The team decided to try a campaign in Ghana, this time among the same Konkomba tribe. If the effort failed to bear fruit, the ministry would look elsewhere for its next campaign.

What happened next stunned John Morkli, who has carried out missions in Ghana and Togo for more than two decades. For years, church leaders and missionaries have reported few responses to the gospel message in northern Ghana, where mosques are plentiful.

In a recent two-week gospel campaign, more than 2,100 were baptized and became disciples of Christ, most of them on a 40-mile stretch of dirt road the team dubbed “Kingdom Road.” A total of 44 churches were established.

These impossible-sounding numbers show God is at work, just as he was when Gideon’s band of 300 men defeated an army of 10,000, Morkli said. “God gets all the glory. Who are we? We are nobodies.”

Charles Nii Odoi, a missionary for Ghana-Togo Missions and West Africa coordinator for Gospel Chariot Missions, believes there is no field more fertile than Africa. Training disciples to become disciple-makers is easier here, he said, because “everything is community in Africa.”

Ryan Simpson, who has taken part in the last four campaigns, quoted Kenyan philosopher John Mbiti’s words: “Africa is notoriously religious.”

“At their heart, they are receptive to God,” he said. “And we have the gospel story — a story like no other.”

‘Train the saved to win the lost’

Ghana-Togo Missions began its latest campaign with prayer and fasting in Ghana and the U.S. That practice continued throughout the campaign.

The team uses the “Four Fields Discipleship Multiplication” tools from Gospel Share Missions, which is modeled after the Great Commission and Paul’s charge to Timothy to share the Gospel, Odoi said. “We are always poised to win the lost and train the saved to win the lost.”

Turk said each mission starts with “sending out ‘spies’ who spy out the land. They find any existing believers, and we disciple them. Then we join with them in the work.”

These workers find an empty field to sow the seed of the Gospel, and then they locate “a person of peace” in the village, following Jesus’ instructions to 72 of his disciples when he sent them out in Luke 10.

The person of peace takes them to the village chief, who decides whether to give permission for the workers to come and share the Gospel.

In the case of Kingdom Road, the chiefs turned away those workers in 2019, saying they couldn’t share the Gospel. When workers returned last year, the chiefs said it would be up to the people in the villages to decide.

The workers spoke with villagers, who said they didn’t want any denominations coming in. The workers replied that they didn’t represent any denomination, only the Lord’s kingdom. 

After that answer, the villagers replied, “We have been waiting for you.”

Over five days in September, the team shared the gospel message in 16 villages on Kingdom Road, where 1,243 were baptized. On Oct. 1, those 16 new congregations held their first worship services, and afterward, hundreds streamed to nearby ponds and streams to be baptized.

“God’s kingdom is moving with power,” said Mac-Thompson Gbeti, who has worked on missions in Ghana and Togo for more than 20 years. “We thought we had covered the whole of Ghana already. We never thought there would be green fields here, but God knew.”

No ministry degree required

Work on Kingdom Road has just begun. Gospel Chariot will spend a month going down the road and to nearby areas, sharing the story of Jesus, Bibles and World Bible School correspondence courses. For the next six months, Ghana-Togo Missions will carry out discipleship training.

Chuck Lee, who has worked on more than a dozen campaigns for Ghana-Togo Missions, recalled the early days when they planted churches with 100 people, only to return and find 50. “Now,” he said, “we start with 100, and when we come back, there are 150 or 175.”

Turk explained that years ago, the idea was to stick new converts into the church, thinking, “‘You’ll mature there.’ That doesn’t work. They need discipling.”

Through that discipling, members become “a good, solid church,” he said. “If you skip those six months, they’ll fall apart.”

Simpson said this discipling empowers people. “They don’t have to go through preaching school,” he said, “to proclaim the name of Jesus.”

That’s what happened when a young man named Evans became one of three people who responded to the Gospel after Simpson preached at the Gambo Sagon village. That night, Evans received discipleship training and began sharing the Gospel with others.

The next day, Evans got word to Simpson that he needed to return to their village. When he did, there were 30 more people, waiting to be baptized.

As for a place for the new church to meet, Evans had already taken care of that. He had cleared a place with his machete.

When a passerby from another village asked Evans what was going on, he shared what God was doing, drove his motorcycle to the village and began talking to those villagers. Afterward, he got word to Simpson that there was another village for him to visit, Kpakado.

When Simpson did, 63 more people wanted to become disciples of Christ and were baptized in the floodwaters of the Oti River.

Baptisms up, budgets down

In the traditional model, preaching schools turn out preachers, who typically get jobs at existing congregations, Turk said. 

Ghana-Togo Missions plants new churches, finds disciples to become preachers and trains them to guide these new congregations.

The nonprofit’s budget is about $1 million per year, all of which goes to the work, said Turk, who doesn’t take a salary. The ministry has no overhead or administrative costs. 

More than 60 percent of the budget goes to church building construction, he said. Most are pavilions with tin roofs and cement foundations. The smallest pavilion, which will hold up to 150 people, costs $3,500. The churches on Kingdom Road are next on the list for construction when the money can be raised. 

The budget also pays for audio Bibles with loudspeakers so that villagers can listen in their native language to God’s Word. Morkli is working to publish Bibles in the Konkomba language.

The only way for Americans to understand international mission work is to do it, Turk said. But the cost of travel isn’t the main reason most Americans turn him down.

“People tell me they don’t have the time,” he said. That response reminds him of one of Morkli’s sayings: “The Gospel is for the poor. The rich don’t have time.”

There is plenty of mission work in America, where monthly church attendance has fallen to 30 percent, Turk said. “Our churches are surrounded by empty fields.”

At the same time baptisms are skyrocketing in Africa, support for international missions is dwindling. Surveys show that churches across the U.S. spend a sliver of their budgets on international missions: about 5 percent. And of that, only 1 percent goes to the unevangelized.

None of this dampens Morkli’s enthusiasm. 

“We are doing God’s work,” he said. “He will provide.”

This piece is republished from The Christian Chronicle.

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