Teaching Seminary Students in Ghana
By Rev. Gerold W. Goetz
The students called me “Osofo oluu.” The first word means ‘pastor,’ and the second word means ‘respected old man.’ No doubt I was the oldest ‘professah’ they had seen at their seminary.
I was invited by Rev. John Fehrman, president of the CLEF, and Rev. Gordon Gyampo-Kumi, assistant to the president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana (ELCG), to serve as guest instructor at the ELCG seminary in Accra, Ghana. The subjects were Pastoral Theology and Counseling, and 1 Corinthians. I was initially reluctant to undertake such an important challenge, since I consider myself a country preacher, not a seminary professor. But since I have had 46 years of parish experience, why not me to teach seminary students how to do the work of a pastor. (Pastoral Theology)
The ELCG is a young church body, established in 1958 by missionaries from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. (LCMS) It presently has about 25,000 members, 150 congregations and 300 preaching stations, 25 ordained pastors and 50 evangelists. There has been a practice of authorizing its evangelists to conduct divine services and consecrate the Lord’s Supper. The church body is now attempting to rectify this and train some of these evangelists who have the ability to study and become ordained pastors.
Living conditions in Ghana would be considered sub-standard by those of us from the USA. There are a few nice houses, but the overwhelming majority of people live in make-shift shacks or even metal shipping containers. (And this in a hot and humid climate; average of 86 degrees and 86% humidity every day.) The average citizen earns between one and two dollars a day. The seminary students all come from this economic background.
The seminary of the ELCG consists of two rooms in the building which houses the headquarters of the national church body. One room is the classroom, and the second room is the dormitory for the 13 students. Sleeping accommodations are bunk beds with mosquito netting. There is no cafeteria, etc. The seminary library consists of two bookcases with cast-off books of virtually no value. The only worthwhile books there, in my opinion, was a set of the American Edition of Luther’s Works.
You must understand the conditions in which the ELCG finds itself. There are no funds for financial support of the seminary. Its faculty consists of a headmaster, Rev. Amaoteng, and whatever guest lecturers he can obtain. The most regular instructor and the most qualified is the Rev. Dr. Paul Kofi Fynn, who is also the president of the ELCG. He received his theological training at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO. Besides serving as president of the ELCG, Rev. Fynn is also pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Accra, is president of a university, and is owner and CEO of a restaurant chain, of a farming conglomerate, a meat packing company, and a bottled water plant. His time is limited, so it is helpful for the seminary to have guest lecturers from the USA. Rev. Fynn is the primary financial source of funding for the ELCG.
To illustrate the financial situation of the ELCG, let me tell you about a Sunday preaching invitation at All Saints Lutheran Church at Anyaa, a suburb of Accra, the capital of Ghana. There are no Sunday bulletins, so announcements are read by a layman after the service (two hours long, always!) is finished. I heard the announcement that the previous Sunday’s attendance was 55, and the offering was 32 Cedi’s (pronounced CEE-dee) and 70 pesos. This amounts to about $18.00 in US currency.
Training and education for pastors and seminary students is one of the purposes of the CLEF. We like to refer to it as ‘our seminary without walls.’ The CLEF arranges for proven confessional Lutheran pastors and professors to go to countries around the world to help those who desire to be and remain truly ‘Lutheran.’ Guest lecturers will be either seminary professors or will be experienced parish pastors. Obviously, I am in the latter category.
English is the official language of the government in Ghana. The TV news is in English, for example. However, English is the second language for almost everybody in the country. This is especially true as you travel away from the Atlantic coast. (About 80% of the population of Ghana lives within 20 km of the coast.) Most of the seminary students are from the northern regions, so their English skills are learned and not native or innate.
The thirteen students range in age from 31 to 68 years old. All but one are married. Two are in their 60’s; one is 56; four are in their 40’s; and six are in their 30’s. In the course of classroom discussion, I concluded that at least two were converts from Islam. (Can you imagine the danger that lies ahead for a Lutheran pastor who converted from Islam? Don’t we hear of death threats for such people?) Only three of the students had been Christian all their lives. The ‘youngest in the faith’ was the student who has been a Christian for twelve years.
The passion for theology among these students is thrilling to behold. They are all fourth-year seminarians, and have all had one year of vicarage, in addition to their experience as evangelists. They had an intense interest in the Pastoral Theology course, since they are headed for the pastoral ministry upon graduation at the end of July 2012. The course in 1 Corinthians also sparked heated discussion, especially concerning subjects of polygamy (“My father has three wives…”) and food offered to idols (“My family practices this; I live with my family; What should I do…?)
But none of these seminary graduates will be going to an established congregation! There just aren’t established ELCG congregations in Ghana. These men will probably be assigned to a village, most likely in the northern regions of the country. They will be handed their ordination credentials, given the name and location of a village, and sent off to preach and teach and administer the sacraments to establish a congregation. They will be provided no funds for financial support. There are no such funds. They won’t even have paper to write on. Nor are there job opportunities in these villages. They will be on their own with respect to the financial support of themselves and their families. And this, after four years of seminary education. Many of them are indebted to their extended families for their support these past four years. They have been separated from their wives and families during this time. I am in awe of the sacrifices that they and their families have made.
I have told Rev. Gyampo-Kumi and Rev. Kofi Fynn that if the ELCG will attempt to gather an offering, I will do the same in the USA. If we can raise $13,000, we can provide each graduate with three goats (1 male & 2 female) plus some seeds and herbicide and fertilizer to set them up as farmers of a 4-acre plot. They will have to make arrangements with the local tribal chief for their land. I simply cannot in good conscience stand idly by and expect these men to go out into the Lord’s work with nothing!
If you are willing and able to contribute toward this project, please send your contribution to the CLEF at the address provided below. We ask you to consider our abundance compared with their poverty, and to share with the ELCG seminary class of 2012 in the work of the Lord for the sake of the Gospel. Thank you.
Confessional Lutheran Education Foundation
P.O. Box 43844 Minneapolis, MN, 55443-0844
Please make check payable to The CLEF
Please indicate: Ghana Seminary Student Fund