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POKUASE, Ghana-The names they carry: Anointed Hands Hair Salon, Jesus Saves Barbering Shop, Christ in You Chemicals, Thy Will Be Done Electronics, New Jerusalem Engineering, God Rules Internet Café, No One Is Perfect Except the Lord Shop, Try Jesus Digital Photos, Showers of Blessings Metalworker ...
Journalists refer to Ghana as a highly Christianized country: 69 percent of the country's 25 million people profess Christ, surveys say, and the names of small businesses are one evidence of that. But to Chris Ampadu, coordinator of the Samaritan Strategy ministry in West Africa, that statistic raises questions. Why does Christian belief have so little impact in Ghana from Monday through Saturday? Why so much corruption? With all of Ghana's natural resources-gold, fertile soil, newly discovered oil-why are the people so poor?
Many Christians in Ghana, Ampadu says, have five-hour services on Sunday filled with singing, dancing, and drumming, but little teaching about discipleship. Some attend all-night prayer and fasting vigils but do not work hard or love their neighbors. Ampadu is working to change that.
Driving a Toyota Land Cruiser that has logged more than 220,000 miles, he took my wife and me out into the bush, northwest of the capital city of Accra, to show us grinding poverty and potential alternatives. We drove over deep-pitted dirt highways and turned onto lowways sporting thigh-high brush. Praying for axles not to break and spines not to creak, we stopped at small clearings in the bush-bare areas of dirt swept clean and baked by the sun-surrounded by mud-brick houses.
Those homes have neither electricity nor the blessing and curse frequent in poor areas of India or South America: television antennas (and sometimes satellite dishes). Outside, scrawny goats and dogs search for scraps, while women balance on their heads huge loads of clothes for washing or water for drinking. Children have to walk three miles through dense brush to publicly funded schools, past poisonous snakes and-occasionally-human antagonists. Little had changed for decades, but two new options are now emerging.
One is evident along the dirt roads: Small villages now have mosques, often paid for by Iran or Saudi Arabia. One of every six Ghanians identifies with Islam, and we saw not one but four mosques in Asamankese, a town of 39,000 nearly 50 miles northwest of Accra. Muslims in Ghana often are poor, and so far the religion attracts few converts, but that could change with funding from outside the country. Some trucks on their back windshields display stenciled slogans like "Is Allah not sufficient for you?" and "Does God have a son?"
Part of another option appears a few hundred potholes past Asamankese. (Countryside driving in Ghana is like whitewater rafting in a rock-filled stream.) There we visited a farm with 18 acres of palm nut and orange trees owned by the Hour of Deliverance network of churches. (Victor Owiredu, a 64-year-old Ghanian trained at Dallas Theological Seminary, founded the church network, and Ampadu has now influenced his thinking.) The farm employs villagers at a palm oil factory, a labor intensive set-up that presses palm oil out of palm nuts. Farm profits help to support schools in small villages like Nsontra and Wawase.
In Nsontra we visited 60 children, ages 3-15, and their parents who sweated to build the cement-block school. In the Wawase school two young men teach 85 young students: A scarred blackboard displayed sentences like "A fat cat sat on the bed" and one that pointed to crucial self-definition in the image of God: "Am I a cat? No, I am a boy." When Wawase residents saw the need for a well and school, they didn't wait for the government to build them. Instead they raised money and contributed their labor, while the Hour of Deliverance partnered with them to drill the well and provide building materials.
The names Accra-area businesses carry: Lord of Life Bakery, God Is Able Food Joint, Living Bread Bus Stop, Blessed Assurance Computers, For Christ Boutique, The Lord Is My Shepherd Beauty Salon, If God Say Yes Barbering Shop, God Is Able Hardware ...
Ampadu, 50, didn't see such names when he grew up in a Ghanian village 400 miles north of Accra. His mother was a fetish priestess known as a prophetess who sometimes became possessed. His father was a poor farmer who wanted his eldest son to gain an education, so Chris woke up at 5 a.m., three times carried water from the river Asukawkaw to his home, and washed in the river. Then he walked to school and sometimes 10 miles more to work at the farm, and came home carrying food on his head.
Ampadu recalls two leaps in his understanding. First, at age 17 with the help of Scripture Union, he professed faith in Christ. The second leap came when he attended in 1999 the first conference of Disciple Nations Alliance (see "Godly endeavors," WORLD, Dec. 5, 2009): DNA sees Christian worldview teaching as the missing link between evangelism and economic development. Without that understanding, Africa's Christianity takes a gnostic form, with extravagant worship on Sunday but no connection between that and their lives the rest of the week, or between the spiritual and the material.
Ampadu became part of the Samaritan Strategy Africa team that DNA helped form. Now Samaritan Strategy Africa (samaritan-strategy-africa.org) has six regional offices, and Ampadu from Accra coordinates work in 13 West African countries. He and others teach Christian worldview classes that emphasize the importance of hard work, integrity, and caring for others. At first Ampadu focused on teaching pastors, but then he realized it would take too long for the teaching to trickle down to ordinary Africans. So he took the message to laypeople and encouraged the formation of "Wholistic Clubs" that deal with both spiritual and material needs.
To see what this looked like, we went with three older women-schoolteachers Emma Dwarko and Regina Teye, and egg-seller Esther Gyemfi-to their homes in Pokuase, a suburb of Accra. We walked on rutted dirt paths near small houses where women had built businesses with seed money given by the Wholistic Clubs: Mary Chiasi works as a seamstress, Elizabeth Soglo as a hairdresser, and Beuty Amazu turned a fruit stand into a corner grocery store. Esther Bawa sells charcoal and takes care of six children not her own.
The clubs teach about showing love to neighbors in concrete ways. For instance, young Esther Wood received business start-up money that allowed her to buy a small bowl and fill it with plastic containers to sell. When she reported back to the older women, she was discouraged: I'm selling, yet I have no money. They asked what she did with the money she earned, and she said: Whatever my eyes saw, I bought, items like ice cream and meat pies. So the club leaders talked with her about resisting the temptation to fritter away her earnings.
The next time Wood reported to them, she was so successful that she had traded in her small bowl of plastic wares for a big one filled with attractive cooking pots. She gave her small bowl and a few plastic items to another woman starting out. Now, when Dwarko, Teye, or Gyemfi walk through Pokuase, residents come to them with job problems and hear from them messages like those Ampadu vigorously proclaims: "We have no excuse for our poverty. ... We will not advance without integrity and compassion."
The Hour of Deliverance church network has set up a vocational school that has success stories such as that of Paulina Suuri: She started her own business with a manual sewing machine provided by the church, then used her profits to buy an electric one as well as a serger to finish seams. Now she finishes seams for other seamstresses, charging 50 cents per item. She buys fabric for $4 and sells it for $5, and charges another $10 for a custom-made garment.
Ampadu also teaches freshmen at two Accra colleges, where students discuss the ethics of bribes and expense padding. Some have set up Wholistic Clubs that encourage students to show love to their communities. Ampadu has support from others like Peter Ohene Kyei, the head of Pentecost University College, who speaks about transformational leadership and sounds like Booker T. Washington: "Work in the corner where you are." Kwei emphasizes practical projects such as improving personal hygiene and cleaning up neighborhoods.
Ampadu emphasizes the need for Africans themselves to help their neighbors, and shows schools and wells and other projects produced by the savings and sweat of Ghanians themselves: "Western money will not solve our problem."
The names vehicles carry on their back and side windows: King Jesus Van, By the Power of God Taxi, Blood of Jesus Bus, In God We Trust Motors, Nearer My God Construction, No Food for Lazy Man, By the Power of God, In God We Trust Farm, Surely Justice and Mercy Will Follow Me ...
We saw many of these during a 97-mile trip from Accra to Elmina, a coastal town of 33,000 that began as a Portuguese slave trading post in 1482. There we met Pastor Joshua Lamptey, 41, who attended a Samaritan Strategy conference in 2009 and caught the vision of teaching people to "fish for the glory of God" and practice the "discipline of loving our neighbors."
Before that Lamptey believed church work the only real work. (Some Americans make the same mistake by thinking that only pastors and missionaries are engaged in "full-time Christian service.") He learned to appreciate the efforts of men like burly Kojo Sortoh Mensah, awarded a blue Ford Ranger when experts in 2008 named him Ghana's best fisherman. Mensah, now in a Wholistic Club, helps others start small businesses, pay hospital bills, and leave prostitution: He speaks with an earthy vigor like that of another fisher of men, Peter the apostle, displayed.
Ampadu's teaching has also activated Emilie Hasford, 70, who runs a small business that employs 10 women cooking for schools, and David Kweku Danso, who teaches young men to persevere in a key making shop. Ghana officially has 11 percent unemployment, according to The CIA Factbook, but that number doesn't include the thousands of people walking between cars during Accra traffic jams trying to sell everything from batteries to clothes, and rarely finding a taker. The real rate, in terms of people productively employed, is as much as 40 percent.
That's a huge problem for Ghana, but Ampadu points to positives such as Ghanian interest in education: Learning centers have names like Brainbirds, Wisebirds, and The Intellectuals School. Ghana's divisions-more than 100 different linguistic and cultural groups groupable into seven tribal families-may be an advantage, in that no particular faction is dominant. (Civil wars are more likely to arise when a country has only two major contenders: Look at Rwanda, with its Hutus and Tutsis, or Nigeria, evenly divided between Christians and Muslims.)
Three U.S. presidents in a row have come to Accra-in 1998, 2008, and 2009-and made the country a poster child for African success: Barack Obama earlier this year called Ghana "a good news story." Ampadu, though, sees success dependent on whether Ghanians understand the Bible's good news story as one in which Christ empowers His followers not merely to sing and dance, but to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."
After all, the name Christians claim, disciple, involves disciplined following of the command to love God and love our neighbors.
-with appreciation for Tim O'Brien's 1990 book of short stories about soldiers in Vietnam, The Things They Carried
Samaritan Strategy Africa budget in 2011: $822,157
Western Africa region budget in 2011: $95,736
West Africa volunteer count: 67+
2011 budget for Ghana: $53,218
Chris Ampadu salary in 2011: $23,760
This is the seventh year of WORLD's Hope Awards for Effective Compassion, but the first in which we have an international finalist.
This year's final five are all different-and are all good. From the West comes Wyoming-based Fathers in the Field, which pairs fatherless kids with men who take them hunting, fishing, and bonding. Down East is The Root Cellar, a Maine group that shows refugees how to make it in America. In the Midwest sits Hope Academy, a classical Christian school in inner-city Minneapolis. The Southern winner is WorkFaith Connection, which helps some of Houston's least-employable men and women to find jobs.
The international winner, Samaritan Strategy Africa, also helps the poor in ways that are challenging, personal, and spiritual. We look for Christian, nongovernmental poverty-fighting programs that are not just evangelical and not just economic, but unite body and soul. We started this year with 200 recommendations from readers and initial research by internet and phone, and followed with journalistic visits that allowed us to eyeball 10 programs. Each of the five finalists will receive $4,000.
Now it's up to you. Please go to Hope Award page, read the stories, and look at the videos and photographs. Between now and Sept. 30, please vote online for the program that moves you the most. The ministry that receives the most votes will receive an additional $21,000. You may get ideas about what you can start or help in your own communities. You'll surely get a sense of how God is using His people.
Vote for the 2012 winner and read profiles of finalists and winners from 2006 through 2012 on WORLD's Hope Award page.