Evangelism in West Africa

EVANGELISM—that is the only purpose for the existence of the Seventh-day Adventist Church with its various institutions, including our medical school. . .

-associate professor of biology at Pacific Union College at the time this article was written

EVANGELISM—that is the only purpose for the existence of the Seventh-day Adventist Church with its various institutions, including our medical school.

Whenever evangelism falls to the background as a driving force, and love for Christ and a passion for His cause become second place in the atmosphere of an Adventist institution, that institution loses its purpose of existence.

In 1972, after a telephone call from the General Conference in Washington, D.C., Mrs. Nagel and I came to the conclusion that God was calling us back to West Africa.

With nearly twenty-five years of service behind me in mission hospitals in West Africa, I knew how terribly busy these institutions can become. Often it has been a struggle to keep going because of the shortage of doctors.

But I determined not to allow this device of the devil (shortage of doctors) to confuse my values and priorities. I decided that with the help of God, while doing all in my power to keep the wheels of the hospital operating efficiently, I would also make time to put "first things first." And "first things" are the avenues of evangelism that loving medical ministry unfailingly opens within the institution and without.

Consequently, months before leaving the United States plans were made for active medical evangelism at the Kwahu Hospital, Mpraeso, Ghana, and the communities adjoining it. Equipment and visual aids were purchased. Fellow medical colleagues, the hospital chaplains, the business manager, a large number of the senior members of the nursing and auxiliary staffs, and student nurses at the Kwahu Hospital, were enthusiastic about forming a medical-evangelistic team.

When the dry season was reasonably well established, the evening of December 17,1972, was set as the opening for a twenty-six night health-evangelistic series of meetings. These were to be con ducted at Obo-Kwahu, six miles from the hospital. This large upcountry community like so many others has not one Seventh-day Adventist living in it. Why was this town chosen?

Aided by Chief

The first Sunday I was at the Kwahu Hospital I had the privilege of meeting the paramount chief of Obo-Kwahu. He had but recently come to this position of traditional rulership. When his uncle had died, the "king makers" of the town called Nana Asiamah II from the Ghana police force, where he had served as an officer for some years. His influence now not only affects Obo-Kwahu but also some 300 towns and villages in the Kwahu district.

I shall never forget the first meeting in his residence. His cordiality and frankness were not a veneer. During our visit he said, "I will be very pleased if the Seventh-day Adventists will establish a church in my town, and also operate a clinic here." To me this was a clear twentieth-century "Come over into Macedonia, and help us" appeal.

A quick survey of the town of Obo-Kwahu made it evident that an open-air hall would need to be constructed.

An appointment was made with Nana Asiamah II to ask for a centrally located piece of ground, where these meetings could be conducted. A fourth of a mile from the chief's residence was such a piece. At one end of this sloping grass-covered area was the traditional open-air throne of the community's chiefs. Nana Asiamah II's predecessors and he had sat on this throne from time to time to address the citizenry. Here it was that traditional rites and dances had often been conducted.

Because we needed the maximum use of this land, I asked the chief whether it would be violating any traditions were we to construct the stage over his throne.

"That does not matter; I can sit anywhere," was his reply. This let me know that he, too, planned to attend the meetings. What joy this brought to our hearts.

Over his throne a three-sectioned stage was constructed, on which we placed projection screens. Simple planks set on cement blocks gave seating accommodations for two thousand people. A 100-watt amplifier with four microphones carried the voice a good half mile beyond the open-air hall, which was surrounded on all sides by stores and homes.

One evening the chief was ill, and consequently did not attend the meeting. But he told us, "I could hear every word spoken from the open-air hall, in my bed room." Only the day of judgment will reveal how many hundreds of others who stayed in their homes during these meetings also heard the words of life spoken.

The Program

The general meetings were scheduled Sunday through Wednesday. Initially the meetings began at 6:45 P.M. with a song service, followed at 7:00 by a health talk of about twenty minutes. As the meetings progressed, the hospital chaplain conducted a stimulating question-and-answer period for ten to fifteen minutes.

Usually by seven-thirty, two-thirds of the hall would be full, but as soon as the lights were turned off and the Bible study began, the remaining seats would be quickly taken. (There are Nicodemuses in all countries.) Some nights hundreds stood for well over an hour to hear the message. During the Bible study period, we used the "Reach Out for Life" MISSION '72 material, including the slides put out by the South western Union Conference.

Although the slides were not geared entirely to a West African upcountry community, still, Bible texts have power in all languages. As the text was on the large center screen, two assistants with wax pencils wrote in large letters the text in English and in the vernacular, using overhead projectors and two smaller, flanking screens. The people in the audience were given pads and pencils to write down the texts and were urged to go home and study each subject for them selves from their own Bibles.-l had available thousands of copies of Reach Out for Life sermon summaries. Slips of paper that were handed out had the following offers:

1. I would like a copy of to night's Bible study.

2. My question (or questions) is written on the back.

3. My prayer request is (or are):

Thousands Attend

At the first meeting an estimated 4,000 persons attended. About a month later, more than 4,000 came to a Sunday night meeting. Nana Asiamah II attended most of the meetings. On three occasions he came to the microphone and encouraged his people (many are pagans and nominal Christians) to accept Christ. One evening he emphasized the text, "The wages of sin is death."

Almost every morning at seventhirty the Kwahu Hospital medical team met for twenty minutes for prayer and to lay plans for the evening meeting. Special prayer re quests from the audience were read to the team and fervent prayers ascended to heaven in be half of those who made the requests.

After the Sabbath truth was presented, a Friday night and a Sabbath morning meeting were announced for the coming week end. The chief opened the court of his residence for these meetings. From the very first more than 300 people have come to these special Friday night gatherings. After a health talk and Bible study, the material covered that evening is handed out to those present. On the back of each lesson are questions to be answered on the health subject and also on the Bible study. The next Friday evening the question sheets are returned by those who have studied them during the week.

Thus those convicted are being carefully indoctrinated and prepared for baptism. Quite a number, including Nana Asiamah II, have already requested baptism. Time and again I have tactfully reminded those who have requested baptism that Jesus said, "Go and teach," and then after the new converts were well taught and had fully accepted Christ as their Saviour, they were baptized.

Approximately thirty individuals attended the Sabbath school and church services the first Sabbath these services were held in the town of Obo-Kwahu. A month later, at the time of this writing, nearly a hundred were in attendance.

The rains were soon to begin. We needed to move indoors. We began looking for a building we could rent temporarily until funds could be found to build a representative house of worship. I asked Nana Asiamah II if he knew of any such building in Obo-Kwahu. He answered, "On a portion of my land is an old church building that was used for years by the English United Mission. They have moved into new premises. I was planning to demolish the building and construct a day nursery on the land. But you may use it until you have a permanent house of worship erected."

This building can seat 250 in the sanctuary, and 50 children in an adjoining wing.

Once again God has demonstrated that when we follow His counsel for evangelism, combining the medical with the spiritual, souls are attracted to God's truth.

Not only has it been wonderful to see new souls being attracted to the Saviour by the power of the Holy Spirit but we are conscious of having performed a valuable service to the community in the instruction on health which has been given. Furthermore, these meetings have also enlivened the spiritual tone of the hospital church. Spiritual activity is spiritual exercise. It is vital for spiritual sound health of the already baptized member.

"My Chewing Stick"

We have received many verbal and written responses of precious souls reached during these meetings. Here is a portion of Adjei Frederick's letter, dated February 6, 1973. He is a student attending an agricultural school in the area. Remember, he is writing in a foreign language.

"Sir, I have taken this step in the name of the Almighty to tell you my feelings about the words of God which cannot be bought with even ¢10,000 ($7,000) but only by our belief; that is, we can buy the Word of God only with our hearts.

"Sir, in fact, I was very pleased about the way you explained things to the people of Obo. The behaviour of your people,, how gentle, humble, and merciful they were, and explained things to the illiterates.

"With respect to what you delivered to us, I was comforted with one Scripture and that is, 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.'

"This attracted my heart so well that I could not even sleep with out saying it. Since that time it became my 'chewing stick/ and I voice it out every second, minute, and hour! Because for long, I have been thinking of so many problems which I intended (to go) to native doctors for something to solve my problems for me, but the more I go to them the more my problems became.

"But when you told me that there is Someone in heaven telling us to come unto Him ... at first I thought you were telling lies. So I made up my mind to pray and make the Bible be always my guide. And since then, everything has been going on smoothly for me . . ."

Surely Frederick's testimony is that of every hungry soul who finds his need satisfied by the words of life. With joy we are privileged to share this good news with those who as yet have not heard.

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-associate professor of biology at Pacific Union College at the time this article was written

November 1973

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