The Rev. Dr. Seth Agidi, moderator of the General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ghana (EPCG), came to the 223rd General Assembly (2018) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to strengthen relationships with his brothers and sisters in Christ, but also to visit family — his Lake Erie family.
For more than seven years, the Upper Northern Presbytery of the EPCG and the Lake Erie Presbytery in Pennsylvania have enjoyed a deep and growing partnership focused not on giving and getting, but on building relationships, learning from one another, and walking together in faith and friendship.
“In the faith journey with the Ghana/Lake Erie partnership, we are mutually empowered and enjoy each other’s unique hospitality,” said Agidi. “Our American friends are welcomed to Ghanaian homes with generous smiles of ‘Mia woe zor’ (welcome). This relationship continues to develop into individual and family ties. We mourn, comfort, rejoice with, support and mutually build up each other in our journey of faith and friendship.”
The EPCG was founded in 1847 by German missionaries from Bremen, but Agidi said the church moved from one of merely receiving to becoming a missionary church, operating its own mission and ministry programs with partner churches.
Although it isn’t the oldest partnership, Agidi says the relationship with Lake Erie and the Upper Northern Presbytery is certainly among the deepest and the strongest.
“Our oldest partnership is with Germany,” he said. “But when we go there, we have meetings and stay in hotels. When we visit Lake Erie we sleep in one another’s homes, we get to know each other’s children, we stand in one another’s pulpits.”
The Rev. David Oyler of Lake Erie Presbytery said that this relationship presented an opportunity for the presbyteries to “understand a different culture, a different world, learn the strengths of each other’s system that bind us together to build the body of Christ in both places.”
Sitting side-by-side in the America Center, Agidi and Oyler talked about how the two partners look for areas of collaboration and find they are facing similar challenges — caring for the elderly and losing young people from the rural setting to the urban areas where jobs are more available.
Oyler said that last year, a Ghana pastor, David Bindati, died in a motorcycle accident. The grief was felt on both continents. Members of the Lake Erie Presbytery visited the pastor’s widow and children and helped with their care, financially and emotionally.
“You wouldn’t think of Lake Erie and Ghana as having any similarities, but they both require a little time and stamina to get there,” said mission co-worker the Rev. Josh Heikkila. Agidi joked that in Ghana, Lake Erie is a household name.
Agidi also said that Heikkila’s presence provides an opportunity for a unique relationship. “Joshua and visiting friends from the US participate in almost all activities of the EPCG. We worship together, eat together, sing and dance together. Joshua has pastoral oversight of one of our congregations. He speaks our language. We, in turn, learn more about the US and the global church,” he said.
Mission co-worker Ruth Brown recently answered the call to serve in Ghana’s Northern Region with the EPCG, working to build leadership for community health programs. She supports church leadership in developing Community Health Evangelism (CHE) programs. The CHE approach is developed through Bible study and discussion of Christian life and responsibilities for all creation, particularly for neighbors. Study groups are taught strategies for health promotion and disease prevention. Community members learn to identify their local health concerns and resources and to implement programs for positive, sustainable change.
The Rev. Debbie Braaksma, World Mission’s coordinator for the Africa area office, believes this relationship is an excellent example of the way Presbyterians do partnership. “True partnership is not about being a donor,” she said. “It’s not about giving some money to international partnership that is left over in your budget, it’s about growing together in the body of Christ. A wonderful way to experience the depth and breadth of God’s love is international partnership.”
The PC(USA) has partnerships with several churches in West Africa — the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ghana and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Togo. The PC(USA) also has partnerships with the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria and the Evangelical Church of the Republic of Niger.