In July we held our first ever Justice Conference in Ghana. We had 250 pastors and church leaders from about a 4 hour long stretch of Lake Volta’s shoreline gather to receive training in Biblical Justice and the problem of child trafficking on the lake. It was amazing! To tell the story right though, I need to rewind the clock….
When I first reported to work in February, the Outreach and Engagement Team, of which I am a part, met to go over our work plan for the year. It was identified that one of the major projects I would take on for the year would be working with Eastern Hills Bible Church in Syracuse New York on their proposal of hosting a justice-themed pastor’s conference in the Volta region where they have many relationships from a 20 year history of work in that region. At that point, we were very vague on what that idea meant and what our role would be in it.
We began a skype dialogue in which we learned that their vision is that they would fund the whole endeavor, but put us at IJM completely in charge of the content and managing the various relationships involved in pulling off such an endeavor. This combination of both generosity and humility was really impressive to me and it really made me love that church!
We began a series of four visits to Ho, the capitol city of the Volta Region in which we built relationships with the leadership of the two principal ecumenical councils in the area: The Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council (GPCC) and the Christian Council of Ghana (CCG), which is for mainline churches like Presbyterians and Methodists. Both councils were wonderful and signed on early to co-sponsor the event with us. We formed a planning committee with several leaders from each council and they assumed the responsibility for mobilizing their pastors to attend, as well as finding people for all the up-front roles aside from the main speakers, so the M.C., worship leaders, prayer leaders, etc. were all provided by these councils. They also arranged for very inexpensive and efficient catering and transportation. They did an amazing job! Church conferences are a huge thing here and seem to always be heavily advertised on billboards and such. We did no advertising. These local church councils had such a sense of ownership of the event that they just worked the phones and got their people on board. In fact, they actually talked us into increasing the size of the conference up from our original vision of 50 pastors to the much large event it became.
We told them early on that our priority of pastors to attend was for those from fishing villages on the shores of Lake Volta, as well as for influential pastors in the regional capital of Ho. Sure enough, that’s who came! I would estimate about two-thirds of the pastors were from these lakeside villages and one-third was from regional capitol city of Ho.
The pastors heard powerful biblical teaching on God’s heart for justice from the Rev. Hilliard Dogbe, a bishop overseeing 400 AME Zion churches in West Africa (the same denomination at Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman). A highlight was when he called out the fear that many of the pastors were facing, saying, “You all now know that you should rebuke the traffickers in your congregation, but you are afraid because they are the most influential members of your congregation. Well, you have a choice…Do you want to be a faithful pastor or a popular pastor?”
We also had government speakers including the Director of Social Welfare for the Volta region and Chief Inspector of the Anti-human trafficking unit of the Police for the Volta region. The Director of Children’s Department also came to speak on behalf of the Regional Minster (governor) of the Volta region.
We played a video testimony of a pastor in a source community who had himself worked on Volta Lake. We brought a musician named Selorm from Accra to lead “The Justice Song”, which he co-wrote with our Field Office Director Kaign Christy!
After breaking into small groups and then reporting back, we heard local pastors say things like “We believe we have a mandate from God to confront the traffickers in our communities” and “We are God’s battle-axe (to fight trafficking).” Local action committees are being formed, led by the church councils! We expect many of these churches to join us for Freedom Sunday in September!
We are overjoyed with how it all came together and with the overwhelmingly positive response from pastors who live right there in the heart of our project area. Please pray that God would make these pastors wise and brave as they seek to respond to what they have heard.
Update: a week after the conference, I went back to the region on a location scouting trip for an IJM film and found myself in a small fishing village of about 500 people that we accessed by canoe from a slightly larger village. Amazingly, when we were seeking the chief’s blessing to explore the village and potentially use it, two men approached us and said “We remember you from the conference!” It was a pastor and another church leader from a church in THAT village! They had already preached in their church the message they heard at the conference! They were planning to gather the whole village soon to discuss what they had learned about child trafficking! It was amazing to see some of the early fruit of this conference!
Update 2: That same pastor in the village became instrumental in our filming of an upcoming IJM storytelling film- even becoming an actor in the film!
Update 3: Amazing! On a recent visit of pastors from the states (of which my parents took part!), we visited this same village and got to join this pastor as he engaged his whole village in a meeting to challenge the practice of child trafficking and child labour in the village. We could tell the village was not yet on board with our message, so it made this pastors courage all the more a wonder to behold. We brought a few other pastors from neighboring villages who had also attended the conference to join us in this. They remarked, “Well, you know sometimes you have to decide between being a faithful pastor and a popular pastor!”