— Through an open window, the familiar voice came.
From a blaring television at an auto parts store next door, President Barack Obama’s recent speech to Ghana’s Parliament drifted into the Nsawam Road Church of Christ auditorium.
“America will be with you every step of the way, as a partner, as a friend,” the nation’s first black president said.
In his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office, Obama promised U.S. support to help Africa build a better political and economic future.
At that exact moment, several hundred Christians were gathered inside the Nsawam Road church building to celebrate a different kind of partnership — one with eternal ramifications.
“As significant as Obama’s visit is … what we’re doing has a far more staggering impact for Africa because we’re dealing with souls,” said Deon Fair, a member of the Richardson East Church of Christ in Texas and a key figure in efforts to develop a Christian liberal arts university in this small coastal nation.
As Obama spoke that Saturday, the leaders of two Christian higher education institutions — one in West Africa, the other 6,500 miles away in West Texas — signed a memorandum of understanding.
The agreement formalizes a partnership that started in 2002 between Heritage Christian College and Abilene Christian University.
“What we did today was a product of a seed we sowed many years back,” said Samuel Twumasi-Ankrah, the Ghanaian preacher who shared his dream for starting Heritage Christian College while earning a master’s degree at ACU a decade ago.
Akosua Konadu Asamoah, who goes by “Olivia,” joined other Nsawam Road members in celebrating the partnership.
“For the Church of Christ in Ghana to have a university is brilliant, and I can’t wait to see what God has planned for the church through the establishment of this school,” said Asamoah, a human resources professional working on a master’s degree in business administration.
A HIGHER EDUCATION FOR GHANA
The 1,200-member Nsawam Road church — the largest Church of Christ in Ghana — oversees Heritage Christian.
The church building sits beside a busy, six-lane highway at the center of this developing metropolis, where most commerce seems to occur at street corners as vendors peddle fruit, toilet paper and other items to motorists stalled in traffic.
In the past 20 years, the Nsawam Road church has:
• Planted about 40 congregations throughout Ghana.
• Sent missionaries to Muslim-dominated Mali as well as Benin, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Senegal and Togo.
• Coordinated the drilling of water wells in disease-infested communities of northern Ghana.
• Supported the Village of Hope orphanage’s vocational training program for street children in Accra.
Now, Twumasi-Ankrah and Nsawam Road elders see transforming Heritage Christian from a preacher-training school to a broad-based university as a crucial step in developing leaders.
“We think we should broaden our scope … and also train people who do not plan to be in full-time ministry,” Twumasi-Ankrah said.
The church needs educated leaders, he said, who can “address questions that arise from science and technology without losing faith in Christ.”
Heritage seeks national accreditation to offer business and Bible degrees and hopes to add future majors in nursing, education and community development, he said.
To help, ACU has promised to provide a rotation of temporary faculty and offer full-tuition scholarships to train potential permanent professors from Ghana.
ACU also intends to supply secure Internet access to its electronic library and furnish curriculum consulting and mentoring.
“I’m very impressed with what the Ghanaian Christians have pretty much done on their own,” ACU President Royce Money said. “I think it’s important that whatever we do that (Heritage) remain indigenous and also autonomous.”
Money, Twumasi-Ankrah and other leaders held a series of meetings with top Ghanaian officials — including minister of education Alex Tetteh-Enyo — to lobby for national accreditation for Heritage Christian.
Twumasi-Ankrah and Money also appeared on national television to promote a business seminar at the Nsawam Road church.
“I think God’s all over this,” said Fair, an ACU trustee and head of a U.S.-based foundation to raise funds for Heritage.
Since missionaries and native converts planted the first Churches of Christ in Ghana in the late 1950s, church membership has boomed.
Some researchers estimate that 450,000 church members now live in Ghana. Others put the number as high as 700,000.
But membership at the Nsawam Road church has reached a plateau, said Harold Oko-Asamoa, one of the church’s deacons.
At one time, the congregation was approaching 2,000 members, he said.
Some of the decline can be attributed to Nsawam Road’s church-planting efforts, but Oko-Asamoa suggests Ghana’s rapid urbanization also has played a role.
“Almost every Lord’s Day, we were baptizing two or three people,” he said. After Sunday worship, “we went to a brother’s house and spent the whole afternoon.”
But that was years ago.
Now, Accra’s streets are choked with cars. Many church members hurry to attend to their businesses after worship.
Door-knocking evangelism in the city is increasingly difficult, Oko-Asamoa said.
As Ghana’s economy expands, some residents have left their tin-roofed shacks for gated houses surrounded by barbed wire.
To provide financial stability for Ghana’s congregations — and reach the growing urban population — church leaders are establishing programs that go beyond ministry training.
Other African church leaders are doing the same.
In nearby Nigeria, longtime minister Moses Akpanudo oversees Obong University, a four-year university accredited by the Nigerian government in 2007. The university offers degrees in business and liberal arts.
Since 1997, Akpanudo and his family operated a college of management and ministry training school near their home in Obong Ntak, Nigeria. The curriculum includes daily chapel and Bible study.
In Nairobi, Kenya, the Kenya Christian Industrial Training Institute trains students in computer operations, Web design, automotive engineering and electronics.
Berkeley Hackett, a longtime missionary in the East African nation, serves as the institute’s principal. More than 2,000 students study at the institute, which has its own choir, drama club and basketball team.
In neighboring Uganda, members of Churches of Christ and Christian Churches are partnering with African congregations to establish LivingStone International University.
HE TAKES THE WORD WITH HIM
Back in Accra, Heritage Christian occupies a 10-acre campus 12 miles north of the church. The lush green campus, with the first two floors of a planned five-story classroom building constructed, overlooks banana and papaya trees and a soccer field where children play.
A Ghanaian church leader bought the land. American church members contributed funds to start the concrete-block buildings, using volunteer labor by church members.
Nsawam Road elder Douglas Boateng serves as chairman and CEO of an Accra-based fishing gear and equipment company with subsidiaries all over Africa.
Boateng has used his business connections to help plant churches in several countries.
He foresees the day when vocational missionaries trained by Heritage Christian will take the gospel all over the world, including mission points in North America.
“Ghanaians are travelers, and just like in Acts chapter 8, when we go, we go with the Word,” Boateng said. “I am a businessman, and as I go, the Lord uses the business. We believe that the Lord has sent us, and we are called for that.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING: Erik Tryggestad