African Christianity

Currently in development:

In the Feet of African Christians
Exploring Christianity’s Explosive
Growth
in Africa

A new creation in ethnographic writing: a book that in its e-book edition will have links to documentary video
embedded in its text.

The wealth of material in the over 350 hours we filmed for our African Christianity Rising film series—much quite intimate—contains dramatic and telling stories we had no room for in our films or extras.  It also contains rich and illuminating reflections, plus telling life-stories, from our illustrious commentators, like Kwame Bediako, Trevor Manhanga, Peter Sarpong, Mensa Otabil, Andrew Walls, and others. I am currently making use of many of these materials in a book on the lessons this project teaches that will in its e-book edition have links to project videos embedded in the text. Marrying vivid and dramatically compelling videos to text, which can deftly provide back-story, interpretation and context, provides powerful tools for bringing readers/viewers “into the feet” of others from different cultures and with different assumptions about the world.

To learn more about this project and see how it might work, begin to read some sample chapters here. To be kept informed about this project’s development and publications send us an email.


PART ONE

Chapter 1  Calvary Hill

© 2013  James Ault

Tuesday evening
Akropong, Ghana

The sound of singing, drumming and tambourines rises from the tightly packed neighborhood of wood, cement and traditional mud and wattle homes behind the historic Presbyterian church in Ghana’s provincial town of Akropong, only two hours drive into the hills from Ghana’s coastal capitol of Accra. “Business” or “Worker’s Club” of Calvary Hill Christian Ministries, a young Pentecostal—or “charismatic” church, they prefer to say—is holding its weekly Tuesday night meeting. Founded several years ago, Calvary Hill is the kind of independent charismatic church leading Christianity’s meteoric growth in Africa—here in Ghana, for instance, where the number of churches has been doubling every twelve years. Such growth was totally unexpected at the dawn of independence and put Africa at the forefront of Christianity’s world-historic shift to the nonwestern world where now two-thirds of all Christians live.

Twenty-some members of Calvary Hill’s Business Club have gathered at the home of “Auntie Lydia” Hansen, where the church has been meeting since its founding. “Sister Rose,” the wife of Calvary’s pastor, Fred Kwayisi-Darkwah, leads them in singing interspersed with prayer, all in the local language, Twi. “The lamb deserves praise, the lamb deserves thanks!” they sing briskly, clapping rhythmically. With drums and tambourines, their clapping provides a rhythmic bed carrying them seamlessly into the next song that Rose launches: “Let’s go see him! His name is Jesus! He’s the general!” Knowing the songs by heart, they close their eyes, embracing the music all the more intensely and personally, as they sing out loud altogether. With no song book, or even lyrics projected onto a screen, their hands and bodies are free to move, to clap, to sway or step this way or that, to dance, to shake their fists emphatically, raise a telling finger, or, with a slower praise song, move their hands slowly through the air as if touching and feeling the spiritual power present. They embody their songs: “The works of your hands are wonderful!” they sing, “They are wonderful!”

“Music makes a church progress,” Rose observes simply, a powerful truth about churches in general, but especially about churches here in Ghana like Calvary Hill. In addition to being a young mother with a three-year old son, Rose works full-time as a secretary while helping her husband Fred with Calvary Hill. Fred still receives no salary from the church. When they first considered embarking on this venture, he remembers Rose suggesting that they depend on her modest salary to get by. Sometimes, Rose says, they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. But “everyday,” she notes thankfully, “God helps us to eat.”

Fred, a tall, earnest, friendly young man in his late-twenties, leads three young drummers (one not older than eight) in the back of Auntie Lydia’s long narrow living room where they’ve set up benches for Business Club this evening. “With Business Club,” he explains, “the idea is to help those members who are not working, who find it difficult to earn a living.” This evening he draws on Scripture for lessons about being faithful and diligent in work. “A faithful man will abound in blessings,” he reads from Proverbs (28:20), “but, he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent.” “Rushing or seeking maximum profits,” he explains, “will not bring success.” He also encourages them to follow the example of “the early church” by pooling their resources through monthly dues to help one another out at key moments with small loans, in micro-financing style. He then has them share their work stories, as hair-dressers, carpenters, free-lance teachers, audio-visual technicians, etc., and say how they think Business Club might help them, and how they, in turn, can help their unemployed “brethren.” This is but one manifestation of the practical side of a holistic approach to their faith that Fred and many charismatic Christians in Ghana embrace.
(continue above)

Chapter One–Calvary Hill (cont’d)

Drawing their singing to a close, Rose announces, “Let’s start by praising God,” launching the group into a mounting chorus of prayer, everyone praying out loud on his or her own—a form of charismatic prayer now common in virtually all church-types in Ghana, including Presbyterians, Methodists and Catholics. Rose, her arms spread out high above, shakes her body emphatically with her prayer, at times breaking into a throaty stream of unintelligible sounds—her own speaking in tongues. Others shake their fists and pace from side to side, their faces, with eyes closed, tightened into intense expressions of yearning and conviction, while several babies wrapped in cloth on their mothers’ backs look on wide-eyed yet nonplussed, taking it all in. As their praying subsides, Rose raises another song, a slow chorus, sweeping the group up again together in song. “Prepare me, Jesus! Prepare me before you come, Father! You are my protector, my breastplate, my help in time of need.” And, with cresting emotion, the song’s closing plea: “Take me away from the woes of this world,” they sing out, “before you come!”

“Sometimes the way prayer goes,” Rose explains, “you’ll realize you’re standing there but your spirit has entered the presence of God. Suddenly a song comes to you that picks up on everything going on. As soon as you raise it, the whole congregation responds. So it’s not something that comes to your mind randomly,” she observes, “but God’s Holy Spirit puts it there at that moment so it’s able to work in the congregation.”

Such a spontaneous approach to worship would surprise many church-goers in the West used to following a printed program. Fred recounts how troubled he was during his first visit to North America several years later, to an African-American church center in Florida, by even having to read lyrics to songs projected onto a screen. Even that was too distracting, he felt. A song should just come up from inside you, he said, so you could just sing it out. And so it was at Calvary Hill.

Though Rose grew up Methodist, the music she now leads in worship comes from her experience as a child visiting relatives on weekends in the countryside who were “apostolics, ” she explains. (Such “apostolics,” we will see, played an important role in Christian growth in Ghana, even though they were begun without a single visit by a missionary from the West!)  “The way they moved and shook the tambourine,” Rose observes simply, “made me happy.” Nevertheless, leading worship at Calvary Hill did not come easily to her. “I’m shy,” she admits matter-of-factly. “When all the people are sitting there and you are standing alone in front, it’s scary. But, as time went on,” she says,“ God helped me; God took away the shyness.” Rose also credits the encouragement and support she received from her husband and from “Mama Lydia.” 

Lydia Oforiwaa Hansen— or “Auntie Lydia,” or “Mama Lydia,” as Calvary members call her—is a retired teacher for the blind now in her seventies. She was a founding member of Calvary Hill and happily invited Fred and Rose to start Calvary Hill in her living room, in the home she grew up in with ten brothers and sisters. Like most homes in Akropong, it is a compound house built around a central courtyard. With none of her siblings still living, Lydia now shares the compound with their children’s families, her “nieces” and “nephews” we would say in the West. But, in Ghana, they are spoken of and seen as Lydia’s children and they call her “mother.” On any afternoon after school Lydia can be found overseeing a group of children playing in the courtyard. “Be patient,” she counsels one, “you’ll get your turn.” Or “Open up, make room!” she urges the group crowded around a game.  “You should let him play.”[i]

To accommodate Calvary Hill’s growing congregation, on Sunday mornings Fred and helpers now string up a tent-like roof over the courtyard made of grain bags sewn together, under which they set up benches and sound equipment. But all the other weekly round of church meetings—like Business Club on Tuesdays, Women’s Fellowship on Wednesdays, or Prayer Meeting on Fridays—meet in Auntie Lydia’s living room.

Lydia’s offspring, several of whom live abroad in the United States and England, send her money to live on. In a country without significant retirement benefits or pensions, such help is critical. Some of her children help Calvary Hill financially, as well. And, in turn, “it has become Fred’s duty,” Rose explains, “when Mama is ill, to take her to the hospital.” Lydia’s children abroad call Fred’s cell phone from time to time to reach her. “So Mama has become our mother and grandmother,” Rose explains. “She is not only a church member; she is our family.”

[Continued–see complete sample chapters here. To be informed about this project’s progress, please send us an email.]