by Keith Carey
At first glance Ghana appears to be just another small country in West Africa, but that is far from the truth. It is a nation named after the “Ghanas” who were the kingly leaders of old. It was a land once called the “Gold Coast” because of the wealth coming from trading in gold. The leaders were so wealthy from the gold trade that one of them accidentally made the value of gold slip downward for a time when he spent or gave it away lavishly on his way to Mecca.
Ghana was the first sub-Saharan African nation to gain independence from the colonial powers. It is relatively stable, with religious freedom and peace between the Muslim and Christian communities. Today Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Liberia are English speaking African nations in a sea of French speaking countries.
Around AD 500 agriculture was expanding on the southern tip of the Sahara Desert, allowing villages to form in that part of West Africa. As time passed, kingdoms rose. One of them called the Kingdom of Ghana was just north of where the nation state we now know as Ghana exists. Originally Ghana was the title for a king, but the Arabs who left records used that term not only for the king, but also as names for the capital and the state. Ghana thus became the name of a place. A Berber historian described Ghana as one of the three best-organized states in the region. It was known for its wealth in gold, opulent courts, and a powerful military. The people there traded gold, and their military made sure the rulers kept control of the gold mines. The Kingdom of Ghana fell at the turn of the millennium to a Muslim power, but the name and reputation remained. Even today some still call it the “Gold Coast.”
Islam and European Colonialists
There were a couple of states in West Africa during the Middle Ages. One of them was called the Dagomba, which was located in modern northern Ghana. Though their leaders were not Muslim, they had a good relationship with Islamic people who often served as scribes and doctors. Islam influenced this region, and Muslim merchants and clerics began to spread out. In the early 1400s Islam was becoming more popular in northern Ghana.
Soon Portuguese colonialists came to the region. They began over 500 years of control by colonial powers looking for cheap goods and slaves. The Portuguese brought the first Roman Catholic missionaries to Ghana. Later came the Dutch, and finally by the early 20th century, the British had full control of what became their colony. By this time the slave trade had ended. British rule did not end until 1957 when Ghana became the first African nation freed from European colonialists.
Christianity and Islam in Ghana
“Christian” European powers had taken slaves and armed violent men with modern firearms. By contrast, Muslim merchants usually had a good relationship with local rulers and traders. But there were a number of other factors that led to Christianity being prevalent in this part of the world.
As early as the 1400s there were both Catholic and Anglican missionaries on the Gold Coast as Ghana was called at that time. The Anglicans established a school in Cape Coast where students learned from the scriptures and had Bible studies.
In 1835, John Rhodes Dunwell and a team of Methodist missionaries arrived. Within the next eight years, 11 out of 21 Methodist missionaries died, making the Ghanaians wonder why anyone would risk their lives like that. Despite the high casualties that plagued missionaries until the introduction of quinine in the early 20th century, Methodist work expanded thanks to Thomas Birch Freeman. By 1910 Methodist evangelism had expanded into northern Ghana, where Islam was much stronger than it is today. By this time Ghana was a colony/protectorate of the United Kingdom. The colonial government tried to stop missionary work, but the persistence of the Methodists won out. They established formal missionary work in 1955. Paul Adu was the first African indigenous missionary to northern Ghana. In 1961, the Methodist church in Ghana became autonomous in this newly independent nation state.
To this day, the influence of Christian mission work is felt in Ghana. Missionaries established education at every level. Over 95 percent of secondary (high) schools are mission schools. Likewise, missionaries established medical facilities, and today 42 percent of the nation’s health care needs are taken care of by Christian efforts. About 58 percent of the people in Ghana consider themselves Christian.
About 30 percent of Ghanaians are Muslim. Most of these are Sunni, the most populous sector of Islam worldwide. But there are also strong communities among the Ahmadiyyas, a heretical Muslim sect that believes that there is a messiah who came to India in the 19th century. Muslims do not persecute the Ahmadiyyas like they do in parts of the world where Sunni Muslims hold the majority. Most Ahmadiyya converts came from a weak Christian background. There are also Sufi Muslims, a sect of Islam that stresses emotions and mysticism. Each of these three sects will require a different effort to reach them for Christ. As a general rule, Christian and Muslim communities get along relatively peacefully in Ghana.
—Pray for continual peace between Muslim and Christian communities in Ghana. Pray that this peace will allow Ghanaian believers to share the Savior with people who rely on their own spiritual merit to inherit paradise.
—There are a number of excellent efforts to spread the gospel in Ghana, and many of them are led by Africans. Pray that they will be led by people who rely on the Holy Spirit to strengthen their character.
—The Joshua Project reports 18 unreached people groups in Ghana. Pray for each of them to have a disciple-making movement among them by the end of this decade.
—The Perspectives on the World Christian Movement class had their first meeting in Ghana last August. Pray for lasting fruit to come from this effort to help believers become world Christians.
by Keith Carey
Dear Praying Friends,
This is the first time since 1992 that we have focused on Ghana in the Global Prayer Digest (GPD). Much has changed in that country since that time.
The unreached peoples of Ghana have faith; the problem is they put their faith in the wrong things. This month you will pray for unreached people groups that put their faith in pre-Islamic rituals and in an Islamic caricature of God, rather than in the death and resurrection of Christ.
God is moving in Ghana as never before. I attended the Movement for African National Initiatives (MANI) Conference in Ethiopia last March and met a couple of precious Ghanaian workers. This month we will pray for the fruit of their work on days five, seven, and 24.
A couple of months ago Perspectives had its first class in Ghana, thanks to the guidance of experienced Nigerian believers. As you have seen from recent GPD issues, when people take this class, they become aware of the need to reach the unreached in their midst, and they act on it. Last month we prayed for Rwandans who are doing just that. Pray that Ghanaians who take the Perspectives class will soon be sending workers to the unreached peoples in their country!