Published: February 26, 2013
Thomas Oduro, president of Good News Theological College and Seminary in Ghana, attributes explosion of African Christianity to expectation that every Christian will be a missionary.
(A joint release of Mennonite Mission Network and AMBS)
In mid-February, Thomas Oduro, president of Good News Theological College and Seminary in Accra, Ghana, brought gospel messages from Africa as he preached and taught in northern Indiana Mennonite agencies and congregations. “Celebrate what God is doing for you,” he encouraged a mission focus group at Clinton Frame Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind.
Oduro described worship in his homeland of Ghana that is so alive and compelling that people stand up and shout “hallelujah” to affirm a preacher’s sermon or pay for the opportunity spend a night dancing to praise music on a theater. People pack out church services until there is standing room only and think nothing of engaging in worship for four – seven hours.
“The whole congregation is preaching. That’s why it takes so long, but people aren’t sleeping,” Oduro said.
He expanded academia’s definition of worship, faithful preaching of God’s word and administration of the sacraments, to include “celebrating the Good News of God.”
At Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Oduro preached on mission using Luke 10 as his text. He encouraged Christians to move out of their comfort zones to every town and city, including the dangerous places on our planet. He noted that Jesus’ ministry is like a three-legged stool, employing teaching, preaching and healing to communicate the good news of his salvation. If one of the legs is missing, the stool will not be stable, or very useful.
“Has Jesus stopped healing?” Oduro, asked. Hearing no response from those unaccustomed to giving feedback to a preacher, Oduro answered his own question.
“I tell you, Jesus Christ is still in the healing business,” Oduro said.
In a land of subsistence agriculture, harvesting when the fields are ready is as urgent for life as evacuating people when a house is on fire. Jesus calls us with that kind of urgency and compassion, Oduro said.
Oduro, who has experienced the entire ecumenical spectrum within his own spiritual pilgrimage, advises learning about successful mission by studying African Initiated Churches, who have led the way in the explosion of Christianity in Africa.
According to Oduro, the foremost missionary concept of African Initiated Churches is that every Christian is a missionary. Because the great commission in Acts 1:8 is directed to all believers, rather than a select few individual missionaries, the phenomenal growth of African churches is due to congregations planted by lay people, who use the everyday events of their lives to proclaim the gospel, Oduro said.
He named weddings, funerals and child-naming ceremonies as examples of occasions where people are given a platform to share what Jesus has done for them.
Although the Holy Spirit works through educational institutions, like Good News, these opportunities aren’t available to many people. Most African Initiated Church members trust the Holy Spirit to equip all Christians for their missionary calling, Oduro said.
“Prayer is a missionary strategy,” Oduro said. “We pray expectantly, believing God will answer our petitions. We invite people to come to God on their knees.”
Oduro was baptized as an infant in his parents’ Presbyterian Church. However, he began attending a Methodist church when he went to live with his grandparents, but needed to become Catholic in order to attend junior high school. As Oduro began his own spiritual search, he joined an African Initiated Church, Church of the Lord Brotherhood.
It was here that he met his first Mennonite, Erma Grove, who was a teacher and director of Good News Training Institute. Grove served from 1957-83 with Mennonite Board of Missions, a predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network and one of the leaders in ministry with African Initiated Churches.
Grove was speaking in African Initiated Churches about the importance of biblical understanding and inviting congregations to send students to Good News Training Institute, later to become Good News Theological College and Seminary. Oduro was chosen by his congregation to attend the school and graduated in 1983. Now, forty years later, as president of one of his alma maters, Oduro continues the ministry begun by Grove.
“I am an example of the contribution of Mennonites to African Christianity,” Oduro said. “I have come to pay my debt.”
Grove insisted that all her students read the Bible cover-to-cover. It seemed like an impossible task, Oduro said, but Grove, a passionate and challenging teacher, found ways to make it interesting, like counting the number of times Mark used “immediately” in his gospel and then asking, “Why?”
“It was a joy to be in her class. Because many of us attended evening classes, coming directly from work, Erma brought food. Not only was she a director and lecturer, she was a mother to us,” Oduro said.
Since his student days at Good News, Oduro has been part of three additional denominations – Calvary Baptist, Lutheran and Abiding Life Ministries International, where he is currently a member. Because Good News Theological College and Seminary has been a collaborative ministry among African Initiated Churches, Mennonites and Lutherans, Oduro obtained his master’s degree and his doctorate at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.
Oduro holds office in several international ecumenical organizations and has authored or coauthored numerous books. He was jointly hosted in Indiana by Mission Network and Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. His February visit was part of a nine-month sabbatical at Overseas Ministries Study Center in New Haven. Conn., as Good News released him to complete a book on evangelism, rest and renew contacts with sponsors of the college and seminary.
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