This is the next installment of a series about our travels at Christmastime. To read the first post, please click here.
We traveled many kilometers over the holidays and spent much enjoyable time with friends in various places. But, of course, the high point of the whole trip was the opportunity to celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We spent a lot of time in worship while away from home. It was a great blessing to be able to attend the Daily Offices at the Centre Lutherien d’Etudes Theologiques (CLET) in Dapaong. Alpha and Omega Lutheran Parish in Dapaong also welcomed us to their Christmas Eve and Day services. Then, while in Gbintiri, we were able to observe some of the Komba Lutheran Christmas Convention. Finally, we were blessed to be able to worship with the saints at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Kumasi on New Year’s Day.
Church services in Africa (from our limited experience thus far) are a very mixed bag. A lot depends on location, local culture, denominational tradition, and context. Worship in a small village parish in Northern Ghana is definitely not the same as at the flagship congregation in the middle of Accra. Not that either one is necessarily better or worse than the other – just different.
In Dapaong, the dominant local culture is Moba, but there is a great deal of French influence, and even still some residual German influence from when that region was part of German Togoland. At Alpha & Omega, the bulk of the worship service is conducted in French, but the lessons and the sermon are interpreted into Moba also. The choir sings mostly in Moba. This is the sanctuary of Alpha & Omega Parish.
It is not a large building – maybe 40ft x 20ft – but it was well filled for the two services we attended. Their facilities may be simple by American standards, but their worship is joyful. Here is a short video of the choir processing in on Christmas Eve.
This video shows a dance style common in the north of Togo and Ghana (so we are told).
The service on Christmas Eve was about an hour and a half long. Then, the youth put on a “skit” about false prophets and syncretism between Christianity and traditional African religion. I say “skit” because their drama was over an hour long. We missed some of the funny stuff because of not really understanding French, but it was still interesting to observe.
Then, Christmas Day was a joyous occasion unlike anything else we have seen in Africa so far. People were out in full force all over town, heading to the churches in their new fancy dress clothes. Men in nice new outfits with embroidery and embellishments and women in eye-popping dresses in every color imaginable were a sight to behold.
Again, we attended Alpha & Omega. The Christmas Divine Service was a solid three and a half hours. There were adult and youth choirs, extended dancing at the offering, the lessons and sermon in French and Moba. One of the highlights of the service was a series of Baptisms. The first was of an infant, and it was wonderful as always to see a new child of God being reborn. Especially noteworthy, though, was the second Baptism, which also included the rite of Confirmation.
The candidate was an elderly woman, who we were told had been attending the parish for some time, but had only recently come to request Baptism and membership. She was baptized on Christmas Day, and our fellow missionaries told us that it was an important occasion because the pastor used a rite for the Baptism and Confirmation that was entirely in Moba, because the candidate did not understand French well. For a church where most things are done in French, to have such an important rite conducted in Moba was a landmark event. Thanks be to God for pouring out His mercies on the two candidates that day!
After we left Dapaong a few days after Christmas, we headed back into Ghana to a small town called Gbintiri, where we visited a friend and Lutheran Bible Translators missionary, Michael Ersland. He is working among the Komba people on a project to translate the Old Testament into the Komba language. While we were there, Michael brought us to observe the Komba Lutheran Church Christmas Convention.
At this annual gathering, members from a half-dozen or so parishes among the Komba people gather to worship and celebrate the Christmas season for several days. We were able to see Immanuel Lutheran Church, and were introduced to the pastors assembled there.
Once the festivities got up and running for the day, we got to see a series of dances and spiritual songs. The whole event was held in the Komba language, so about the only thing we understood were the words “Morning Devotion”, when they introduced the Evangelist who was giving the devotion. Despite the language barrier, it was still rewarding to witness their celebration of Christ’s birth and partake of their joy.
Last but not least, through God’s gracious providence we were able to worship with the saints at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Kumasi on Sunday, 1 January. We had planned to come home on New Year’s Eve, but we ended up spending an extra day in Tamale because of illness. That meant we were in Kumasi on Sunday morning, and were able to go to Holy Trinity. The picture above is of us with Rev. John Amoah, the parish pastor there.
It was a great experience for us there also. This was the first time we have been able to attend a worship service almost entirely in Twi. They use a small service book in Twi that we did not even know existed, and the sermon was in Twi with a very short English summary afterward. The people were very pleased to have us there, and Rev. Amoah invited me (Ryan) up to help distribute the Lord’s Supper.
We thank God for providing these wonderful opportunities for us to worship and confess His blessed gift of a Savior, and also the opportunities to learn and grow by interacting and observing how our brothers and sisters here worship. Lord willing, we hope to return to each of these places, and explore even more of Christ’s Church here in West Africa!