I have been doing some consulting for an organization in Ghana doing Bible translation – the Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy and Bible Translation (GILLBT). One of the amazing stories I have encountered is that of Paa Willie.
Paa Willie is the affectionate title of respect that all Ghanaians give to William Ofori-Atta. In the 1950s, Paa Willie was a leader in the independence movement in Ghana when it was a British colony. Along with five others, he was arrested and imprisoned by the British. Their arrest made them popular heroes. Even today they are known throughout Ghana as the Big Six.
Paa Willie is the third from the right in this photo of the Big Six. The faces of the Big Six including that of Paa Willie (upper right) are on all Ghana money.
Paa Willie was more than a political figure. He founded a church in Accra out of which came the first generation of influential educated Christians in Ghana. He and they believed that true faith and the Ghana’s development depended on all Ghanaians having God’s Word in their heart language. So, along with others, Paa Willie also founded GILLBT. In Paa Willie, GILLBT has a tremendous heritage – the equivalent of an American organization having Benjamin Franklin as one of its founders. But he did much more than sign founding documents. He gave himself in practical ways. When the missionaries working in the languages in rural areas came to Accra he had them in his home for food, relaxation and fellowship. He took an active interest in the work of Bible translation, asking questions and making suggestions.
His life has inspired books. The 100th year since his birth will be celebrated in October. That will be a big event in Ghana. Among the things written about him are:
“Paa Willie has shown by his way of life that men who lead other men must know that it is God only who endows powerful men with their power, and that therefore to wield that power effectively and rewardingly, they must he humble and God- fearing. This is the greatest lesson of his long life.” (-K A. Gbedrrna)
“Paa Willie was all these: a prince, an educationist, a barrister, a nationalist, a “freedom fighter” with no gun, a politician, a CEO of excellence, a Minister of State an unblemished Presidential candidate, Chairman of Council of State and above all a born-again believer.” (Prof Stephen Adei)
Some may put missionaries on a pedestal. But all successful work springs from its committed supporters. In heaven, Ghanaians will loudly bless Paa Willie for their political independence. But their thankfulness to him for the freedom they got through reading the Bible in the 32 (and still counting) Ghanaian languages which GILLBT has translated will be so much louder and happier and longer. I am looking forward to lending my own hands to the applause.For more about the transformational capacity of the Heart Language which Paa Willie thought foundational to faith and Ghana’s development see www.HeartLanguage.org.