There are lots of contrasts between the northern parts of Ghana and the southern regions. The northern areas are semi-arid savanna while the south is lush tropical forest. The north is much poorer and has less infrastructure. Christianity is new to the north while it has been around for well over 200 years in the south. The Bible was translated into the languages of the south almost 100 years before the languages of the north, and a number of languages in the north still do not have the Bible.
One of the results of these contrasts is that quite a number of people from the north move to the cities in the south to find employment. They find themselves outside their traditional setting and religion. Many of them become Muslims within a year of moving to a city, if they were not already.
Seeing this, and knowing that recently completed Bibles in some languages of the north were having great impact, the Presbyterian Church of Ghana and others started the Northern Outreach Program, some 25 years ago, to present the Gospel to northerners moving to cities in the south.
It does this through literacy classes in their languages. Literacy is interesting because it offers a skill that improves their chances of getting employment. The fact that literacy is offered in their languages gives them a tie to their home communities, and that was also attractive. The literacy program includes a component of introduction to English, which is highly valued. Bibles in the languages and Scripture-based materials are distributed in the literacy classes.
It’s pretty amazing what is happening – vibrant churches full of northerners worshiping in their languages and reading the Bible in their languages, planted in the middle of southern cities. I am going to do several blogs in the coming weeks on the lessons we can draw from the Northern Outreach Program.
This week, I want to write about something the literacy component of the Northern Outreach Program stops and not something it does.
It is in the form of a little story which I heard at the General Assembly of the Northern Outreach Program which I attended last September in Korforidua. The room was full of delegates from the churches established by the program. For the most part they had little education, yet most had the Bible in their language with them. On several occasions, one of them read from their Bible while others followed along in their languages. One of the older men told a story. He said:
A friend of mine left our village for the city while he was still a young man. At the time he left, he was attending a Christian School and called himself a Christian. When he came back 15 years later, he was a wealthy Muslim. He went on to build mosques in several villages.If that young man had been given the opportunity to attend a literacy class in his language in the city where he went, like we we all were under the Northern Outreach Program, he would probably have stayed a Christian and might have returned to build churches.
Literacy in the mother tongue, offered with the Scriptures in the mother tongue is breaking the longstanding trend of urban conversions to Islam.