Last Post from Cote d’Ivoire

[I wrote this post while we were still in Africa, but we were traveling, and I was unable to find an internet connection to get it posted on the blog.]

I thank everyone who was praying for us on our trip to Ivory Coast. We could see God’s direction and help throughout our few days of ministry there.

We went there to plant the seeds of the message of grace that the Lord gave to the Apostle Paul. As far as we know, there is no one preaching it in these countries, other than in Ghana.

We entered Ivory Coast with some apprehension – we had never met the host pastor, his church is a charismatic congregation, costs would be much higher than in Ghana, and, until very recently, there was a civil war going on in Ivory Coast. The US State Department warns American travelers to travel no further than 35 miles from Abidjan to avoid being in areas where the rebels are operating and could be a danger to Americans.

As it turned out, we had no problems while we were in Abidjan. Pastor Georges and his church were wonderful hosts. We ate in the pastor’s home a number of times, and he even had a driver pick us up at the border from Ghana, and then bring us back to Accra at the end of our trip. The pastor could not have been a more gracious host, even though we differ on a number of important doctrines.

While we were in Cote d’Ivoire...
  • We held a two-day pastor’s conference that focused on the message that the Lord entrusted to the Apostle Paul. 40+ pastors attended both days. There was a good, positive response from many of them, and there was some disagreement from others – other than Catholicism in Ivory Coast (a former French colony) – most churches are charismatic/pentecostal.
  • We had two evening meetings in Pastor Georges’ church. One was for the leadership of the church - about 75 people attended; and one for the entire church - well over a hundred believers attended. In both sessions I focused on an aspect of the message of grace.
  • I was interviewed by a crew from the French West African TV network. I had about 15 minute to explain what grace is, and why we had come to Africa to preach it. The interview was broadcast at 10PM on Wednesday evening to all the French speaking countries in West Africa –nine nations.
  • I was a guest on 2 hour-long radio broadcasts in Abidjan. What a blessing to be allowed in both the TV interview and the radio broadcasts to speak freely about why we had come to preach this old message that is new to so many Christians.
We thank the Lord for every opportunity – all answers to prayer. There was action non-stop on our trip to Ivory Coast, but I felt that I gave it the best I could, and now am praying that these seeds will grow in the hearts of the people and especially the heart of the pastors in Ivory Coast. Please pray with me for Ivory Coast, Ghana and all of West Africa.


Elder Leon Gilchrist honored at the church in Abidjan

Pastor Georges had a surprise for Leon at the Wednesday evening church service tonight in Abidjan. Leon was officially entered into Ivorian society; as the pastor said, "He is now an Ivorian." I'm not sure if Pastor Peter (from Ghana) approved, but everyone else did!

They dressed Leon in a gold colored robe in the style of African elders, and they put on him a pair of sandals, a ring, an elephant necklace (elephants being the national symbol of Ivory Coast), and a crown. Everyone enjoyed seeing Leon dressed in his new Ivorian identity.

In a much more serious note, Pastor Georges asked Leon's forgiveness for the fact that generations ago, his ancestors were sold into slavery by their fellow Africans. Pastor Georges likened Leon's return to Africa, and his presence in the church in Abidjan, to Joseph's brothers meeting Joseph years after they had sold him into slavery. How painful and embarrassing it must have been for them to meet up with their brother again. And it is painful to many Africans today when the descendants of those who were sold into slavery return from America to visit Africa and to trace their roots. At the beginning of our trip, we saw a plaque of repentance at the old British Slave Castle in Cape Coast in Ghana, where the chiefs of Ghana expressed sorrow for their part in the slave trade.

After these things, I preached in the evening service. I took three stories in the New Testament -- the story of the Syrophoenician woman in Matthew 15, the parable of the fruitless fig tree in Luke 13, and the story of Eutychus who fell asleep in church in Acts 20 -- and wove these three passages together to tell the story of Israel's rejection and the revelation of the grace of God for us today. We had a good time of Bible study.


Ministry begins in Cote d'Ivoire

We are excited today to begin the grace ministry in this French speaking, West African country. We have received the warmest possible welcome from Pastor Georges and his church family here in Abidjan. And we had a busy day:

6:30AM - Pastor Georges picked me up to drive to the radio station for his daily, one hour live radio broadcast.

7:00 to 8:00 - I spoke for about a 1/2 hour on the live FM broadcast, giving my testimony of being saved out of Catholicism (Ivory Coast is a Catholic country) and of finding the message of grace.

10:00 to noon - Pastors' Conference at the church -- I spoke on the mystery revealed to the Apostle Paul

Lunch at noon with about 15 pastors.

After lunch -- the French West African TV network sent a 5 person crew to interview me. The piece will be aired on Wednesday evening to all the French speaking countries in West Africa -- Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinnea, etc.

8:00 PM - Training seminar in the grace message for the leadership of the church here, about 60, mostly young, leaders were in attendance. I spoke on grace principles in the Letter to the Colossians.

10:00PM - Supper at Pastor Georges home and to the hotel for a night of rest.

Please pray for the meetings tomorrow, starting with the 7AM radio broadcast, then the second session of the pastors' conference. The conference theme is 1 Cor 2:7-8. Leon will be speaking tomorrow evening to the entire church.

Safe Arrival in Ivory Coast

We woke up early on Monday, 3:00AM, to start our trip to Ivory Coast. Leon, Pastor Peter, and I were on the inter-city bus by 3:45, and ready to go, when I realized that we didn't have our video camcorder with us. We made a quick call to the people who drove us to the bus, and discovered that we had left the camera in their car. They sped back to the station while we held our breath that the bus wouldn't leave. All ended well - we retrieved the camera and left for the trip from Kumasi to Cape Coast, and then west to Takoradi, about a 4 hour trip. At Takoradi, we transferred to a smaller bus for the trip to Elubo, where we cross the border.

The border crossing is as grungy a place as you'll ever find. Trucks, buses, cars, people waiting in chaotic lines to go through the customs and immigration process. People selling food and water and belts and perfume (from display racks balanced on their heads) and offering to change your money into strange currencies, and government immigration officials in their smart uniforms giving orders in the chaos, all in sweltering heat and humidity.

I have been dreading entering Ivory Coast -- we had a hard time even getting our visa back in NYC, and later in Accra. Now we waited to go through it all again - they don't make you feel at all welcome.

Surprisingly though, the process of leaving Ghana was far more difficult than entering Ivory Coast. Pastor Georges had sent his driver to meet us at the border. Once we exited Ghana, he picked us up and chauffeured us through the Ivory Coast entry station, which amounted to one young soldier who came over the car, looked through the window, looked at our passports and simply said, "Welcome." That was it; no forms to fill out, no stamping of our passports; we were in. Then the driver took off on the 2 hour drive to Abidjan.

Abidjan is a modern, French-speaking city, built on a river and on the Atlantic, with wide streets and tall buildings in the downtown area. You would think you were in NYC or Chicago.

We arrived at Pastor Georges' church and had a good time of fellowship with him, getting acquainted in his office. His secretary served us water and crackers, grapes and sliced oranges and yogurt. Then we drove to the hotel and on to Pastor Georges' home for an elegant dinner of fish with vegetables over rice and beef vegetable soup. We met his family - his wife Georgelle and two sons and two daughters, ranging in age from 3 to 19 years old.

I have been fearful of this part of our mission trip to West Africa, but once we crossed the bridge over the river border into Cote d'Ivoire, the first day turned out to be a delightful experience. We planned the next few days of ministry with Pastor Georges, and then returned to our hotel, completely exhausted and ready for a good night of sleep.

Pastor Georges and his wife, Georgelle and their youngest son in their home in Abidjan.

Scenes from the window of the bus as we crossed Ghana:


Our Farewell Service in Ghana

Can it be that more than two weeks have gone by since we landed in Ghana? We've been in 9 different grace churches - we've had a pastors' conference, 4 radio broadcasts, 15 services. Sometimes it feels like we've been here for weeks, and sometimes it feels like we've just arrived. And today we had to say goodbye with sadness to our brethren in Ghana.

Last night we had an open air meeting in New Tafo, a section of Kumasi. It was my turn to preach and I preached the gospel from Romans 1 - "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes..." The audience was unusually attentive and I had about a half hour to carefully explain God's way of salvation. There were many people, both in the audience and standing on the street in front of the meeting place. I heard that several people, as many as a dozen, registered their interest with some of the church people. They will be followed up soon by the visitation teams. We pray that each will be saved.

We had the farewell service this morning in the new church in New Tafo, pastored by Pastor Richard who is Pastor Peter's son. The building was full; the music and singing were especially enthusiastic.

I preached on Paul's strategy for spreading the gospel as found in his letter to the Colossians. Isn't it interesting that in Acts 19, we read twice that all those in Asia heard the word of the Lord, and yet Paul writes to Colosse, a town in Asia, a few years later that many of the Asians had never seen his face -- Col 2:1!

Paul's earlier missionary journeys meant going from town to town; Paul himself preaching in each town as in Acts 13-14 in Galatia. Somewhere along the line, Paul realized that there were too many towns, and that he would not have enough time to reach all the towns of the world. And so, in Asia he adopted his new strategy. He stayed in Ephesus for three years, and trained ministers, men and women, evangelists and pastor-teachers and sent them throughout Asia -- to Colosse, Hierapolis, Laodicea, Miletus, Troas, etc., and in 3 years "all in Asia heard the word of the Lord."

Pastor Peter is applying the same principle in Ghana, and we are applying it in New York City.

We had a blessed time in the service.

After the message, we received gifts from the grace believers -- Leon and I each received a large -about 5' x 9'- piece of hand-woven kente cloth, and we were wrapped in them like chiefs or village elders. Everyone enjoyed the scene and many, many pictures were taken of us and with us in our traditional Ghanaian garb.

It was a wonderful ending to our two weeks of ministry in Ghana.

Now, we're packed and ready to leave at 3:30 tomorrow morning for Cote d'Ivoire. I'm not sure of how the trip will go and of how the ministry will go there. Please be praying on Monday for a safe and speedy trip to the Ivory Coast, and for the rest of the week: that our meetings may be done well and that we may receive a good hearing for the message of grace.


An Interesting Bus Ride to Accra, and We Received our Visas for Ivory Coast!

On Thursday, Elizabeth and I took the bus on a 280 km. ride from Kumasi down to Accra. We stayed overnight, and she left early on Friday morning on her flight back to JFK. (She arrived home safely on Friday evening.)

In Kumasi, we got to the bus station at 5:30AM, bought our tickets and got on the bus. There were about 8 people on the 24 seat bus. So we waited, and waited, and waited. At 6:30 I went back to the ticket office and asked, "What time does the bus for Accra leave?" The answer: "No time."

Apparently it doesn't leave until its full.

So we waited another hour and at around 7:30, 10 more riders showed up. Eventually we filled up, and around 8AM we were ready to roll.

Just before we left, the bus driver turned around, and was saying something in Akan to the passengers, which, of course, I didn't understand. And I noticed he had his eyes closed. Then I looked around and realized that everyone else also had their eyes closed; they were praying for a safe trip! Amen!

I thought that was a good sign. Then again, I wondered, is this trip really so dangerous?

All went well for the first 2 hours. When suddenly there was a huge racket under the floor of the bus and the smell of burning rubber. One of the back tires blew out.

So we all got off the bus on the side of the road and looked at the inside tire of the double back wheels. It was shredded. So I figured that we were not going to get to Accra that day. But no!

About 6 of the men who were passengers, along with our driver, rolled up their sleeves, jacked up the bus, got out some wrenches, took off the two back tires, put on the spare tire (which was as bald as the tire that blew out), and in half an hour we were rolling again!

The African economy being what it is, we're not surprised that the bus tires are all bald. But the African spirit was impressive as these men, passengers and driver, volunteered without the slightest complaint and got the job done. When the tire was replaced, everyone got back on the bus without the slightest sign of irritation at the delay, and off we went. That's Africa.

We arrived in Accra at 2PM, got a taxi and sped through the grid locked traffic in downtown to the Cote d'Ivoire embassy. We arrived just before closing time. Our visas had been granted and were waiting for me. We're on our way to the Ivory Coast on Monday! Thank you, Lord. And thank you, for praying.

These photos show some of the day's excitement:

Tonight we have the second of the open air services in New Tafo, a section on the east side of Kumasi where there's a new grace church. Tomorrow we have our "farewell service" at the church in New Tafo, the end of our ministry in Ghana.


Prayer Requests

Tomorrow, Elizabeth and I will be traveling to Accra. (She is flying back to NYC on Friday morning.) I will be visiting the Ivorian Embassy again to try to secure our visas for the ministry next week. Please continue to pray that the way will be paved for a successful and safe trip into Cote d'Ivoire.

The Cutting Edge of the Grace Bible Churches in Ghana

This evening we drove east about 10 miles from Kumasi into a newly developing area, called Ejisu. We turned off the main highway to Accra, and twisted and turned down a dirt road until we reached a little group of believers waiting for us, seated on plastic lawn chairs in the courtyard of a home on the edge of the forest. This is the beginning of a new grace church: Grace Bible Church - Ejisu.

The pastor's name is Kinsley Kwakie (pronounced "Kwa-chee"). We met him in Ahensan, where he was at all the meetings. Formerly a pentecostal pastor, he heard Pastor Peter's radio broadcast and came to understand the message of grace, and has been attending and learning at Grace Bible Church in Ahensan. About three years ago he began to work in the Ejisu area, and today there is a small group of about 10 adults who are regulars at the church service in Ejisu. They follow up on radio listeners from the area and go door to door distributing Bible study lessons to people who want to study the Word.

As you can see from the pictures, Pastor Kwakie was joined by two women in the church and a number of children during our visit; we were there early in the evening and most of the church members had not yet gotten home from work in Kumasi. There also was a carpenter working on the new church building in the background of our pictures.

Here, again, we saw the relentless effort that the grace believers in Ghana are making to reach out with the message of grace and plant new churches. After getting acquainted, we prayed together and then said good-bye. Though our visit was brief, I'm really glad that we came to meet these believers and see the beginnings of the work that they are doing.

Pray for Pastor Kwakie and the members of this church, that he will be a great leader, that the Lord will bless their efforts in this growing town, and that the neighbors will respond to the gospel of the grace of God.

Church group in front of the new church building -- from left to right: some children of church members, Boat, 3 women from the church, (Pastor Dennis in the background), Pastor Peter, Pastor Kwakie, and Elder Leon.

Left to right: Pastor Kwakie from Ejisu, Pastor Peter from Ahensan, Boat from Ahensan, Pastor Dennis and Elder Leon from New York City discussing the new church here in Ejisu



Today we drove about two hours to the Southwest and down a long clay road to the village of Tano-Dumasi, Pastor Peter's hometown. We visited this church two years ago; the church has grown since then, to the point that they have outgrown their church building.

Leon and Elizabeth gave their greetings and I preached in the very enthusiastic church service -- the dancing and singing and joy are amazing to see. After the hour and a half service, we all went outside and enjoyed a lunch of fast-food meat pies, cokes and coconuts fresh off the tree. A boy shimmied up the tree, picked the coconuts and threw them down to the men waiting to split them with their machetes.

Then we took a walk around the town. There is one main road, going right through the center of town; all the houses are built, somewhat helter-skelter, on each side of the road. The heat was terrific - over one hundred degrees - even the Ghanaians are commenting on how oppressive the heat is. We walked along accompanied by a crowd of children; school was let out early today in honor of our visit. The "Akwaaba" (Ghanaian for "Welcome") that we receive in all these churches is really amazing. They have never been visited by another outside person, and it seems that they feel greatly honored to have visitors from America; we could not be more of a sensation if we were President Obama himself.

Everywhere we've gone, we can see that the Grace Bible Churches are growing. Pastor Peter's radio broadcast, which covers nearly the entire country, has been very effective. The believers, in turn, are bringing others; new people are being saved - we met a few; and the message of the grace of God is spreading. There is an emphasis in every grace church to reach out into the next community, into the next village, and everywhere they are planting churches. We are always being introduced to "the pastor from the next grace church," in the next village farther out, who is planting a little church that 2 years from now will invite us to visit, and have a good-sized congregation. Ghana is truly ripe for the gospel of grace, and Pastor Peter has been leading the grace churches to buy up the opportunities.

Grace For Today has been helping to pay for the radio broadcast in Ghana for the past few years and I'm glad to see that our investment is paying good returns.

Please continue to pray for success in the next two days as we attempt to get our visas to enter Cote d'Ivoire for the ministry next week in Abidjan. I'll be going to the Ivorian embassy in Accra on Thursday. It is difficult. We need your prayers.

Also, pray for this weekend's meetings. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, we will be at New Tafo, a new grace church in a neighborhood on the east side of Kumasi. This is a real urban church, surrounded by a diverse neighborhood that includes a large number of Muslims. Pray for effective messages in every meeting -- that we may open our mouths boldly as we ought to speak.

Church service in progress. What you can't see in a still photo is that the whole church is in motion: some are dancing, everyone is singing and lifting up holy hands to the Lord, there are two drummers and a keyboardist, the doors and windows are full of the overflow crowd.

Elizabeth giving her greetings. In all the churches, we speak and then Pastor Peter does a translation into Akan, the language of the Ashanti people. Not many people speak English in the villages, but in Kumasi, most people can understand English and many can speak it fluently. This is Elizabeth's last address in Ghana; she will be flying back to NYC on Friday.

Joseph, the church secretary and one of the key leaders (the tallest man in the pic) in front of the building that belongs to Grace Bible Church, on the main road through Tano-Dumasi.

Pastor Peter and Leon standing over a pot of palm nut oil.

Joseph and Dennis touring the town.

We passed this food stand along the main road through town. This is a typical scene everywhere in Ghana. There are bananas, peppers, cassava, plantains, dried fish, onions, etc. for sale.