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Spiritual churches celebrate 35 years of training


Singers from Valley View University at Good News Training College and Seminary.

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April 13, 2007
- Lynda Hollinger-Janzen

Accra, Ghana — In the past four decades, African Initiated Churches have moved from the periphery of the Christian world onto center stage. A crowd of about 400 gathered at Good News Theological College and Seminary on Feb. 24 to celebrate this institution’s 35-year legacy in training AIC leaders for their role in the transformation.

“Those who were at the forefront of the attempt to make Christianity more relevant and meaningful to their context were the AICs, popularly known as spiritual churches,” said Thomas Oduro, Good News principal.

In the anniversary address, Abraham Akrong, senior research fellow of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana, noted that the African churches liberated Christianity from its captivity to Western values and taught the mainline denominations how to be African Christians. Those congregations demonstrated how to be African and Christian at the same time; both in worship forms, like dancing, and in spiritual values, such as acknowledging the reality of demons and employing spiritual gifts in the church.

Akrong dismissed the thesis that development and Africa are not compatible, and believes that just as the AICs liberated theology, now they must turn their attention to liberating development into truly African forms.

Not only does Good News respond to pressing needs for trained African leaders in the rapidly growing African churches, but it breaks down long-standing walls of denominational prejudice.

“Ours is a beautiful story of the results of institutional collaboration,” Oduro said. “The history of Christianity is replete with unsavory persecution of Mennonites by [mainline churches], yet they threw away their histories and worked together to ensure that the spiritual churches are theologically trained.

"The non-combative attitude of the spiritual churches against their mainline brothers and sisters was also a demonstration of forgiveness and trust. The enmity that existed between spiritual churches and the mainline churches now belongs to history,” Oduro said.

During the festivities, Oduro recognized the prominent role of workers with Mennonite Board of Missions – a predecessor agency of Mennonite Church/Mennonite Mission Network – in founding and developing the college and seminary in collaboration with other denominations. Bruce Yoder of Mennonite Church Canada Witness and Mennonite Mission Network received 10 certificates to pass on to those who made these contributions. The college also honored those who have ministered among them by naming classrooms and dormitories for former mission workers.

Mennonites led the way in founding Good News during an era when AICs were ridiculed, rejected and even branded demonic by mainline churches.

“[Members of AICs] were barely recognized as Christians of equal value and confession,” Oduro said. “It was against this background that a Mennonite missionary couple, Edwin and Irene Weaver, empathized with the leadership of the spiritual churches and began studying the Bible with them.”

From a small Bible study held in the choir loft of the Nima Temple Church of the Lord (Aladura), an evening biblical institute began in 1971. This school, Good News, has grown into to a full-time, two-year diploma program on an ever-expanding campus located in the outskirts of Accra, the only leadership-training program in Ghana founded and sponsored by AICs.

From this humble beginning emerged an institution that has benefited churches in Liberia, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Ethiopia and East African countries, Oduro said.

A library that began with less than 20 books has become one of the best theological libraries in the country with more than 24,000 volumes and many audiovisual resources.

Because the college serves many different denominations, it does not teach the doctrines and practices of any individual church. Instead, through a Christ-centered education, instructors aim to equip men and women for servant ministry in the African context.

Mennonite Church Canada Witness international workers Bruce Yoder and Nancy Frey (Benin), Dan Nighswander and Yvonne Snider Nighswander (South Africa), and Glynn Jones and Susan Allison Jones (Botswana ) work with AICs.