Sugri, a Ghanaian pastor and evangelist, calls out and waves to a man who is bent over in the field pulling weeds. The man waves back, slings his hoe over his shoulder and begins his slow approach to the motorcycle.
Thirty-six-year-old Mahamadu* has been a paraplegic since age 5, but that has not stopped him from tilling his fields just like all the other farmers in his village. It takes him several minutes to cross the short distance to Sugri. Instead of standing upright and walking, he stays on the ground and uses his arms to half hop, half drag his lower body across the field.
Mahamadu became a follower of Jesus several years ago when an itinerant evangelist passed through his village sharing the Gospel. The preacher moved on, and Mahamadu and a handful of other new believers were left alone in the village without any guidance or discipleship.
Meanwhile, 80 kilometers away, God was calling Sugri to go to Mahamadu’s village.
“I was disturbed in my heart to go [there] for up to a year,” recalls Sugri.
After struggling with the idea of traveling so far and to another ethnic group, Sugri finally woke up one morning and decided to go. He filled up his motorcycle’s tank, asked for directions and began the journey.
On Sugri’s first visit to the village, locals told him of a handicapped man who professed to be a Christian. Villagers led Sugri to Mahamadu’s home where he found Mahamadu waiting for him. The day before Mahamadu had had a dream in which he heard a voice calling him, telling him someone was coming.
On subsequent trips, Sugri began to disciple Mahamadu – teaching him stories from Scripture and joining him in door-to-door evangelism in the village.
“Now he is the leader,” reports Sugri. “He is a strong and effective and faithful Christian.”
Mahamadu’s village is one of several in the area where Sugri works strengthening weaker churches and planting new ones. Unwilling to be constrained by geographic or ethnic barriers, he points to Scripture to explain his motivation.
“The Bible says, ‘I commission you to go therefore and make disciples.’ That is my task, to reach people for Christ … even up to the ends of the earth.”
Sugri credits his mentor, IMB missionary Jim Haney, for instilling in him a passion for reaching the lost. Led to the Lord in 1986 when Haney brought the Gospel to his village, Sugri left his trade to do evangelism with Haney and continued the work after Haney returned to the United States.
Now, over 20 years into his own ministry, Sugri reflects on its inevitable end and realizes the urgency of multiplying church leaders. “In time my strength will fade away. If I don’t get someone who will be like me, then the work [in the villages] is going to be lost,” he says.
Bart Gibbs, an IMB Church Planter Catalyst in the region, underscores the need for leaders in the region. Working in partnership with Sugri and other pastors in northern Ghana, Gibbs helps the local Baptist Association develop working, reproducible models for training new leaders.
“ [The association] could go into 25 to 30 new villages if they had the leaders,” explains Gibbs, “and you want to elicit leadership in the village – that works best.”
Gibbs and the Baptist Association inaugurated the Ghana Baptist School of Ministry campus in 2012. National pastors recruited students from outlying village churches.
Sugri recruited six of the first 28 BSM students himself from villages where he had been working. His hope is that these new church leaders will rise to the challenge and continue the work he began of advancing the Gospel in more remote areas.
Back in the cornfield under the scorching sun, Sugri’s passion for reaching Ghana’s lost is evident in his protégé. Mahamadu wipes the sweat from his brow and points to his hand-cranked wheelchair parked under a tree nearby. He has already been using it to travel to nearby villages to teach stories from the Bible.
“The Holy Spirit is working in him,” says Sugri, smiling approvingly. “Even if I die, Mahamadu will still have words to preach because he is inspired.”
Specific & Timely:
Just last week, the Ghana Baptist School of Ministry lost one of its students. Pray that his family and church would find solace in the assurance that he is with the Lord now.
Rev. Joseph Sugri and IMB missionary Bart Gibbs recently acquired strategic information about demographics and missions outreach in northern Ghana. Pray that they will be able to make good use of the information they have received to advance the Gospel in the region.
Pray the Lord will continue to bless Rev. Joseph Sugri with good health and the strength to continue his very strenuous work in the more remote areas of northern Ghana.
Pray the Holy Spirit will continue to counsel and encourage the new leaders in Sugri’s church plants.
Max Power is a freelance writer for IMB based in the U.S.