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Written by: Rev. Yeboah Laryea Daniel

THE BEGINNINGS OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF GHANA

The Basel Mission

The Danes had their settlements in the Gold Coast from 1658 until about 1850. It was the work of the Danish Governor Major de Richelieu who arrived in the Gold Coast in 1824 which sparked the torch for the Basel Mission to come to the Gold Coast. According to Agbeti upon his arrival, he revived public worship in Christiansburg that when he was going to Denmark in 1826, they requested him to bring a minister on his return.[1] He reported this request to Ronne who represented the interests of the Basel Mission in Denmark. Ronne informed the Crown Prince who in turn sought permission from the King of Denmark. The king remarked, “it was appropriate a new mission should begin on Danish soil.”[2] The Basel Committee did not dither to establish their mission in the Gold Coast under the security of the Danes.

Four missionaries were selected to come to the Gold Coast in March 1827. They were, three Germans, namely, Karl F. Salbach, Gottlieb Holzwarth, Johannes Henke and a Swiss, Johannes Gottlob Schmidt. They were instructed in some priorities which Smith indicates as follows:

“to become acclimatised, to take time over the selection of a permanent site for the mission, to master the local language at all costs, to begin actual mission activity by founding a school, and lastly to present the Gospel with love and patience.”[3] Additionally, Smith quoting Eppler states: You are obliged to show to the people an inexhaustible forbearance and an excess of beneficent love, even though only a few of the thousand bleeding wounds may be healed which greed of gain and the cruel craftiness of the European have caused.[4]

The missionaries arrived at Christiansburg on December, 1828. Unfortunately, three of them, Holzwarth, Salbach and Schmidt died in August, 1829. Henke later died on 22nd November, 1831. Thus, the four forerunners had no convert within the four years of their arrival. Still in the spirit to evangelise the Gold Coast, the Basel Missionary sent another band of missionaries. They were, Revs. P.P. Jager, Andreas Riis and C.F. Heinze a medical doctor. Four years after their arrival on March 1833, Jager and Heinze died. Andreas Riis fell ill but was later treated by a native herbalist.

In January 1835, Riis accompanied by George Lutterodt reached Akropong where they were welcomed by the Omanhene of Akwapim, Nana Addo Dankwa. It must be stated that it was at Akropong that the Basel Mission’s efforts were crowned with success. This success was due to the following reasons; Akropong is a hilly area and Riis enjoyed better health there than on the coastal plains around Christiansburg. The sphere of work was now taken to rural people who offered more hope and finally Akropong was at a strategic point.[5]  Riis quickly started building a timber and stone dwelling for himself. The Akropong people were so much impressed that Riis was afterwards referred to by the Twi sobriquet, ‘Osiadan’ or House-builder.[6]  He worked tirelessly but no soul was converted for many years. However, a statement made by the King to Riis brought a great challenge to him. He had endeared himself to the paramount chief, Nana Addo Dankwa, who is reputed to have told him: “When God created the world, He made a book for the white man and juju for the blackman. But if you could show me some blackman who could read the white man’s book, then we would surely follow you.”[7] This encouraged Riis to convince the Basel Mission to send Christians of African descent.

The Period of the Moravian Mission

Among the significant dates in the Presbyterian Church of Ghana is 17th April, 1843 when the African descents from Jamaica landed at Osu to begin another phase of the Basel Mission evangelisation work. Six families and three bachelors were recruited as missionaries from the Moravian church.

They had been recruited purposely to help convince the people of the Gold Coast that the Christian religion was not reserved for Europeans alone. They had also been recruited because it was believed that they could withstand the tropical climate more than the Europeans who too easily succumbed to malaria.[8] Agbeti remarks that this period marked the second stage of the Basel Missionary enterprise in Ghana when the work begun to bear concrete fruits.[9] Initially, the local people both at Akropong and Aburi were enthused to meet them but when they discovered that the missionaries would not offer them brandy, they became unhappy. Hence they did not collaborate with the Jamaicans thereby declining the spirits of the missionaries, home and abroad. This is one of the first reasons for the decline in the hopes of the missionaries.

Stating a second reason, Agbeti indicates the loss of the African language of the Jamaicans. Although they were black, they spoke only in English therefore becoming a barrier in their communications with the native people. Thirdly, the use of the local language made the Jamaicans look down upon the indigenous Africans and this attitude kept them aloof from the people they were recruited to serve. The effect was that the Africans who were interested in Christianity turned more to the European missionaries than to the West Indian Christians.

However, the Jamaicans were very good in manual work.  Some of them returned home to Jamaica but about three to four families remained at Akropong. It is recorded for example that in 1851 out of the total Christian community of 31 at Akropong, 25 were West Indian.[10] Things took on a new shape during the period of their stay notwithstanding the obstacles.

The years 1843 to 1845 were crucial years during which their endurance and commitment were tested to the full. Some left the mission in frustration, but others held on to the vision of building an indigenous Christian community and eventually achieved a breakthrough. Once the first baptisms had been performed in 1847, a seminary was established the following year for the training of local people in the work of the mission, and from this point on there was no turning back.[11]

From 1851 to 1914, there was scholarly development of the Twi and Ga languages by the Basel Mission, the gradual extension of evangelical work in Ga, Akwapim and Krobo districts, a careful training of indigenous personnel and the development of Agriculture and trade.[12] Quoting Steiner, Smith writes, ‘by the end of the year 1850 the congregation at Akropong numbered thirty-one, twenty-five West Indians and six young Africans, of whom eighteen were communicants.’[13]

The West Indian Christians brought when coming to the Gold Coast, mango, cocoa, avocado pear, plantain, breadfruit. The Basel Mission Church engaged in cocoa as a cash crop and a major foreign exchange earner through the Basel Trading Company. The Basel Mission established a school farm with the aim of training Africans in the scientific cultivation of the soil and for experimentation with as many crops and fruits as possible.[14]

It must be noted that cocoa was first introduced to the Gold Coast by the Basel Missionaries. Although Tetteh Quashie played an instrumental role in the dissemination and development of cocoa in Ghana in 1879, “Basel Missionaries, who worked under the aegis of the Danish government, first introduced cocoa to Ghana in 1857 when they planted seeds that they had received from Surinam on their land in Akropong. However, the seedlings died the following year so they tried again, this time with seeds brought from Cape Palmas.”[15]

The Scottish Mission Period

The Basel missionaries left the Gold Coast during the First World War in 1917. The work of the Presbyterian Church was continued by missionaries from the Church of Scotland which also had its identity shaped by the Scottish Reformation in 1560.

The Scottish team, led by the Rev. Dr. A.W. Wilkie, teamed up with the Africans and initiated a reform of the administrative structure of the church. Gradually the church moved from the centrally-controlled model and adopted a more democratic model in line with Reformed polity. In 1918, Rev. Wilkie helped to organise the first Synod meeting of the church which elected the first Moderator, Rev. Peter Hall and the first Synod Clerk, Rev. N.T. Clerk, both of whom were descendant of the pioneer Jamaican missionaries. When in 1926, the Basel missionaries were allowed to return, they found themselves having to fit into the new structure, and this they did although with a little reluctance. The cooperation between the Basel and Scottish missionaries on the one hand and the African agents on the other was rather cordial and ensured that the church continued to flourish and face the future with confidence.[16] The current structure of ‘four courts’ in the church was introduced during this era. Indeed, bringing such leadership roles from the grassroots from the beginning has done the church a lot of good.

The hearty history of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana has therefore carved for it, ‘The Triple Heritage’ which is expressed in the logo of the church. That is the coming together of the three main missionary era’s to forming one entity, hence the motto of the church, ‘That they all may be one.’

[1]J.K. Agbeti, West African Church History: Christian Mission and Church Foundations (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1986), 62

[2] Agbeti, West African Church History, 62

[3] Noel Smith, The Presbyterian Church of Ghana, 1835-1960 (Accra: Ghana Universities Press, 1966), 28

[4] Smith, The Presbyterian Church of Ghana, 29

[5] Agbeti, West African Church History, 65

[6] Smith, Presbyterian Church of Ghana, 31

[7] A Ghanaian Church built by Jamaicans http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20031007/mind/mind1.html, assessed on 04/04/2014

[8] History of the PCG, http://www.pcgonline.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=56&Itemid=48 assessed on 04/04/2014

[9] Agbeti, West African Church History, 65

[10] Agbeti, West African Church History, 65

[11] History of PCG http://www.pcgonline.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=56&Itemid=48  assessed 04/04/2014

[12] Agbeti, West African Church History, 66

[13] Smith, The Presbyterian Church of Ghana, 42

[14] A.A. Beeko, Something to Live on (Accra: Smartline Limited, 2000), 280

[15] Sarah Grossman-Greene, Chris Bayer, A Brief History of Cocoa in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire (Unpublished Paper) Tulane University, Payson Center for International Development, November 2009

[16] History of the PCG, http://www.pcgonline.org/index.php/about-us/history-of-pcg,  assessed 04/04/2014

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