Tuesday, May 23, 2006

GBGM Missionary - Rev. John Yambasu

This past weekend at my church, we had the opportunity to hear Rev. John Yambasu speak during our Saturday evening worship. Rev. Yambasu is a regional missionary working through the Women's Division of the General Board of Global Ministries. He is stationed in Ghana, West Africa, and covers a region of 16 or so countries in Africa, specifically working with women, youth, and children.

I went to Ghana as part of a cross-cultural experience requirement when I was in seminary. I spent three and a half weeks there with a group of about 15 students and faculty. The trip was very overwhelming - this was at the end of my first year of seminary, 2001. Hard to believe it's been almost exactly five years since my trip. I have since wondered what different experience I might have had if I'd taken the trip later in seminary. Years later, I'm still processing the issues that confronted me in Ghana - issues of race, issues of ethnocentrism, issues of history and what it has to do with us today.

So, when I saw an opportunity to have Rev. Yambasu come and speak, I took it. My congregation is a pretty small, pretty homogeneous community. I think it is important for us to seek out ways to broaden our perspective. Rev. Yambasu talked to us about the church in Africa, and detailed for us the real concerns and areas in which he is serving. I was very proud to see in his presentation images of so many African clergy women. He talked about issues between Christians and Muslims and interfaith dialogue. He talked about issues in particular facing young people, and HIV/AIDs of course was primary in his presentation. Yambasu spoke of the difficulties with sex being taboo in conversation, and with the debates over whether or not to teach using condoms. He very strongly advocated for teaching safe-sex, reminding that this is a life and death issue. He spoke about the thousands who are in refugee camps, displaced by war in neighboring countries. He talked about the lack of opportunities for women who live in the camps, and turn to prostitution in desperation. In his work with young people, the repeated goal was enabling people to "live with dignity."

And of course, in the midst of this, is the growing church. Yambasu talked about churches building new buildings that are already too small by the time they are completed. Oh, to have such problems. But I was surprised to hear him speak of also having trouble keeping young people in church. He said, here in the US we have trouble getting young people in the church. But in Africa, he said, the young people are there, but leaving, particularly because young people feel that older member are not giving them enough opportunities for leadership within the church.

In all, I think we all learned from Rev. Yambasu. In fact, our church's VIM team leader is thinking of taking up the challenge to lead a trip to Ghana next year. Maybe I'll get that chance to experience Ghana again after all...
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