A Different Kind of Gang Leader
Do you want to hear a story that will moisten the eye of even the most cynical? This dramatic and hopeful saga is located in Ghana West Africa. I want you to read this remarkable story, for too often we learn of billions wasted – mostly money given government to government – lost in gaping holes of misuse, thievery and unfinished projects.
Yet within this mix of stories, there are skilled, honest and passionate heroes whose lives burn with an intensity to live out their Christian faith in ways that defy the normal, overrule the hesitant, and out-love the resistant.
It’s the story of David Mensah, a street kid from Bamboi, Northern Ghana. His journey marks the power of faith, reminding us of the resilience of hope and pointing out how a dogged will linked to faith ends up doing good.
David’s father died when he was a boy; yet his wider family refused to let him live with his mother. He tells of his sojourn in Kwabena: An African Boy’s Journey of Faith, a saga worthy of a screen version. It was a world in which evil forces operated, something that most in the West find amazing if not unbelievable, except that this is told by one whose life is shaped by both scientific studies and enterprise.
Shunted about as a boy, David lived on his own, forming the Landary Boys street gang. Barely surviving on the streets, one day desperate for meaning in life, he came to faith through the witness of a seventy-year-old who told him of Yesu. Conversion is an apt word. Turning from crime, David was nurtured in faith and soon his life became a center of help and healing to those around him. Hearing of Tyndale University (then called Ontario Bible College), he applied and was accepted. Working his way through a bureaucratic nightmare, he arrived at the Toronto airport, unknowingly missing an important student visa document, and with only ten dollars to his name. In a way only angel-stories make sense, Immigration allowed him to enter the country, and a stranger – whom he never saw again – guided him from the airport to the college campus, a school where later I served as president.
After David graduated, and wanting to build into his homeland a Gospel witness, he completed a Ph.D. in water, land and resource management at the University of Toronto. He returned home and moved six hundred miles north of the capital Accra to Janga, a Muslim-majority area. Putting his agricultural skills to work, in time he built twenty miles of tomato farms along a riverside, dug close to a hundred wells, created a farming enterprise for widows, built roads, and helped to create a weekly market and open a medical clinic.
This he did for fifteen years without any public Christian preaching. Finally, a Muslim chief asked if he would address the people. They were curious why he, a Christian, was spending his life helping them in food production and medical care. David agreed, and that Friday three thousand people showed up to hear him give his testimony. He told them, “We have been sharing food from the same dish for a long time. Now we are ready to share our meat with you. This Good News is our real meat, the best food that we have to offer you.”
The Muslim leaders gave him some prime land to build a church. Today David and his ministry of GRID (Ghana Rural Integrated Development) are opening a hospital called “Carpenter” in Bamboi. He said it took them only two years to gain support of the community to build the church and begin a public witness. Their strategy is simple but profoundly modeling: a vision to give the Gospel time in helping people to see Christ speaking to them in human wholeness. While David wanted to see people freed from spiritual bondage and become Christian in word and deed, he chose not to start with a church. Instead, he began by serving the poor and this in time led to planting churches. “We do not limit access to our programs on the basis of religion, but seek to extend God’s love to all in need,” he told me.
Now on the cusp of opening the Carpenter Hospital in the northern region of Ghana, this ten million dollar vision is close to being funded so that it will open debt free and, critical to ongoing operation, will be self-sustaining. In a region of two and one- half million people with only seventeen doctors, this center of love and human care expects annually to serve 53,000.
In caring for those outside of available medical help and lacking self-sustaining food production, David and his team are but one example in a world literally marked by tens of thousands of ministries rooted in an understanding that there is nowhere that the Gospel does not reach, for nothing is outside of the Lord’s concern.
Brian C. Stiller
Global Ambassador, The World Evangelical Alliance