A Ghanaian Baptist pastor told participants in a Christian-Muslim dialogue workshop at the 20th Congress of the Baptist World Alliance, meeting in Honolulu, that the Muslims in his city would protect Christians if troublemakers sought conflict with them.
“If you come to our city today and want to fight us, it is the Muslims that will defend us,” said Emmanuel Kwabena Mustapha, a Baptist leader in Yendi, Ghana, a city of 35,000 in the northern region of the country where 80 to 90 percent of the people belong to the Islamic faith.
Mustapha made his remarks following presentations by Nabil Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Baptist Society in Beirut, and Robert Sellers, professor at Logsdon School of Theology in Abilene, Texas. Their workshop was titled “Christian and Muslim Siblings: Children of Abraham and Sarah and Hagar.”
Both Costa and Sellers advocated during a panel discussion for education, community development and acts of kindness to change people’s minds. Costa had recalled that a large number of the students at the Beirut Baptist School come from Muslim families.
Mustapha, a Christian convert from Islam, affirmed their advocacy and warned that the relationship between Christianity and Islam was more than an American issue.
“I don’t see America being a Christian country,” he told participants.
After the workshop ended, EthicsDaily.com interviewed Mustapha, who said that he is a home missionary with the Ghanaian Baptist Convention responsible for starting churches and training pastors.
He attributed the good will between Christians and Muslims in Yendi to acts of kindness and enlisting Muslims “in everything we do,” like the Baptist church that was built by Muslim “artisans,” who “joyfully helped us to build it.”
Mustapha noted that the Northeastern Christian Academy had 120 students of whom 70 to 80 percent were “coming from Muslim homes.”
“They have accepted for us to provide a good education for their children,” he said. “And every morning, they pledge allegiance to the Bible and the Christian flag and pray. And every Wednesday we have a service for them.”
The Ghanaian pastor recalled two stories that illustrate the good will that members of both faith traditions seek with one another, stories that should challenge the prevailing narrative of the Western world that Christianity and Islam are at war.
“My first time to baptize about 30 people, my Muslim friend loaned me his car to take these people to the water side to baptize them,” he said, pointing out that he calls a particular imam his friend.
Two years ago, building on his associations with imams, Mustapha organized a soccer match between the Christian ministers of Yendi, including Catholic priests and Assembly of God pastors, and the Muslim imams. He jokingly lamented that the imams won the game.
Mustapha said, “We need to deal with our prejudice towards them [Muslims]. Begin to see them, love them,” he said, if Christians want to have a positive impact on the Islamic community.
He then repeated what he had said during the panel discussion. “[I]n Yendi when you come to the town [and] you want to trouble us, it is the Muslims who defend us because of the ministry and love we have shown them there.”
Mustapha also recalled that Gov. Brad Henry (D-Okla.) and his wife, Kim Henry, visited Yendi several years ago as part of a Baptist mission team to distribute mosquito-repellant nets sponsored by HISNets.
HISNets founder T Thomas told me that the Henrys, members of a moderate Baptist church, were part of a group that went to some of the poorest parts of Ghana, where one out of two children under the age of 6 dies from malaria.
Mosquito-repellant nets protect Ghanaians from malaria. Some 5,000 nets were distributed for free on this trip.
A former Baptist missionary in West Africa, Thomas said, “Mustapha is the most successful church planter that I’ve ever encountered. At that time, he had started over 200 congregations.”
Pointing out the growing influence of Islam in northern Ghana and Mustapha’s engagement in interfaith initiatives, Thomas emphasized, “To my knowledge, Mustapha doesn’t get up and preach against anything. He preaches for Jesus Christ.”
Thomas said, “He’s one of my Baptist heroes, modern-day Baptist heroes.”
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.