In 2004 the Barrie FMC began exploring their involvement in global ministries. After leadership team personnel participated in a Global Awareness workshop with Dan Sheffield, a congregational audit indicated a strong desire to be involved in ministry in West Africa. In the summer of 2005 an Exploratory Team of six persons travelled to Accra, Ghana. The team came back with a proposal to involve the Barrie church in a new church plant in Accra. One of the interesting outcomes of this team was that team leader and local elementary school teacher, John Mark Cockram, began to think seriously about returning to Ghana as a cross-cultural missionary. Read the story below of how the Lord has been leading John Mark and Loreli and their two young girls.
On August 22 of this year, our family is moving to Accra, the capital city of Ghana, in West Africa. This move is happening in spite of the health dangers, lifestyle changes, and cultural adaptation that await us. Why would we want to move 8,814 km away from parents, friends and a great church? The short answer is the Holy Spirit has motivated us to take this assignment. The long answer is really a story: a story about changing priorities, surrender, and meeting needs.
Loreli and I have been married for nine years. Both of us were raised by Christian parents who taught us the Bible and both of our families attended church regularly. While we were dating, Lori would often ask me if I had ever considered being a missionary. I replied firmly that I didn’t think it was for me.
When we married, we began several years of living for the things we thought we needed: a nicely decorated house, a car, advancing our careers, vacations. We were happy. God had blessed us with two daughters who have become wonderful friends. We were very comfortable, maybe a little too comfortable. Spiritually, we were restless. God had provided for us in so many materials ways, but we had yet to risk anything for our faith.
We joined Barrie Free Methodist Church when we moved back to Barrie from Toronto, where I had been finishing my teaching degree. We got involved in a small group and we began asking each other some tough questions about how we were living out our faith. It became very clear to me that I was not investing myself in my relationship with Jesus, nor was I serving his church. Out of those small group discussions, Lori and I were encouraged to get involved in active ministry.
While I got involved in worship and teaching ministries, Lori became Missions Director at BFMC. Our pastor had us over for dinner to talk about the church’s vision for missions and said to me jokingly, « You know you will be going to Africa? » I laughed, but I had no intention of getting involved. Missions was « Lori’s thing. »
Through a survey of our congregation, the Missions Committee identified Africa as the part of the world in which our church would like to serve. Dan Sheffield put Lori in touch with Pastor Charles Tetteh, a national pastor who had returned to Ghana from the U.S. to start a Free Methodist Church. As plans were made to send a fact-finding team to Ghana to see how we could assist Pastor Charles and his church, I found myself being drawn into the planning and vision setting for our whole involvement with the Ghanaian FMC.
I had spent a year at a bible college out west after high school, and at the time I had considered full-time ministry. When I returned home I set my sights on getting a degree and a job and didn’t reconsider where my gifts might best be used. With Lori’s involvement in missions, a whole range of thoughts and topics began to resurface, and we were able to work through some tough ministry issues together. The Holy Spirit was continually prompting me to give up my plans and be open to what God wanted for our family.
Through Lori’s prayers for the Spirit’s softening of my heart, I began to more actively participate with Lori in missions. By the spring of 2005, I was the team leader for the team that was set to go to Ghana. Within a year, God had reversed my whole mindset!
The trip to Ghana was both challenging and rewarding. There were many cultural differences that we attempted to understand (both our preconceptions and the African way of doing things).
Pastor Charles had asked me to speak at a series of crusade meetings in two separate neighbourhoods. I felt a real peace each time I spoke. It was simply a feeling of being where I was meant to be. Our team felt the love of the Ghanaian church as they welcomed us. Our team saw tremendous potential for growth in Pastor Charles’ ministry. Their vision to establish facilities for Christian education along with their churches fit well with BFMC’s desire to assist women and children in Africa.
We also saw a need in Ghana. With all of the vision and passion in the Ghanaian church, they needed partners who could assist them in making their vision a reality. On returning to Barrie, I spoke to Henry Church (Africa Director for Free Methodist World Missions) and he confirmed that he had been praying for a couple to come to Ghana to work with the teams that would be coming to serve as well.
Now that I had become involved and seen what was possible, how would I respond to God? I began to think about why God had blessed us here in the West, but specifically, why had God blessed my family? Why had Lori and I been given our education, our positive church experiences, our skills and talents, our financial stability? The only answer I could find in the Bible was that God blesses us so that we can be a blessing to others (2 Co 8:13-14) and that true discipleship has a cost (Mt 16:24-26). Lori and I had the skills and gifts to be of use to the church by going. Could we find a good reason to say no?
What is motivating us to give up good jobs, a lovely home, the closeness of a wonderful church family, and the many comforts of Canada? The answer is that God has been changing our stubborn hearts into obedient hearts. Lori and I know that unity in the church is one of Jesus’ priorities (Jn 17:22-23). We also know that we can, with God’s enabling, be of use in promoting that unity by assisting our Ghanaian brothers and sisters in this assignment.
We have had moments of reservation. As the summer begins, and we enjoy our home we ask ourselves, “Did we really just sell this place?!” Do we really know what we’ve gotten ourselves into? Most missionaries would say there’s no way to know until you’ve done it. We’re trusting God to provide for our family, and for our spiritual and emotional needs on the field.
We look forward with anticipation to the challenges and blessings of building relationships with the Ghanaian believers. We’re praying that unity within our denomination will be a testimony to God’s grace and a door to the gospel in Ghana. Risks are not frightening when you place your trust in God – they become opportunities for him to be the strength in our weakness. Our hope is that the Ghana Free Methodist Church will become a sending conference in the very near future, and that our experience will be repeated in the lives of Ghanaian Christians.
John Mark and Loreli Cockram attend the Barrie FMC