When new worshiping community leader the Rev. Asamoah Apenteng recently had $5,000 of his seminary debt forgiven, he was grateful—and relieved. Christaller Ghanaian Presbyterian Fellowship, which he helped form in November 2013, pays him about a $100 a week for preaching. He also has a job assisting people with transportation in the Boston area. “This helps me a lot,” he says. “I will now have enough [money] to make payments on my student loan.”
Apenteng received the loan forgiveness thanks to the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Transformational Leadership Debt Assistance (TLDA) program. It lends in $5,000 increments to teaching elders serving small congregations and worshiping communities in part-time or temporary pastoral positions in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
“The loan is interest free for 24 months and is paid to a student loan servicer to reduce both the balance and accruing interest on the student loan,” says Laura A. Bryan, associate in the church’s Financial Aid for Service office. “After 18 months of service, it is forgiven. If the participant still has a student loan balance when they have completed the 18 month eligible service requirement for forgiveness, they can apply again, up to 3 times total.”
Apenteng, who graduated from Louisville Seminary in 2001, started the Ghanaian fellowship in November 2013 in the Presbytery of Boston with help from his home and partner congregation First Presbyterian Church in Worcester, Mass.
“He’d been with us for 20-years before he went to seminary,” says First Church’s pastor, the Rev. T.J. DeMarco. “At Christaller Fellowship he’s helping us understand the way churches operate in Ghana. Through that we’re learning how to better serve our African immigrant members here.”
Twenty years ago, First Church was a predominately white Scottish congregation. Its membership is now more than 50 percent newly immigrated Africans. Given this change, First Church was eager to help Apenteng start Christaller Fellowship for Ghanaians who wanted to worship in their own language and style.
“It’s remarkable how many smaller, ethnic congregations are thriving here,” says DeMarco. “We want to create a Presbyterian presence — to be a part of what in Boston is being called ‘the quiet revival.’”
Apenteng came to the U.S. as a college graduate from Ghana in 1989 to further his studies at Boston University. He remembers how excited he was to be in the U.S. after hearing stories of Presbyterian missionaries who’d come his home country in the 1800’s. “Growing up I went to the schools and hospitals the Presbyterians built, they were the best,” he says.
One of the most important stories he learned was about missionary Johann Christaller, who served in Ghana from 1853-1868.
While translating scripture from English into Twi—the two languages most Ghanaians speak—his wife got malaria. “Christaller had to leave the country,” says Apenteng. “But after her death, he came back to Ghana to complete his good work. It’s a very inspiring story.”
So inspiring, in fact, that Apenteng named the worshiping community he started after his childhood hero. In similar fashion, he is helping Ghanaians translate the langue of their new culture even as they worship together in the language of their heart at Christaller Ghanaian Presbyterian Fellowship.
“Coming from Ghana, the decision around gay and lesbian ordination was difficult for us,” he says. “But increasingly our members are becoming more accepting. It’s been harder to explain this to the wider Ghanaian population here.”
Even though his journey into ministry for Ghanaians has sometimes been a struggle, Apenteng perseveres. By continuing to reach out to the more than 3,000 Ghanaians living in Worcester, and helping them navigate a new language and culture, he hopes to grow the fellowship into a more sustainable community in the near future.
Those interested in receiving loan forgiveness from TLDA can submit a one-page application, available here for download, and a current student loan billing statement to apply.