JACKSON, Tenn. – Feb. 18, 2005 – As Ray Van Neste was teaching a New Testament class on his recent trip to Ghana, he came to a passage about church governance that is often interpreted differently by various denominations.
Van Neste, assistant professor of Christian Studies at Union University, mentioned briefly the diverse interpretations, but tried to move on to topics he considered more substantial. His students, however, wouldn’t let him.
“They said, ‘We want to obey the Bible exactly, regardless of our traditions. You tell us, as you understand it, exactly what does it say?’” Van Neste said. “I really appreciated that spirit.”
That sense of eagerness and devotion to Scripture is what most impressed Van Neste during his trip in January. During his stay in the capital of Accra, Van Neste helped local church leaders in evangelism efforts, and he taught classes for those preparing for the ministry.
Although Ghana is primarily a Christian nation, most of the people there simply nod their heads to Christianity and don’t fully embrace its teachings, Van Neste said. The local church leaders communicated to him their need for expository preaching. So, as Van Neste taught young ministers the books of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus, he emphasized the importance of biblical preaching.
In addition, Van Neste did some of his own preaching in local churches and communities. The local pastors he worked with arranged to show the “Jesus” film in the evenings in different villages. As they set up a screen outdoors and showed the film, people would gather to watch. Van Neste often had the chance to present the gospel message during breaks in the film, and those who made professions of faith in Christ were introduced to a local pastor and church.
Van Neste said the trip was an encouragement to him, specifically “the vibrancy of the church there, how earnest they were for the word.”
In addition to his duties as assistant professor of Christian Studies, Van Neste is also director of the R.C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies at Union. The Ryan Center provided about half of the funds for Van Neste’s trip as an extension of its mission “to promote thoughtful and disciplined reading, study, interpretation and application of the Bible throughout the world.”
Van Neste’s home church, Cornerstone Community Church in Jackson, and several local individuals provided the rest of the funding for the trip.