...Institution will empower women, writes Darryl Dean When Ghanaian Pentecostal evangelist Samuel Donkor came to Canada in 1981 to study electronics, his call to "gather souls for the Lord" took him to the streets of Toronto.
"At first, getting the gospel message out wasn't easy. Most people just walked by without listening to what I had to say," he recalls.
But what started as a street corner ministry has grown well beyond the city of Toronto, where immigrants from many lands heeded Donkor's message and became members of his All Nations Full Gospel church, now located on Steeles Ave. W.
Since he established the church in 1986, he has "planted" branches in various parts of Canada and in several other countries and has launched, through the church's mission outreach, All Nations University (ANU) in Ghana.
For Donkor, the president and founder of ANU, the accredited Christian institution is "a dream that's coming true."
More than 400 students already attend classes in computer science, business administration and biblical studies at ANU in the city of Koforidua, north of Accra, the Ghanaian capital, and Donkor reports that major construction work is due to start shortly on the main campus site.
"We will be putting up lecture halls, residences for students and faculty members and office buildings. With the expansion of facilities, the university will be ready to accept thousands of students by 2006," he says.
Donkor, who attended an Anglican mission school in Ghana, sees the church as having an important part to play in education, especially in developing countries.
"Through ANU, we hope to empower students with Christian values as we help them meet Ghana's development goals of the 21st century."
According to Donkor, one of the major problems undermining development in many African countries, including Ghana, is the "scourge of corruption."
"So we need to promote integrity and ethics in all aspects of the society to eliminate this problem. We believe by promoting Christian values in education, we will help in the process."
He makes it clear that non-Christians are welcome to attend the university, which has the official blessing of the Ghanaian government, and that ANU will play an increasingly important role as a community-oriented institution.
"We are particularly concerned about the women in Ghana who carry the greater burden of responsibility for their families and we are setting up a Women's Development Centre as part of the university."
He says the centre will provide literacy training and HIV/AIDS testing and develop programs to assist market women.
"For those women who may be selling goods such as salt or jam or peppers, we will offer training. We will get business students to teach them to set up their books and help them with their accounting as well as basic marketing skills."
Donkor recalls that in 1994, while attending a conference for church leaders in Ghana, he saw an urgent need for the establishment of a university and entered into discussions with the Ghanaian government.
"To launch this dream project, the church bought a five-storey building where classes are now being conducted, and another building which is being used as a students' hostel," he says. "Now we are about to develop hundreds of acres of land we have acquired on the outskirts of Koforidua for our main campus."
Looking back at the early days of his ministry in Toronto when he walked the streets to "lead people back to Jesus," he says it was a very challenging time.
"I was living near Victoria Park in the city's east end. On Saturday mornings, I would leave home with a handful of religious tracts, but hardly anyone on the street would stretch out a hand to accept one of my tracts."
Later, he moved to the Jane-Finch area in Toronto's west end and to his surprise, found that many people on the street were receptive to his message.
"The area had a bad reputation because of drug dealers and drug-related crime but many people from the large immigrant community there — Africans, West Indians, Latinos and others — were spiritually hungry and searching for something. Many of them began accepting my invitation to attend Bible studies and prayer meetings in the basement of my apartment building."
As the numbers grew, Donkor moved to a community centre and later to a Lutheran church where he was allowed to conduct services.
Recalling encounters with people on drugs in the Jane-Finch area, Donkor says that from time to time he met young men in the hallways of apartment buildings and underground garages who were smoking marijuana. "They trusted me and would tell me their problems. And this gave me the impetus to move ahead with my work in the ministry."
Donkor, who obtained a diploma in electronic engineering from Humber College in Toronto in 1984, says he walked away from electronics to devote himself fully to serving the Lord.
After his ordination at the Indiana Wesleyan University in the United States, he established the All Nations Full Gospel Church. He has since obtained a doctorate in ministry from Canada Christian College in Toronto. He says his church is excited about "developing vibrant links with ANU."
Church member Lynn Kisembe of Toronto has been teaching English communications at ANU for the past year. She describes the church as "the mother of the university."
Donkor says the ANU became a reality because of the support of the church and its fast-growing congregation. But he says the university can no longer be run as a mission outreach of the church.
"On the advice of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the aid-administering arm of the Canadian government, we have set up a non-governmental agency — All Nations International Development Agency (ANIDA) — to run the university."
Stephanie Asare, the project coordinator of ANIDA, says many people in Canada and elsewhere who are not connected with the All Nations Full Gospel church have expressed interest in working with the university.
"So we are seeing bright lights ahead for ANU," Donkor says.
"Steeles Ave. W. may be a long hop, skip and jump from Koforidua, but ANU brings us closer together as we follow the message of Jesus to `go ye and teach all nations.'"