By Caleb Knox
Somewhere within the double-helix of his spiritual DNA, Jeremy Watson, '98, has a strand of cross-cultural missions that influences his every move as a minister.
As a high school senior, Watson went on a youth trip to Mexico that he calls "a transforming experience." The team bonding, cultural learning and spiritual awakening he experienced helped establish Watson's philosophy that missions are a vital part of youth ministry.
"It is extremely healthy for us as Christians to engage in cross-cultural understandings," Watson said.
Three years later, going on Whitworth's Prejudice across America study program confirmed Watson's passion for missions. The societal clashes he experienced on that trip reinforced his desire to work with other cultures.
After Whitworth, Watson spent four years as the youth director at Tualatin Plains Presbyterian Church in Hillsboro, Ore., where he led high school students in serving a wide range of people across the United States: a Hispanic community in Pasco, Wash.; low-income, inner-city residents in Chicago, Ill.; a Native American reservation in Crow Nation, Mont.; and a homeless shelter in Redding, Calif.
Watson earned his master of divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary and is now the associate pastor for youth and family at Grace Presbyterian Church in Centennial, Colo.
Since working at Grace, Watson has wanted to jump-start a young adults' ministry. Also, one of Watson's pastoral goals has been to learn what makes the church successful in other world regions as the Presbyterian Church shrinks in the United States. The center of Christianity has moved from the United States and Europe to Africa and Central America, Watson said.
So from Dec. 28 to Jan. 12, Watson led four church members to serve in Ghana.
Independent for 51 years, the democratic republic of Ghana is one of Africa's most stable countries. However, its political security does not immunize Ghana from the developmental problems plaguing most African nations. The capital city of Accra, though well-developed by African standards, still has little infrastructure compared with major U.S. cities.
"There were no [paved] roads, streetlights, utilities, pavement or waste management," Watson said. "You'd think the situation would deteriorate very quickly."
The mission team's goal was to increase cultural understanding through immersion in the Ghanaian culture. Observing the day-to-day life of Ghanaian citizens helped the mission team learn about the thriving Presbyterian Church in Ghana. Although Watson has led many youth mission teams, this was his first experience in a total-immersion situation.
"I admired the [Whitworth] students who went on the Central America study program because they experienced real immersion, living with local families and came back different people," Watson said. "I thought it was something I could never do because I loved the team aspect and esprit de corps of mission teams."
A 45-minute drive from the capitol found the team in Kpone, a fishing village where families live in mud huts. Most of the families the team encountered live in close-knit tribes that have not changed their standards of living despite their proximity to the westernized capital. The team members split up and lived in homes with Ghanaian families. Watson calls this experience exhausting, but fascinating.
"They're never lonely," Watson said of the Ghanaian people with whom he lived. "They're always surrounded with a very supportive, close-knit community. Parents will leave for a year or two to study in America or something, and the family won't miss a beat."
While visiting Kpone, Watson observed that most Ghanaian families live in tribal systems where unwritten codes of conduct are strictly adhered to. Each person has a defined role, from children up to tribal chiefs. Watson said there are few behavioral problems in Ghanaian societies, perhaps as a result of this clarity. The Ghanaian people asked the mission team about public shootings in the United States because "they don't understand how someone can become so isolated and depressed that it could get to that point," Watson said.
Watson's trip was the third for the Denver Presbytery Ghana Partnership, an alliance between three Presbyterian churches in Denver with Bethel Presbyterian Church and Osu Presbyterian Boys Primary School (OPBPS) in Ghana.
This partnership would not be possible without the Rev. Ebenezer Nii Narh Yebuah, Watson said. A doctoral student at the University of Denver and Iliff Theological Seminary, Yebuah attended OPBPS as a child. Fifteen years ago, he began building Bethel Presbyterian in Kpone. He also worked as a pastor at Bethel Presbyterian before returning to school in the United States.
Yebuah helped the team prepare for the trip by giving them essential briefings about Ghana and its people. With this information, the mission team was able to provide the service that has exemplified all Watson's mission teams. For most of the trip, the team focused on building and remodeling Bethel Presbyterian's church building in Kpone.
The mission team also spent two days in the village of Osu, focusing on increasing technology education at OPBPS. They donated laptop computers and began teaching the students and their teachers how to type.
Throughout the trip, the team took opportunities to teach and learn alongside members of the Ghanaian Presbytery.
"The most important thing is that God is doing a really amazing work in Ghana," Watson said. "It was fun to try to grasp what exactly is going on there, and to see the church so alive."
Despite the immense amount of information Watson absorbed in Ghana, he still has questions.
"Why is the church so successful over there, and why are they strong in areas where we aren't?" Watson asked. "Why are they struggling in areas where we aren't?"
These questions have followed Watson throughout his career, and they will continue to drive his ministry. Whether trying to learn about overseas branches of Christianity or serving forgotten pockets of humanity in the United States, missions will remain at the heart of Watson's mission.