News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Ministry trip extended by COVID-19

Sisters resident Gary Radmacher is in Ghana, West Africa — a trip that has gone beyond his expectations in more ways than one. The trip was planned for eight weeks. It has now extended to 14 weeks and Radmacher has yet to return home.

Gary and his wife, Barby, moved to Sisters six years ago, coming here to join with a local pastor in ministry to Latin American countries.

His full-time ministry has spanned nearly five decades serving as a youth pastor, solo pastor, senior pastor and Christian college professor.

To equip him for a life of ministry, he earned an undergraduate degree in Bible from Biola University, multiple graduate degrees in ministry, and he is currently working toward a doctorate in biblical theology.

Radmacher sees all of this training and experience as a resource to draw on for the benefit of others.

As he explained, “The Bible says that ‘To whom much is given, much is required.’ I’m just driven to freely give away what God has freely given to me.”

In this spirit of giving, Radmacher has made several trips to Ghana. The first was a three-month stay right after graduating from college in 1972. Then, in 2018, Pastor Steve Stratos of Sisters Community Church (SCC) invited Gary to participate in a pastor’s conference in Ghana. That trip was just under two weeks, during which Stratos and Radmacher trained 40 to 50 pastors in the capital city of Accra. The trip was so well-received that the pair were invited back in October 2019, when they brought along two more members of SCC.

The Sisters church has developed a vision for supporting women’s ministry and a small private school in Ghana. But Radmacher’s calling is to teach and support those pursuing Christian ministry. He recalled, “during that trip I just felt like I needed to return for a longer period of time in order to have the kind of lasting impact I desired. So, I left with a prayer that God might make it possible for me to return and teach for two months.”

Radmacher gained quick support from his wife, who knew his passion, along with his church in Sisters. He coordinated with a pastor who owns a hotel in Ghana and they made all the necessary arrangements for a spring 2020 return to West Africa. The plan was to teach a group of about 30 young pastors and church leaders weekly and to preach to various congregations twice weekly. The young leaders are receiving training from Pastor Calvary, a Ghanaian pastor with over 20 years of ministry experience, but even Calvary has received no formal Bible college training.

The coronavirus was part of worldwide conversation in early March, so Radmacher did some online research to determine the impact the virus was having in Africa.

“One article I read suggested that in countries like Ghana, which has a tropical climate, the virus would find it difficult to spread. This had given me a degree of confidence as I proceeded with my plans to take the trip,” he explained.

Radmacher flew out of Portland International Airport on March 11. He did not realize when he departed that was the day that the World Health Organization would declare the coronavirus a pandemic or that President Trump would announce the suspension of flights from Europe to the U.S. the same day. Ten days later the president of Ghana closed the nation’s borders.

As Radmacher said, “At that point I felt glad and thankful that I had made it in before the border closure” — a closure that was first announced as two weeks.

When the borders of Ghana closed, all church meetings were shut down by the government, along with schools, businesses and social gatherings. Radmacher spent most of his time at his hotel, thankful to have access to a pool and weight room in the hotel to keep up his exercise routine. He continued to work remotely on his Doctor of Theology, completing two classes while in Ghana. It wasn’t until early May when he was able to preach live-stream from his iPad.

The shutdown has been especially hard on the poorest people of Ghana. Many are living on $100-200 per month, earned through reselling food and handmade products from roadside stands or even by hawking at busy road intersections when cars come to a stop.

“The profit margin is very small,” said Radmacher. “These people need to sell something today in order to feed their family today.” With daily travel restricted to only essential items and police checkpoints along the way, their already-meager incomes have been reduced to nothing.”

In recent weeks, Radmacher has been able to spend considerable time with Pastor Calvary, the local mentor for young pastors. Since the first week of June the churches have begun to meet again and Gary and Calvary have been able to gather with a handful of leaders-in-training. This has been encouraging to Radmacher. He can see that there is more work for him to do in Ghana and he is already planning return trips.

When asked about his possible schedule for returning home, Gary explained, “I am on a list for a repatriation flight back to the U.S., but the last communiqué from the Embassy on June 10 said this: ‘While we continue to explore every option to bring Americans home, the embassy does not have any additional repatriation flights scheduled currently. All U.S. citizens in Ghana should prepare to remain in Ghana until commercial air travel resumes.’”

The president of Ghana announced on May 31 that Ghana’s borders are closed until further notice.

Despite the fact that Radmacher was scheduled to return to Sisters on May 6 and he is now beginning his seventh week of stay beyond his schedule, he is confident that his circumstances are not beyond God’s control.

In Gary’s words: “I must say that I am so grateful for this opportunity.

And I don’t think it would have been the same if everything had gone according to my plans.

Problems and pandemics are a gift from God, that give us an opportunity to draw nearer to him.

Often, I say that ‘Jesus learned obedience from the things which he suffered,’ and we cannot become like him by traveling a different path.

So far (I turned 70 last month), this has been one of the highlights of my life.

I am thankful for my friends and my church family who have provided financial support during this extended stay.

I am so grateful for the people who have been praying for me, because those prayers, I truly believe, are the reason I am experiencing such outstanding peace and joy while ‘stuck’ here in Ghana.”


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