A Historical Profile Of The Bible Society
The spirit of nationalism and self-determination which gathered momentum in the period after the Second World War and which resulted in the attainment of political independence by many African countries, also impacted the work of the churches in many ways. Not surprisingly, the work of Bible translation on the African continent was not excluded from the impact of this movement and the post-independence era displayed much evidence of this. Towards the end of the 1950s, the BFBS decided to station personnel in Accra to facilitate a more efficient working relationship with the Basel Mission in their joint translations projects. By 1960 the BFBS had taken a definite decision to set up an office in Ghana which would also be the office of the Bible Societies of West Africa based in Accra. In 1963 a Conference of National Church Leaders in Limuru, Kenya which was attended by a number of international Bible societies including the BFBS and ABS took a firm decision to work towards the formation of Bible Societies on the continent. Following this decision, the BFBS then formed Advisory Boards in African countries where it was operating towards the eventual creation of national Bible Societies.
In Ghana, in addition to the operations of the Advisory Board, there was intense advocacy for the establishment of an autonomous Bible Society in the late1950s and early 1960s, a process which apparently had the support of President Kwame Nkrumah himself. The Advisory Board in Accra had a number of prominent Ghanaian churchmen serving on it including Rev. Albert L. Kwansa who was Synod Clerk of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana as the Chairman and Rev. D.B.O. Rockson of the Literature Committee of Christian Council of Ghana who was Secretary. Other members were Mr. A.J. Prah (Accountant), Rev. Prof. C.G. Baeta of the University of Ghana and Rev. G.A. Nicholson, Secretary to the Bible Societies in West Africa, based in Accra.
The Birth of the Bible Society of Ghana
Once a firm decision was taken to establish an autonomous BSG, the BFBS took a most generous step to donate its offices on the High Street known as the Bible House to be used as offices of the proposed Bible Society. The Bible House was officially opened on 18th September 1965 with a grand durbar attended by representatives of the major churches and mission agencies in Ghana as well as dignitaries from churches in other countries. The opening ceremony attracted a large patronage and was attended by the Honourable Minister of Education, Mr Kwaku Boateng who represented President Kwame Nkrumah.
On 21st and 22nd September 1965 a consultation was held in the Bible House “to ascertain the need for an autonomous Bible Society and how such a Society should be organised to ensure the support of the whole Church in Ghana”. This meeting was presided over by Rev. Prof. C.G. Baeta and attended by fifty three representatives from Bible societies working in West Africa as well as all the major churches in Ghana. It was basically an advocacy forum for the formation of the BSG. This consultation was the forum at which a definite resolution was passed for the formation of a Bible Society of Ghana.
The Bible Society of Ghana was inaugurated on 19th February 1967 after all formal preparations had been concluded. It was a Grand National event which took place at the Black Star Square in Accra and was attended by representatives of all Protestant and Pentecostal churches as well as the Roman Catholic Church in Ghana. The inauguration also coincided with a meeting of the Africa Regional Conference of the United Bible Societies at Winneba whose delegates also attended the function. The crowd at the inauguration event was estimated at twelve thousand (12,000). The BSG was duly registered on 23rd September 1967 under the Trustee (Incorporation) Act of 1962.
Operations of BSG
The BSG was established as a “not-for-profit, non-denominational Christian organisation”. Its main objectives were to ensure the translation of the Christian Holy Scriptures from the original languages into the major Ghanaian languages as well as the widest possible effective distribution of the same. Whilst the constitution that would govern the organisation was being prepared, the BSG-in-the-process-of-formation was already active under the direction of the Church Advisory Board. However a fully operational Bible Society of Ghana did not come into existence until after the inauguration in 1967.
On 20th February, the Bible Society held its first meeting during which the Constitution was adopted and the National Council elected. This signalled the transfer of authority from the Advisory Council to the National Council which from this point on, took over the overall administration of the Society. The first National Council was a twenty-four member body made up of equal members of lay and ordained persons. Rev. Albert L. Kwansa was the first Chairman and Mr. E.S. Aidoo the first Vice Chairman. The Constitution also made provision for the appointment of a President and a Vice President for the Society and Rev. Prof. C.G. Baeta was duly appointed the first President with Lady C. Quarshie-Idun the first Vice President.
At the onset in 1965, the National Council committed the day to day running into the hands of three senior officers namely, Rev. J.K. Gyanfosu (Church Relations Secretary), Mr Michael Farchie (Business Manager and also in charge of financial matters) and Rev. Japheth Agboka (Distribution Officer) who formed a General Secretariat at the Bible House. These three jointly administered the society until a General Secretary was appointed to lead the administration. The Rev. Thomas Adevu was appointed the first substantive General Secretary of the Bible Society in 1974 and has been succeeded by five General Secretaries appointed on a regular basis for varied terms in office. These were Mr Maxwell Dzunu (1979-81), Rev. Joshua Kudadjie (1981- 1985), Mr David Hammond (1985-1997) and Rev. Kofi Owusu (1997-2010). The Rev. Erasmus Odonkor, the current General Secretary has been in office since 2010.
The first constitution gave the National Council the mandate to create committees to aid the administration of the Society. Accordingly, the following committees were established at the onset: Translations, Business, Distribution and Outreach, Promotion and Resource Mobilisation, Children and Youth, Bible Week and Nominations. Rev. Joseph Gyanfosu of the Assemblies of God was the first Church Relations Officer and Mr James Laryea became Distribution Officer whilst Mr Japheth Agboka took charge of distribution in Northern Ghana. Mrs Florence Welbeck was later appointed Fundraising Officer of the society.
There are three levels of membership in the BSG, all of which aim to offer interested persons an opportunity to contribute to and benefit from the work of the BSG. First is the Life Members category which is open to all persons above 18 years of age who are willing to commit themselves for lifelong support to the Bible Society of Ghana. The Junior members category is made up of persons below 18 years of age or students in pre-tertiary institutions whilst the Patrons category is reserved for personalities who in the opinion of the National Council have demonstrated exceptional commitment to the BSG through financial contributions and other forms of assistance.
The Bible Society of Ghana has surely paid its dues to the churches in Ghana as well as to the Ghanaian community generally. Fifty years of service has seen BSG bearing the enormous responsibility of being entrusted with the Word of God in Ghana. There is no doubt that the best years of the BSG are still in the future and that this future has already begun with our generation. If the Bible has been such a blessing to us, we have a duty to perpetuate this heritage, and that is the call that the celebration of the Golden Jubilee extends to all Ghanaians.
Soli Deo Gratia – To God alone be the Glory.
[This brief overview of the BSG is an extract from the published work,
Entrusted With the Word – A History of the Bible Society of Ghana 1965-2015, written by Rev. Prof. David N.A. Kpobi]