Extending a helping hand to the Motherland

Rev. Peek and First Lady with a street vendor in Accra, Ghana
Rev. Peek and First Lady with a street vendor in Accra, Ghana

Even when Rev. V. Lonnie Peek Jr. is trying to take a break, he somehow finds himself in the midst of getting something started. Mostly because if it seems like something ought to be done about a certain problem, then Peek doesn’t quite see how he can let an opportunity for good works pass him by. As a pastor, that comes with the territory. But for Peek, he has long felt a particular need to work toward establishing a closer relationship between Detroit and Africa. Not that Peek is by any means the only pastor in Detroit who shares that concern and has acted on it, but nevertheless what he has managed to accomplish recently is certainly a story worth telling.

In this particular case, Rev. Peek was in Ghana about four years ago with his wife, Eunice, enjoying something resembling a vacation. During that time they both went to the grand opening of a hospital that offers treatment for spinal-related maladies, a problem that afflicts a disproportionate number of the population. That right there, the decision to attend the grand opening of a hospital while on vacation, is a sure sign of a man who does not properly understand the concept of vacation.

“While I was there, somehow they found out I was a chaplain for Wayne County, and they asked Eunice and I if we would put together a chaplaincy training program for some of their students at Central University. So the next day Eunice and I got on our computers and we put together an outline,” he said.

OK, now fast forward. This September, the chaplaincy training program that began as an outline drawn up by Rev. Peek and his wife, will become a reality in Accra, Ghana. The courses will be taught out of Central University, and have the potential of training thousands of young African students in the skills of pastoral counseling that will benefit many thousands more in their respective communities.

So how are you going to spent your summer vacation this year..?

For two years, the Peeks had been communicating back and forth with their contacts with Central University in Ghana about the pastoral care program discussing how it should take shape. But eventually it became clear that person-to-person was the only way to get it done right.

“So it got to the point where we couldn’t do anymore by email. We said, ‘Look, you’re gonna have to bring us over there.’ So they hemmed and hawed,” but then they agreed and they brought Peek, Eunice, and Urias Beverly from Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Detroit.

“We spent nine days there. We met with the hierarchies of the University in Ghana. …One of our jobs was to convey to them the concepts of pastoral counseling, and the very procedures that you go through in counseling and pastoral care. And the difference between pastoral care and pastoral counseling. What we laid out was an academic format that would meet their accreditations.

“In western Africa, there is no accredited pastoral care for women. So they’ll be using the United States standards, which is a much higher level,” said Eunice Peek, who added that the only other African location that offers similar accreditation is in South Africa.

“Our job is to establish the program that is going to kick off in September. They’ve already started to recruit students. We’ve set up an academic structure. Our job is to shepherd them through this to make it happen and work,” said Rev. Peek.

A big part of making the program work will be its affiliation with the International Central Gospel Church in Ghana, which will provide a number of student recruits for the program. There are at least 400 separate churches under the ICGC umbrella, similar to how a C.O.G.I.C. or Baptist denomination would be defined in the United States. Each of these churches is expected to send an average of two or three members to Central University to study pastoral care, after which they can return to their own individual churches to implement the benefits of what they have learned.

The Peeks are noticeably – and understandably – proud of what they have managed to accomplish in such a relatively short period of time. But both admit that the end result did not come without a healthy amount of frustration when it came to navigating certain cultural differences.

“In America we move at a faster pace. It’s not just the African culture but other cultures don’t move that way. So at first it was start, then stop, start, stop. So we got a little frustrated. After a while we said ‘Y’all get back with us when you’re ready to go’.”

But Rev. Peek stresses that it was never a serious hurdle, just something to be adjusted to. The more important matter was the objective, which was to provide a sort of gold standard for training African students in pastoral care.

“From a church perspective, you’re going to have members of your congregation or community that will need different levels of counseling. And that’s the concept. To have the ability to give pastoral care in a prescribed manner. From an academic standpoint they must be taught how to do that. From a pastor’s standpoint, the first thing a pastor has to do is to have a pastor’s heart. So the students are being screened as to ‘why do you want to do this?’ So when you have a pastor’s heart, then you have to develop the technique for approaching members of your congregation who have pastoral care meetings.

Peek said that a pastor gets pulled from many different sides from many different folk with many different needs in many different directions. The skill and learned technique is to be able to discern and be able to listen.

“That’s why pastoral care is because we all need somebody to listen,” said Eunice.

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