Doris Totman’s brother was one of the early missionary pastors at Berean in Kodiak when it was still a mission church.
The Totmans initially served in Bangladesh. They have been in Ghana for 15 years.
The Totmans and other missionaries are working with 10 first-generation churches within a 40-mile radius under the auspices of the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism.
The missionaries provide theological training for students from a number of West African countries including Ghana, Liberia, Togo, Benin, Cameroon and Gambia at the Baptist Academy for Theology in Africa, a fully accredited Bible school and seminary in Ho, Ghana.
In spring 2009, Kernan and a group of volunteers from his church went to Ho to build a house on the BATA campus.
During Kernan’s last trip he concentrated on theological education and church leadership, addressing the question, “What does leadership look like in the church and what does God expect?”
He taught students who have taken various positions in the church, such as Sunday school teachers, youth workers, elders, evangelists and pastors.
“Whereas the teaching of theology provided a doctrinal foundation, the leadership institute tried to work through practical applications and usages in every day life of the church, answering such questions as ‘How do we do this thing? How do we work through difficulties of ministry?’”
While in Ghana, Kernan taught at the Bible college and seminary in Ho and in nearby villages, in some cases teaching non-stop eight hours a day. He also preached for two Sunday services.
The purpose of the training was to equip the indigenous people to teach their flocks so they will not depend solely on Western pastors and teachers for leadership.
“We’re there to help develop skills and knowledge that are required to have a healthy church … to come right along side of these people saying, ‘This is your church. We want to help you understand. We want to give you the tools that you need to make this a healthy church.’
“My calling was to work with church leaders because they are best suited to reach the people of their culture,” Kernan said.
“Christianity is not confined to a western expression or dominance.
“To some extent, (the people in Ghana) think that our (American) churches are perfect,” Kernan said. “They’re surprised and relieved to find out that, as a pastor, I have problems too. There are problems I don’t have easy answer to.”
Kernan said he made a connection with the people of Ghana when he and other Kodiak volunteers worked on the house in 2009.
“I witnessed some very mature decisions made on behalf of people serving in leadership. Big steps were made between the first and second visits. That was very encouraging.
“Leaders in the church want to use God’s word to define what is right and what that looks like in their context.”
Kernan said African Christians face the challenge of understanding and practicing the unadulterated Gospel in the midst of other belief systems such as syncretism, animism and the “prosperity Gospel.”
“We try to bring more depth and strength to the churches, so they have that solid foundation to last on.
“The goal in this ministry is not looking at (the African Christians) as people beneath us. They are fellow believers who need to be helped along.
“It was neat how God opened doors and made connections cross-culturally that really brought a connection between the people I was working with and myself,” Kernan said. “It was a real humbling experience to be used in such a great way.”
The Totmans asked if Kernan would be able to return.
“I would enjoy the opportunity,” Kernan said, “but much of that revolves around balancing the responsibilities of pastoring this (Kodiak) church. My first priority is here. But I would love to return.”
For the time being, Kernan has got his hands full at home. Recently, his assistant, Matt Perez, and his family left for Jessup, Iowa where he took a position as a senior pastor at a Bible church.