A shepherd visited Little Fork Episcopal Church in Rixeyville one Sunday in May, but these days he dresses in the vestments (clothing) of an Anglican Priest.
Kweeku Ayeebo, a son of his father’s first wife, tended goats for his family in Tamale, Ghana, West Africa. His large family lived together in harmony, in part because they held the same belief system. Commonly called African Traditional Religion, they offered sacrifices to appease household spirits.
Kweeku’s father refused to allow him to attend school, but the 12-year-old longed to study. He worked out a plan. He figured out how to pay for school, got a friend to take his shepherding task, and stashed clothes to change into so he could attend school unknown to his father.
Some strange news began circulating at school that stirred Kweeku’s curious heart. His friends began talking about “Whites” from Canada and the U.K. who came to a neighboring village church and washed the Africans’ feet. That was all he knew, but it deeply moved him. He had to see this phenomenon for himself.
That church was the Anglican Church in Africa, and the “Whites,” as the boys referred to them, were missionaries from the Anglican Church in Canada and England.
This story stayed in his mind. Why would these White people wash the Africans’ feet? He asked his father for permission to go to church, but his father refused.
He slipped off to church one Sunday where he heard about the existence of the living God and His unfailing love. He learned that Jesus Christ claimed to be “the Way, the Truth and the Life,” that putting his faith in Christ was the way to Heaven. How could a clever boy refuse to investigate?
He heard that Jesus Christ washed his disciples’ feet as an example to his followers that the master was not above the servant. This was the way to serve others. The missionaries washed the Africans’ feet because of Jesus. Kweeku was so moved that he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ and followed the way of the Cross.
While walking home, he heard that his father was waiting to beat him with a club because he had disobeyed his orders. Kweeku made a detour to a wise old woman’s house where he begged her to intervene with his father. She pled his case. From that time forward, the shepherd went to church and attended school.
He continued through high school and university, then on to further studies in an Anglican Seminary in Ghana. In 2004, he became Rector in an Anglican Church while overseeing all of their Schools and Youth Programs. It became the largest Anglican Church in the Diocese of Northern Ghana. He also became a member of a small body of prominent citizens, similar to the Council of Elders in the traditional African system, advising Ghana’s President on national issues.
During this busy period in his life, he and his high school sweetheart, Hannah, married and had two sons.
The Episcopal Church in the USA is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. In 2015, Kweeku, (or Norbert in English), came to study at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia. He graduated in May with a master’s degree in Theology. His passion is youth ministry, not surprising since he began following Jesus as a young person.
Next week, Norbert Ayeebo, the shepherd from Ghana, returns to his wife, children, and large groups of young people in Ghana. Life for him and his family will be difficult. His monthly salary is $47, which he supplements with a shared garden plot.
Norbert will tell stories about his education, travels, meeting Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the United States, and Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. But most importantly, he will model to his church Jesus’ servant heart, willing to wash Africans’ feet.