A great man from Africa

It was easy to hear Wilfred Kwadwo Sewodie's voice each night as he moved through the quiet Dallas Theological Seminary hallways, scrubbing baseboards, collecting trash and doing his janitorial duties.

Sometimes he would dissect New Testament passages in Greek or meditate out loud on big questions inspired by his studies. Faculty members working late learned that, when they heard his voice, they could expect a visitor seeking answers. But most of the time the African simply sang hymns with a voice that was joyful, powerful and, ultimately, inspiring. His favorite was "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" and he especially loved the second verse.

"Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit, into every troubled breast!", he would sing, often repeating phrases for emphasis. "Let us all in Thee inherit, Let us find the promised rest. Take away our bent to sinning; Alpha and Omega be. End of faith, as its beginning, set our hearts at liberty."

Sewodie, 33, had one year left in seminary. He had one more year to envision his Tutukpene village school, to plan evangelistic crusades, to struggle to pay for long-distance calls to his young disciples in Ghana. It was nearly time to go home.

That isn't going to happen, at least not in the way everyone expected. Two weeks ago, he was killed when a driver who was being pursued by police ran a stop sign and struck his car. The other driver was charged with intoxication manslaughter. Now Sewodie's friends and professors are asking old, old questions.

"Why? Why would God bring a gifted Christian leader from Ghana to Dallas, take him through three quarters of the way through his degree program only to have his life suddenly snatched away?", asked New Testament professor John Grassmick, in an emotional farewell service. "What is God's purpose in all of this? How will He be glorified in all of this?"

Speaker after speaker concluded that God would redeem this tragedy. Another African student, Sewodie's cousin Evans Odei, said his kinsman's vision would live on if others were inspired to take his place.

"Yes, I think this will this be a testimony," said Odei, gazing down at the casket. "I think the body that is going home will be a testimony. It will be the word of the Lord. He died while he was preparing to witness to his own people. ... They are waiting for a body over there. But they are also waiting for us, in the future. ... Will you go?"

Sewodie was the third of 11 children in a poor rural family. He was the first child to finish secondary school and then earned a bachelor's degree in English and linguistics. He wanted to go into politics, but a powerful conversion experience steered him into ministry. While in college he helped translate the New Testament into his tribe's language. Last summer, he married his college sweetheart -- by proxy, since neither could afford an intercontinental plane ticket. Sewodie was weeks away from having enough money to bring Cynthia Odemo, a nurse, to Dallas.

Now, his friends face questions that aren't answered in seminary texts. How can they raise the money necessary to handle the many steps it takes to get a body from Dallas to Ghana? What can anyone say to the 5,000 mourners expected to gather today (May 2) for Sewodie's funeral in his home village?

Fellow student James Samra said he would offer the same message there that he struggled, through waves of grief, to deliver in Dallas. Sewodie's intensity, dedication and, above all, humility taught many Americans that there is more to ministry than big budgets and an impressive resume.

"If I could tell him one thing, ...it is that I know his heart's desire was to be a great man of God," said Samra, who is helping create a Sewodie memorial fund at the seminary (www.dts.edu). "We confuse greatness with popularity, with fame and prestige. ... But that is not what God necessarily considers great. I feel privileged and unworthy to go back to his home country with his body and tell his people what a great man he was."