Ghanaian missionary has no regrets about trading riches for poverty

Posted: September 21, 2010

By Amy Robertson

Front banner: A village in Mali. Stock photo.

Dr. Solomon Aryeetey. Submitted photo.

r. Solomon Aryeetey knows what true poverty means.

He grew up in a village in Ghana, Africa. His father, who had five wives, died when Aryeetey was 10, leaving him and his mother with absolutely nothing.

As an adult, a comfortable medical practice in the United States was within reach—but Aryeetey gave it up to live and serve among the people of Mali, Africa.

He said he couldn’t have chosen a greater path.

Aryeetey, who will speak at Briercrest College and Seminary’s mission conference, 28:19, in a few weeks, had one goal growing up: to pull himself out of the poverty that had defined his childhood.

In school, when other children asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up, he gave them the richest, most prestigious-sounding job title he could think of:

“A brain transplant surgeon!”

By God’s goodness, Aryeetey said, he did go to medical school. Ghana’s president at that time legislated free education from primary school through university—Aryeetey even had a small allowance to pay for his textbooks.

Throughout his studies, Aryeetey, who had become a Christian through the ministry of the Scripture Union, held on to his ambition—his dream of being a wealthy American doctor who could provide well for his wife and children. He never wanted his family to experience what he did as a child.

God’s plans were somewhat different.

Aryeetey was passionate about the Gospel and was actively involved in music and evangelism in Ghana, both on campus and in nearby villages. But he’d always envisioned doing ministry in the context of a comfortable medical career.

In the midst of classes, God asked Aryeetey to give him something: His ambition.

Your life becomes meaningful and productive only when you let it go.

Aryeetey was devastated initially—but he obeyed, and prepared to withdraw from medical school.

Then, God surprised him again. He gave medicine back to Aryeetey—on His terms.

“You can be a doctor, but God’s kind of doctor,” God told him.

The call came when Aryeetey was in the United States in the midst of his residency “trying to settle down and make some big bucks,” he said with a smile.

After Aryeetey and his wife had experienced the “beauty and glory of America,” God asked them to go and share the Gospel in the blistering desert of Mali.

“It’s crazy hot [in Mali]!” Aryeetey said with an ironic laugh.

“It’s so hot, you feel like you want to die!”

In Mali, he and his wife lived in a home with no electricity and no running water. He saw most of his medical patients in the shade of a tree behind his house, he used a generator when he needed to sterilize instruments, and he worked without a nurse.

Dr. Solomon Aryeetey (left), and his wife, Leticia (right). Submitted photo.

“They don’t teach doctors to do dressings,” he said with another laugh. “Try doing a dressing and you learn the value of a nurse.”

“There was also a lot I learned about simplicity,” he said, pointing out how useful he and his family found hurricane lamps and their Land Rover during their eight years in Mali.

They would often drive for hours to show the Jesus film using a generator.

“You get stuck every few minutes!”

But for all Aryeetey’s enthusiasm, he becomes even more animated when he talks about the Gospel.

The Muslim people that he and his wife, Leticia, worked with “loved the Gospel,” he said.

They would cry at the injustice of Christ’s crucifixion when they saw it depicted in the Jesus film, and they would clap at the resurrection.

They would see how the Gospel changed people. “Tell us about your magic,” they begged.

A man who was known throughout the village as “the bad guy” asked Aryeetey for a Bible one day. A few weeks later, he would say someone had stolen it and asked for another. A few weeks later, the same thing would happen.

There is nothing greater than learning to give your life away so somebody else can find life.

Aryeetey laughed as he explained that he soon found out the man was using the pages of his Bibles to roll marijuana.

But now, two decades later, he said, the man assists the mayor in his village as he directs Christian missionaries in Mali.

The Muslim people Aryeetey and his wife loved so deeply are now pastoring the Christian church, which is growing strong.

Aryeetey recently stepped down as the director of a missions organization called Pioneers – Africa, handing the reins over to someone younger. Now, he said, he gets to stand on the sidelines and cheer while he and his wife, who have finally realized their dream of immigrating to the United States, fundraise and speak about missions across the continent. He has no regrets about the sacrifices he’s made—and he can’t wait to share his story with hundreds of college students at 28:19 in a few weeks.

“Your life becomes meaningful and productive only when you let it go,” he said.

“There is nothing greater than learning to give your life away so somebody else can find life.”

28:19 occurs at Briercrest College and Seminary from September 30 to October 2, 2010. The conference is named for Matthew 28:19, a biblical passage in which Jesus tells His followers to share His message with “all nations”—the core of Christian missions.