They called him “Papa Ghana”

He came to West Africa without a clue, but his heart filled with love left traces that are still evident to this day: Apostle Rudolf Schilling would have celebrated his one hundredth birthday on 14 September.

There he stood, the District Elder, after arriving at the airport in Accra, the capital of Ghana, on 3 May 1969. He was wearing a trench coat and hat, and holding an umbrella. Naturally, he was also sweating like a dog. “When I arrived, I had no idea—not the foggiest notion—of what was in store for me there,” he related a good two decades later.

Once to Germany and back

The fact that Rudolf Schilling was even there in the first place had to do with a certain Joseph de Graft Essel: the Ghanaian orderly had been brought to Northern Hesse by a German doctor. And a patient in a rehabilitation clinic there—a Priest from Dortmund—had introduced the man to the New Apostolic faith.

And Joseph de Graft Essell really “caught fire”: he was sealed in 1968, ordained a Deacon a few months later, and then sent back to Ghana by commission of District Apostle Gottfried Rockenfelder. Barely home in Apura, near Cape Coast, he held his first devotional under a tree—with a cardboard sign bearing a home-made Church emblem. As spokesman for a veterans association, he managed to get around quite a lot in Ghana.

Divine service with a moving audience

And now District Elder Schilling had set off in order to strengthen and support the Deacon. He was picked up from the airport in a small bus designed for seven passengers—but occupied by fourteen! Naturally, the first thing he had to do was find accommodation for the night. He ended up camping out on a couch in the office of a roadhouse manager.

“The next morning was a divine service,” recalled Rudolf Schilling in an interview for the “Our Family Yearbook” in the year 1992. In attendance that day were family Essel and two young men: “That was how I conducted my first divine service in Ghana. With the doors and windows wide open. People would come in to see what was going on inside. That was already very unusual for me.”

Care facility as a memorial

It was the first of several dozen journeys that he undertook, whether as a District Elder, Bishop (as of 1972), and Apostle (as of 1976), whether alone or with District Apostle Rockenfelder, whether to Ghana, Nigeria, or Togo. And it was also the start of the growth of the New Apostolic Church in other West African countries such as Benin and Ivory Coast.

Today the New Apostolic Church in Ghana alone numbers some 420,000 members. And the great status the pioneer of faith enjoys in that country already became evident about a year after his death. In 1994, the Church and commune of Maase jointly inaugurated a ten-room hospital clinic known as the “Apostle Schilling Memorial Clinic”.

Two words: a declaration of love

The idea that such a facility should be built was exactly in line with his way of thinking. After all, he counted Isaiah 61: 1 among the Bible passages that led him through life: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.”

“That was actually my life and work,” said Apostle Schilling in the interview: “To comfort, to bind up, and to heal wounds.” A heart full of care and indomitable love—this was also how the Chief Apostle, District Apostle, and his fellow Apostles described him at his funeral in September 1993. The members boiled it down to two words: they called him “Papa Ghana”.

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Andreas Rother
Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, People/Personalities