Meet the U.S. woman living on the edge of a religious awakening in Ghana

NEW YORK — A lawyer who quit her job as a top defense lawyer in New York to move to Ghana with her 10-year-old daughter may not have the future education or job prospects that Americans take for granted.

But Tyra Hobbs and her mother, Denise Smart, came to Ghana for a very different reason. They left their lives in New York and their careers as financial attorneys to pursue the spiritual path of Christ.

“I like to try to reach people,” Hobbs said. “Sometimes people are looking for that connection.”

Mentioned among believers in Ghana’s increasingly large American presence is one of those relatively uncommon young Americans who have come here to settle down.

“Africa has opened up to people like me who have been very disconnected from faith for many years,” said Hobbs, 32. “When we found God here, it was like a door was opened.”

The rule of 10 is a defining moment for many believers, said Curtis I. Ellis, a veteran African-American preacher in Ghana who founded the country’s New Birth Foundation, a Christian youth ministry.

“African-Americans spend more time praying, we pray more than we do consuming” a lot of drugs and alcohol, Ellis said. “When we say ‘God’ in America, people say, ‘Is that the same one as God?’”

Some Christians said they are realizing that their friends in the United States have lost touch with God because they are merely interested in being popular or achieving money or power.

“So many of them act like they’re in a hurry, they have a short memory, they’re not willing to make sacrifices,” Ellis said. “That leaves people searching for something, anything that will satisfy their soul and their heart.”

Tyler Jones, a church leader in Accra, Ghana’s capital, said that “when you have got someone who is training their heart, preparing themselves to be saved, and that’s happening to them in America, then we should look out for that.”

Soon after Hobbs and Smart left New York in 2014, they went to Ghana to work as missionaries. Since then, they have visited each of Ghana’s 14 districts about twice, taking some English classes and building a Bible study group.

They have participated in prayer camps and immersion prayers by candlelight, called chanting, in the Agbekoya, or African style. Over dozens of days, Christian believers learn to sing about Jesus and the Lord.

“It makes you think really hard about what you believe,” Hobbs said. “The chanting helps us to find what is important, what is really truly central to our lives. Prayer, trust and trust in God.”

Through it all, Hobbs has spent every available hour on the phone with relatives in New York, both to update them on her progress in Ghana and to check in with them on the most important things. The family still consists of Smart’s mother, brother and sister-in-law.

Hobbs and Smart plan to bring their daughter on their next trip, during the first week of September. They were able to spend a few weeks working in rural areas of Ghana and continue to work on their language skills.

“It wasn’t just about living at a bad hotel,” Hobbs said. “It was also about connecting with the people.”

When they leave this week, they plan to return to the United States to resume their careers in financial law.

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