The Man Who Would Not Be King (Aug 1992)

By Matt Dabbs

Profile of Charles Hutchison

by Joy McMillon
August, 1992

At age 31, Charles Hutchison still looks like the ordinary college student in the ubiquitous blue jeans and tee shirt. As he strolls casually across the campus, he seems no different from thousands of others across the nation. But appearances can be deceptive. Indeed, this intelligent young African has made a choice that few can imagine. Like the lonely traveler in Robert Frost’s poem, he has chosen “the road less travelled.”

“I grew up in a family where living a Christian life is very important,” he explains, seated in the Oklahoma Christian University library, where he spends much of his time. “We went to church faithfully, and the importance of spiritual disciplines such as prayer and Bible reading was greatly stressed.”

Born in Cape Coast, Ghana, Hutchison is the eldest son of a royal family of the Fanti tribe, one of seven major African tribes in this vast west African nation of 15 million people.

His great grandmother, who helped rear the children while his parents worked, was a devout believer, and her deeply personal faith sculpted his future life.

“One of the messages I got as a child was the importance of faith and of serving others. Great Grandmother taught us humility, that we were to hid ourselves in the service of other people’s welfare. Our parents taught us to save money, help the poor, read the Bible, and make the most of our lives,” says Hutchison.

Surprisingly, as a young child, Hutchison didn’t realize his family was royal or that he was heir to two Fanti thrones in Ghana. “What our family managed to do was to make the children unconscious of our royalty, but at the same time we were given a special education with emphasis upon traditions, etiquette, and a certain finesse.”

Eventually, he noticed that in his mother’s wedding pictures she was holding a peculiar-looking staff. When he questioned her about it, she told him it was their family’s symbol. It was not until he was in high school that he was officially told about the family’s position and his future as a king.

At 14, the reflective adolescent was sent to boarding school in Cape Coast where he became the top student in his class, and his life-long love for learning flowered. “I was always reading. When other kids were fighting, I was reading. I think I nearly drove my parents to distraction because I wouldn’t stop reading even during family meals.”

Besides his academic interests, Hutchison became a leader in the Scripture Union, a worldwide organization emphasizing Bible study and moral living. Later he became president of another student group, the Christian Fellowship.

“The idea of going through any kind of adolescent rebellion didn’t occur to me. From the Christian principles I was taught as a child, together with the special education my family gave me, I had a very carefully constructed conscience. I was taught that no matter what society says, the greatest values in life don’t have anything to do with money or position or popularity.”

After graduating from the University of Cape Coast in 1986, Hutchison completed two years of national services as a high school biology teacher. Active in religious activities, he began preaching on weekends and was elected secretary of the World Council of Churches in Abudo, a city in southern Ghana, an unprecedented honor for such a young man. Then a grant from the Hungarian Academy of Science sent him to Hungary for post-graduate studies.

In 1988, some Fanti elders contacted him and began preliminary discussions about his assuming the throne in Abudo. To serve in such a distinguished position of political leadership and power would be a singular honor, to say nothing of the access it would provide to impressive wealth, labor, and land. But Hutchison, determined not to send a mixed message about his own faith, courageously declined to go further with the process.

“As a Christian, I just couldn’t say yes. The king, or chief as he is called, has to practice African tribal religion, which is essentially ancestor veneration. He has to call on the ancestral world and plead with the gods to make a better life for the living. It just didn’t seem right to me,” he says. Fanti elders subsequently appointed a respected uncle as chief.

Hutchison emphasizes that his decision not to become chief of his tribe is neither a reflection on his uncle’s dignity nor a rejection of his people, whom he deeply loves. In some ways, the costly decision has made drastic changes in his lifestyle, but it has also left him very much at peace with himself. “Whatever happens, I am still in the family, and any glories that come to the family are for me. People know me, so I don’t need to assert myself through kingship or ascendancy.”

His mother, who was an administrator with the Ghana Broadcasting Company, initially was disappointed with his difficult decision. But she eventually understood his choice, he says. “She also cherishes the value of the church, and she knows that no matter what it costs, if I believe something is the right thing, I will do it.”

When he graduated with a master’s degree in genetics in 1989, family members urged him to return to Ghana. However, no jobs in his field were available, and, he says, “I didn’t want to use my position unfairly to get one.” he decided to look for a job in the United States where he could work on a doctorate in molecular biology.

Officials at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. soon hired Hutchison as a research specialist and put him to work in the laboratory cloning genes. The Immigration and Naturalization Service granted Hutchison a rare category of visa, which entitled him to live in the United States indefinitely so long as he continued his scientific work.

The summer of 1990 was a highlight for Hutchison. The Boston chapter of the Returned Peace Corps volunteers selected him as one of the first two participants in the Foreign Volunteer International Program, also called the “Reverse Peace Corps.” The organization brings volunteers from Africa and Europe to work in American community service programs and to promote understanding, according to Jean Ussher, a doctoral student and former Peace Corps worker.

Hutchison was overwhelmed by the exposure to “street kids” who didn’t trust anyone. Within weeks, however, he had won their confidence and was able to talk with many of them about their life goals, according to Ussher.

Hutchison still recalls the tearful nine-year-old girl who confided in him that she wanted to die if there were nothing more to life than what she had experienced. “I will never forget that sad look on her face,” he says with pain in his own voice. “I told her, ‘You are only looking at life on the surface. There is a deeper purpose to life, and you have an important contribution to make. That’s why you are here.”

The highly-touted program captured extensive media attention, and Hutchison was interviewed by the ABC news program Nightline, as well as The Christian Science Monitor newspaper, the Voice of America public radio, the Boston Globe, and the Associated Press.

Hutchison says his experiences helped him to realize that “for all the differences of race, I think that whatever the country, until the very poor feel they are getting a part of the cake, so to speak, there cannot be any real and lasting peace in society.”

Although he destests the effects of racism and prejudice, he is surprisingly tolerant toward those feelings. “Racism is a human problem. It isn’t just here; it’s all over the world. I find that some people tend to classify others. It doesn’t really matter to me how people classify me. One doesn’t dwell on the trifles of life. What really matters is to build and be constructive.”

Through his experiences at Georgetown and Boston were satisfying, he felt pulled in the direction of full-time ministry and the study of theology. Another agonizing decision faced him – whether to stay in science and be able to keep his secure visa, or to turn his back on all of his past training and listen to his heart. “Finally, one day I decided to quit fighting with God, and I just gave in.” He resigned his research job and began applying to schools of theology.

Hutchison was accepted for admission with a generous scholarship at Andover-Newton College in Boston; however, he elected to attend Oklahoma Christian University where he will graduate with a master’s degree in ministry in December. Classmates and faculty are unanimous in their accolades for his abilities and character. “Charles is a very bright, dedicated student, and well-liked by other students,” says OCU Bible professor Dr. Loren Gieger.

Classmate Hal Hester says Hutchison’s natural tendency is to help people at every opportunity. According to Hester, Hutchison refuses to let him pay for baby-sitting, insisting, “I couldn’t do that. We are brothers.” Says Hester: “I am convinced that if Charles met someone who needed his last few dollars, he would give it to them gladly.”

If the decision to study theology has been positive, it has also been stressful at times – partly because of financial difficulties and partly because of visa problems. When he resigned his science post at Georgetown University, the Ghanaian knew his visa would be instantly revoked, according to INS regulations. Even so, his conscience dictated that he immediately inform the INS of his change in status.

Despite his appeals for another visa, immigration officials threatened to deport him within 30 days. At one point, the embattled ministry student sold his car, typewriter, and personal mementos in the belief he would be expelled within the month. Finally, after a year of bureaucratic hassles and several hundred dollars, he has been granted a temporary student visa. “But all of these problems have worked for good in my life,” says Charles, who believes that if at some future point the circumstances are right for him to become a Fanti chief, he can now be a more compassionate ruler. “I know what it means to feel pressure and stress,” he says.

While in Oklahoma City, he has come to worship at the Wilshire Church of Christ and to learn about “the importance of baptism in my salvation process.” Baptized last fall by OCU administrator, Duane Eggleston, he is eager to work with youth or teach classes at any opportunity.

Although he says he had never heard of the Church of Christ in Ghana, Hutchison is determined to take the fruits of his studies back to his native country. He has written the leaders of churches which he helped to establish and told them he is “learning many new things, and I have much to share with you about the Scriptures and baptism when I return.” In a recent letter to him, they responded, “We are waiting eagerly for the opportunity to hear you preach and teach.”

Hearing the satisfaction and zest in his voice, it is hard to imagine Charles Hutchison giving up the excitement of ministry for anything else. At the moment, he is enthusiastic about completing his classes and beginning a ministry practicum with a congregation this fall. But his voice takes on a personal passion when he talks about returning to his tribe one day soon. “First, I may have to get a job in order to take care of some financial obligations, but I’m eager to go back to Ghana when the right time comes,” he says, reflecting on the road ahead. As usual for Charles Hutchison, his road is the one less travelled by.Wineskins Magazine

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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