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Jun 26, 2008 | Religion

“Jesus is Alive Chop Bar”


Before I left for Ghana, my father sat me down with a Bible perched on his lap. He peered at me over his glasses and then proceeded to preach. I listened languidly as usual, having sighed away for the past week my parents' numerous worries about my travelling to Africa alone.
When my father took his profession from the pulpit to the living room, I knew he was worried. It was as though all human faculties as a father and protector had failed him, and the only thing he could do for me at this point was to drag in the All-Omnipotent and Everlasting Himself.

My father's right hand gripped my skull—hard and firm, trembling from its own power. As he prayed for me, I thought I could feel both his terror and maybe even the very divine energy of God coursing into my head. This was all I would get. This was all I would take to Africa with me: the remnants of a vaguely remembered prayer drifting listlessly about my dusty brain and the indents of my father's fingers left on my head.

That night, my father told me that I would not be alone in Ghana—not only would my family pray for me, but Jesus himself would be beside me at all times. Now, I am a hard-bred cynic; my whole life, I have prided myself in my skepticism, especially in religion and emotion-based beliefs. But as a result, in my very religious family, I am the runt, the odd-one-out, the renegade daughter, the—oh, do I dare say it—pagan.

So I took everything my father said with the filial tenderness that tends to appear before a long absence. Jesus? I was never the type to have imaginary friends when I was younger, so the idea of pretending to have Christ himself jostling beside me on a tro-tro or suffering beside me in a toilet stall after a cold meal of chicken and rice was foreign to me.

During the first few hard days in Accra, I tried to think about what my father had told me—especially when I would skip meals because I had nobody to eat with. I went to sleep at 8 PM because I had no familiar face to complain to at the hostel.

I journaled because I could not use the computer or phone to speak with my family. All around me was constant silence, a vague buzzing in my head that made me want to grow steadily crazy. I needed a physical presence, a real voice and personality to alleviate my loneliness—not a mere concept espoused by my parents.

When I went into Accra, however, He really seemed to be following me: “Exodus 14:14 Cosmetic Shop”, “Jesus is Alive Chop Bar”, “God is Good Beauty Salon”... A myriad of stores proclaiming their religious zeal popped up before me wherever I went.

Some tro-tros had the very face of Jesus, quiet but sublimely at peace, on their dirty backs. One overeager taxi driver breathily sang a hymn to impress my friend, as a miniature Bible sat on the dashboard. Jesus would not leave me alone—and I was glad.

Soon enough, I did find the real, human company I originally longed for. Though none of these individuals were Jesus, they may just as well have been. My skepticism wanted a hard divine presence, but often, the real evidence lies in the good things that unfold when I least expect them, such as the new friends at the hostel and the newspaper.

The tendrils of that spoken prayer have travelled with me to Africa, and my pagan self is glad to see it is working.

By Esther I. Yi - ADM

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