06.11.2002 Feature Article


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If there is one unshakeable tenet your average Ghanaian clings to, it is his faith in a supreme being. Call him Allah, God, Nyame, or Tigari- the Ghanaian believes in his divinity, his omnipresence and indeed, his omnipotence. He may not even be a strict practitioner of his faith, but belief in the divine is non-negotiable. No room for doubts. [The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God-Psalm 54:1] The raffia-skirted, cowrie-casting Okomfo is never short of customers bearing schnapps and spotless white chickens (for consumption by nananom), even if some of these customers double as churchgoers. Most traditional Ga households in Osu and Labadi come with the standard accessory- a shrine for traditional worship. Go to the mosque on a Friday afternoon and you will see, at the entrance, a huge collection of shoes and sandals to rival the GIHOC shoe factory production line of yesteryear. Ramaddan is just starting back home, and it is a serious, kola-chewing, dawn feasting affair for the Moslem community, in their flowing gowns and caps. On Sundays, the churches are full and bursting at the seams, with prophecies and the speaking in tongues in abundant flow. There is always a crusade or convention in town. Throughout the land, the faithful lift their voices up into heaven in praise of the Lord, as they sing and dance in the aisles, thumping drums, clanging tambourines, clapping and waving their white hankies in His praise. [Make a joyful noise unto the Lord…-Psalm 100] Indeed, if Christ wants to maximize the Ghanaian contingent when he returns on the Last Day, he probably has to schedule his return for a Sunday. That is when most christians back home are at their holiest. So on a Sunday afternoon, you can pick a quarrel with Sister Ayorkor when she gets home from church, and she will ignore you. Just try it again on Monday evening, however, and you will receive a pepper-flavoured tongue-lashing you will not forget in a hurry! And when your average Ghanaian is traveling abroad to seek pastures new, he does not forget to ask the Almighty to accompany him. Divine intervention is earnestly sought in the build-up to the visa application. This stage usually comprises a rigorous bout of fasting, prayer and supplication, and may involve asking the pastor for special prayers. The Almighty is asked to touch the heart of the consular officer, in order that His glory shall be made manifest. Securing the visa is ample testimony that our Lord listens to prayers. [ '…What things soever ye desire, when you pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them…'-Mark 11:24] Dear reader, after obtaining the visa, the most nerve-wracking stage probably sets in upon landing at Akwasi Broni's airport. Having heard many stories about abrokyir immigration, you are understandably petrified, and whilst in the queue, you pray that the immigration officer has not had a bad day with his wife. You can never predict what silly questions these people can throw at you and destabilize your abrokyir dream, like asking you to declare how much money you have on you, since you say you are a tourist on a three-week visit (Is there such a thing as a Ghanaian tourist flying in from Accra?). You are a bit worried about doing a Moses-having seen Canaan from the air but never setting foot upon it (at least apart from the airport). When, by His grace, you sail through, your first words are 'Thank you Jesus'. But the Ghanaian does not abandon his faith after he has passed through immigration. Indeed even the 'unborn again' is usually surprised at his host citizens' almost complete lack of religious faith. Religion appears highly irrelevant to their daily lives. On Sundays, you do not see hordes of families in their best clothes heading solemnly for church-they would rather go shopping, take a walk in the park, wash the car, or do some DIY around the house. Their churches and cathedrals are empty except for the elderly, who perhaps are negotiating with their maker for a visa to paradise. Some even assert that religion is a tool for oppressing the poor, or as Karl Marx said, ' an opium for the masses' They seem to have more faith in the words of Karl Marx rather than Jesus'. What a pathetic lot, we muse. Try asking an obroni colleague at work or school if he can name five of Jesus' apostles. You will be lucky to get two names, and don't be surprised if the names he comes up with are Moses and Elijah! In abrokyir, your sleep is not interrupted by a neighbourhood dawn broadcaster admonishing you to 'repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand', nor indeed by an all-night miracle crusade with bright lights and enough sound levels to wake all the departed souls at Awudome cemetery. After the day's work, when you get on the bus, you do not encounter a preacher clambering aboard to deliver the gospel, invariably soliciting some money for the Lord's work. [Cast your bread upon the waters…-Ecclesiastes 11:1]. Take a walk through town and you will not hear a sound system or radio blasting hits by the Tagoe Sisters or the Daughters of Glorious Jesus from someone's house or shop or tro-tro. In abrokyir all these could lead to prosecution for disturbing the peace. Back home, the typical churchgoer's week is usually taken up by church attendance, prayer meetings, bible studies, choir practice, all-night crusades and conventions. By some miracle, this is somehow combined with work, family and other social commitments. Whether they are concerned about their business, health, marriage or fertility problems, the Ghanaian solution is to fall down on the knees and pray. [Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made unto God -Philippians 4:6] Akwasi Broni now worships at the altar of materialism/consumerism. The Ghanaian may make various offerings at this altar, but we always keep an eye on the religious altar. No matter what, we don't joke with our basic religious belief. So back home, the corrupt, wicked, greedy businessman makes church attendance de rigeur, and may even chair the church harvest. After all, there is always the classic defence. […I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance-Mark 2:17] On the abrokyir scene, Kofi Ghanaman may be working seven days a week and may not have time for church. But that does not mean he has forgotten or abandoned God. He will confidently tell you that God understands he must work hard. He seems to have negotiated a special get-out clause with the Almighty. His conscience is thereby neatly salved. After all, according to St. Paul, ' he who does not work let him not eat' [2 Thessalonians 3:10]. All over abrokyir, local branches of Ghanaian churches like Action Faith Ministries, Central Gospel, and Victory are springing up and growing in numbers, an indication of the Ghanaian's quest for a spiritual identity, wherever he may be. And it is not just Ghanaians-in western countries, Christianity seems to be the exclusive preserve of Africans and Caribbeans. One common feature of Ghanaian churches abroad is the propensity to invite their pastor from Ghana to come over and preach. It is usually a well-publicised special service, and the faithful do flock into church on such occasions. Of course the pastor's air ticket and expenses are paid for by the church, to enable him do the Lord's work effectively. One cannot help but wonder if back home, these pastors usually get invited (and do accept) to go on preaching tours of mosquito-infested, electricity-deprived, spiritually hungry villages in the Ghanaian hinterland doing the Lord's work. They say charity begins at home. Anyway, that was just a passing thought… The white man came to us offering the bible, gunpowder, schnapps and mirrors. We gave him our land and gold in return for these. We studied the bible with zeal, taking note of Matthew 5:5 [Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth], and Matthew 6:19-20: [Lay up not for yourselves treasures upon earth…] Now, being patriotic citizens of God's kingdom, we hail His word with fervour, whilst the white man has turned away from the Lord. Maybe we should send out missionaries from Africa to convert them. We have come a full circle. The shepherds have become the flock. Some people insist that too much religion is one of the reasons why Africa lags behind the West and is considered the world's begging bowl. They point to the fact that western societies do not have much time for religion, and yet they seem blessed with good standards of living, technology, health care etc, whilst we are beset with a multitude of problems. For instance, they say, instead of relying on a pastor for prayers when faced with childlessness, obroni prefers to do some serious scientific research on this, hence the hugely successful advances in fertility treatment. Yet others maintain that for all the West's technology and apparent comfortable lifestyle, their higher rates of depression, suicide and crime are indicative of an inadequate, empty society. [What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world…Mark 8:36] In other words, they say, the West's problem is that they don't have enough religion! Hmm, it is a tough one…Inshallah!

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