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First Impressions – Ghana and God

Published in Public Agenda on August 3, 2012

It was my second or third day here in Ghana when my fellow University of Oregon students and I took a trip to the W. E. B. Dubois Center. We toured the luxurious home, filled with artifacts of his incredible life. Finishing the tour in a gazebo that serves as his final resting place, our tour guide pointed out several symbols decorating the room that signify different spiritual aspects of Dubois’ life. It was in this moment that the tour guide highlighted a beautiful aspect of Ghanaian culture that is not common in the United States.

The tour guide turned to the girl standing at my left and asked her, “Do you believe in God?” This upfront approach to social discussion of religion is not found where I am from, and as such the girl stammered through a few different ways to say “I don’t know how to respond right now.” The guide smiled and said that it was okay. He continued, “Here in Ghana, we believe in God. It is important to know that we are a part of something larger than all of us.”

This was just my first introduction to the way in which Ghanaians seem to feel an obligation to submit to something larger than themselves, as an individual and as a community.

This was a refreshing tune to my American ears, so used to a competitive atmosphere, in which even church is sold to citizens with taglines like “what can God do for you?”

Ghana has quickly taught me that if one is always asking what God can do for you as an individual, you might lose sight of what God can do altogether. In the United States, religious citizens keep their opinions about God to themselves, and the only mentions of God in the public sphere advertise the personal benefits of a relationship with God like it was a new pair of comfortable shoes.

Here in Ghana, however, the absolute omnipresence of God is exemplified everywhere one looks. From tro tros with images of Jesus on the back, to stands alongside the road bearing the name “The Almighty – Food Stop,” my first impression of Ghana is that they have a much truer sense of how powerful God is.

This widespread recognition of His power also contributes to the positive attitudes prevalent in multiple facets of Ghanaian culture. On a taxi ride with a driver named Michael, I ask him how his day is and he responds, “Good, it is always good because it is the entire Almighty.” I smile and nod, loving the passion in his response, so he continues, “Everyday I give all to the Almighty because it is all Him, everything is His.” From this point, we go on to discuss politics and the outstanding hope he has for his country. “This is a democracy. We argue, but once a leader is chosen, he is our leader and we accept it,” he says. I am left wondering whether the peaceful political atmosphere that Ghana boasts is in part due to the religious submission and peace that communities proudly display at every opportunity.

I have only been in Ghana for a week, and I still have much to learn about the wonderful people and cultures of the country. However, I am excited to see what Ghana has to teach me, because I feel like I already have several things to bring back to the United States, including these beautiful images of entire communities submitting to something larger than all of us.

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