What is your religion?

I am sitting at an internet café in “Poly District” of Ho, Ghana.
I can look out and see many shops that people run to help support their families and lives here. Most of them sell the same things: bread, Fanta, cookies, powdered drinks (milk, coffee, hot chocolate, etc.), soap, calling cards, and plenty of other similar items. Then there are shops with what seems like used clothing, fresh squeezed juices, and Ghanaian “fast food” (I have not ventured there yet).
The people often ask me, “What were you expecting before you came here?” That is a tough question because I didn’t really have that many expectations before coming here. The biggest thing I have noticed here is how welcoming and loving everybody is. When a van of young white kids pulls up, instead of being annoyed by these “stupid Americans”, everyone is clapping and waving with huge smiles on their faces. We often are greeted in the native language and taught how to answer, so we can be included. People love that we are visiting and want to be part of their culture while we are here.
The only topic where the welcoming attitude seems to simmer down when we talk about it, is religion. I am not a Christian. I am not religious, but I don’t identify as an atheist. I grew up going to a Christian church for the first 16 years of my life, but was eventually decided I didn’t want to be part of an organized religious group any longer. In America, that is not an issue I have had to face. I’m not religious? That is fine! Here, however, religion, specifically Christianity, is so important. Almost all of the population is religious and of that group, about 90% of people are Christians.
My host family was shocked that I was not religious and insisted I join their church service the upcoming Sunday. I agreed because I think it is important to experience as much as I can while I am here. We left our house around 8am and walked to “King Jesus Palace” about 5 minutes away. It was a small, cement building filled with plastic chairs and a couple of microphones and instruments at the front. There weren’t that many people there, maybe 30. We started singing for about half an hour and people prayed and walked around for about another 15 minutes. There were multiple sermons and testimonies, all told in English and Ewe. By 12:30, my roommate and I had to leave early in order to make it home for lunch and get to our program in time. While we were walking home, the hundreds of little shops, usually bustling with people, were all closed. Everything is shut down because everybody is at church on Sundays.
Even at work, Tessa and I are constantly finding ourselves in situations where the people we work with are trying to convert us. Tessa teaches them what she knows about Judaism and I try and explain that not everybody needs a religion. This never really satisfies them. They want us to believe in what they believe in because, for them, it works so well. And, they can’t marry us unless we are religious (bummer)!
I find it so ironic that in choosing this program I specifically made sure it was not religious. I did not want to be imposing my beliefs or a group’s beliefs on someone in their own home and culture (or any culture for that matter). And here we are, everyday running into somebody willing to show us the LOVE OF GOD AND CHRISTIANITY.


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