Monday, May 31, 2010

Experiencing a Ghanaian church in America (Oakland)

I ended up spending most of my Memorial Day weekend in Oakland, which is about an hour away from Stanford. No, it was no weekend get-away with the Mrs. It was no convention or conference. I just wanted to get away. I hadn't traveled anywhere for 5 months, I was going crazy. Going to Oakland is not traveling, but it constitutes spending time in another area. I had heard there were some Ghanaian/African churches in Oakland and had wanted to visit them. Since I was in Oakland for the weekend, I had the opportunity to visit one - the Church of Pentecost - a Ghanaian church, which a couple of my friends also go to regularly. I loved going to the church, it was awesome. So awesome, I had to come report the good news with you all :-)

I've been to a couple of Ghanaian churches in Rhode Island and the North East. They strike serious resemblances to those back home. The congregation is populated by Ghanaian-looking people, Ghanaian gospel songs are sang, the pastor says Amen just like they say it in Ghana, etc. The first thing that struck me when I got to the service was the fact that that my one friend I expected to see there was nowhere to be found. Of course, I didn't feel unwelcome or lost, I was found right in the presence of God. Besides, they were Ghanaians. This is where I'd rather be. I did realise that the congregation was a totally different crowd from the Ghanaians I'd been seeing my whole time in the Bay Area. The Ghanaians I had been seeing at social events were not as this church. :-) The many ladies I saw worshipping and praising, I'd never seen at any social event either. (Turns out I met one of these ladies later that night at a club though - yes, we party and we go to church as well :-D) Does this suffice to say that we have the women who go to church and the women who go to social events? Is it impossible to be in both categories? Do you (they) have to choose one? Am I meeting women in the wrong places? Who knows.

Another striking difference was that the congregation was dominated by women. Church count: Men - 21. Women - 34. Youth - mostly women anyway. So this is where all the women are hiding? ;-) They were the ones singing the most and dancing the most. I'd have gone to dance but I would have been the only guy; Red flag? Yellow card? Green light? Black Star? Your pick. I'm outgoing but not that much. I was one of two new people at the church. As the service continued, more church-goers came and more were men. GhanaManTime (GMT) works for even church and religious purposes. (African Time, Colored People's Time - you know we are in America now). I was late but many other people were later. Even the families! Some people arrived when the sermon was halfway through. Why were they late? Traffic? Getting dressed? Just got off work? I woke up a little late.

The whole ceremony was translated into Twi, which was tres awesome. Like they say in South Africa, "local is lekker". I learnt that the Twi word for purpose was 'botae', and for encounter was 'mpu ni mpu', etc. As the pastor preached in English, his left-hand man translated into Twi. It was beautiful. Major props. Our languages must not die. They must live. The pastor taught us a Twi song - "Nsa da me so, nsa kɛseɛ bi da me so. Manya Yesu a, ne nsa da me so" - it's translated as 'there's a hand on me, a big hand is on me. I've gotten Jesus' hand, that is on me'. They put up the Twi lyrics for the song on the board and the ɛ was written as a 3 backwards. That's where Kasahorow and Museke come in. After the service, I approached the lady who was handling the projections and told her she could get the real characters (conversation starter) and impress the congregation next time (conversation sweetener). I told her to contact me if she needed help, etc (conversation ender).

During the time of testimony, a lady sang an Ewe song as part of hers. She happens to be from Togo, where Ewe is a very popular language. I told her I was interested in her song because it wasn't in Twi and how many local Ghanaian gospel songs are in Twi, and how I wished I'd hear some more non-Twi ones. During praise & worship, we sang many songs we sing a lot in Ghana. "Unto the Lord, be Thy glory, great things He has done. Great things He has done, greater things He will do..." We didn't sing the most popular gospel song ever in Ghana though. Handkerchief, handkerchief, handkerchief..... I was thinking at some point, maybe, just maybe, we'll all sing Igwe or Onyame Aseda yɛ bebree!

The title of the sermon was "Being transformed into the image of Christ; The God of the living is the God for today". It was taken from the passage 2 Corinthians 3:18. The pastor dwelled a lot on the people of Corinth and took us through a little history lesson. He talked about how Corinth was a harbor city, and was host to many sailors and tourists. Prostitution (adwamanmmɔ) was rife and there were a lot of moral issues. Apparently, a Corinthiaso term was coined, that meant a fornicator or prostitute because of the situation. Paul, who wrote the letter to the Corinthians, had a special interest in Corinth. He wanted to preach the gospel to them and he understood it was a strategic place because those who were visiting, if saved, would take the word of God to whichever destinations they'd be going to. Corinth had many problems and vices, but in the end, they were fine. If they could do it, we all could do it.

Other passages which were shared include Leviticus 11:44, 1 Peter 1:15-16, 1 Corinthians 1:1-3, 1 Peter 1:20-21, and 2 Timothy 3:16. The pastor preached - "The word of God can do a lot of things - it can rebuke you, it can correct you, it can advise you, it can encourage you, etc. Follow the word of God and transform your life. In Christ Jesus, we are brothers and sisters. be cheerful, accept and respect one another. Be challenged to do God's will." I wish I could go to the church every Sunday. The church elder challenged me to do so. I told him I lived an hour away. That hasn't stopped me from coming to social events in Oakland but that's not something I do weekly. I attend church at Stanford and also in Mountain View. They don't sing Twi songs but they also praise the God. God can be worshiped and praised in many languages. They are all houses of God. I feel happy and content when I'm in one.

Thanks for reading, God bless you.
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