Feature Article of Wednesday, 21 December 2005

Columnist: Twumasi-Fofie, Kwame

Your Right To Worship Vs. My Right To Sleep

One warm evening I was on my way from Accra to Sunyani when a few kilometres to Kumasi, my car started showing signs of fatigue. Though tired, all that I prayed for was for the good Lord to guide me safely to my destination so that the following day I could send the car to my trusted mechanic who knew it best. Try as I would and all my positive thinking notwithstanding, hardly had I gone past the Suame Roundabout than it became obvious that the faithful ?nkyenkyema? was in no mood to take me home that evening.

It was already too late in the evening to find a mechanic still at work. However, as if God had arranged it all for me, a short distance from the Suame Roundabout I spotted a filling station. The three young attendants who had apparently observed the struggle with which I had managed to cover the last few meters to the station immediately came to welcome me and enquired of my problem.

The concern expressed by these young men and their ready desire to assist me, a ?stranger?, which turned out to be so genuine, was a typical example of the well talked about Ghanaian hospitality. Within a relatively short period I had felt comfortable enough with them to be able to leave my car and all of its contents in their care without a second thought.

Having found a secure place for my car, the next problem was to find a descent place to lay my head for the much needed rest to carry me on for the next day. My young friends started giving me hints on virtually all hotels in the neighbourhood but I made their job easier by telling them that as at that late hour my main preference was proximity to where we were.

After agreeing on a hotel within a walking distance to where we were one of them was even kind enough to accompany me there and made sure I had checked in before he went back. Luckily, it was a nice decent place. As I settled down and started reflecting on the events of the day I could not help but sing praises to the good Lord for his mercies. What would have happened if the vehicle had decided to let me down somewhere in the middle of nowhere? It could have been somewhere between Konongo and Ejisu or even between Kumasi and Bechem, some kilometres away from the nearest town or village. But as it were, God had answered the little prayer I said before I set out from Accra.

The Crude Awakening

I don?t remember when I decided to go to bed but the first thing I did when I was crudely awaken from my deep sleep was to have a look at my watch which I had tucked under my pillow. It was past one o?clock in the morning! And to cut a long story short, that was the end of the sleep I so much needed and was enjoying. And what was it that woke me up? The full blast of a loud and distorted music of a live band!

?Oh my God, why didn?t these guys tell me that the hotel has a resident band,? I wondered? A few seconds later though, it became clear to me that the sound was not at all from the hotel. Rather, it was from a church across the street! And the music was so deafening you would think it needed to be that loud so that God would hear it. And of course, it wasn?t only the music. From the screams of the powerful voice of the priest and the ecstatic ?audience participation? by the congregation you would be tempted to believe that the Almighty God had descended into the church that night. Whether or not that was the case, however, the part of it that affected me was that their action that night deprived me of my God-given right to a restful sleep.

Continuation of My Journey

Apparently the church service must have continued till about the time I remember that my father usually left home for his ?anopa sore? at the old Bomaa Methodist Church when I was a kid, i.e. about the same time you would normally hear the proverbial ?kramo kokonini? inviting the Moslem faithful to prayers. And as it turned out, only thereafter must I have fallen asleep again. But having gone to bed knowing that there was a job to be done on the car and a journey to undertake, my sub-conscious still managed to wake me up early in the morning despite the fact that normally, especially when I?m on leave, I do enjoy sleeping till quite late into the morning.

When the young woman at the Reception asked whether I had a sound sleep I looked at her as if she was the wicked priest who had robbed me of my night?s sleep and shot back: ?Sound sleep indeed. I wonder how you expected me to have a sound sleep with a live band right behind my window!? The apologetic look on her face was enough to remind me that I had picked the wrong person to pour my frustration on.

Safe Arrival Back Home

Thanks to my good friends at the filling station it didn?t take me long to find a mechanic to fix the problem I had with my car, and I set off for Sunyani playing loud music to keep me awake and making two stops to interact with road-side vendors to keep me awake.

Tiredness was so written all over my face that when I got home my younger brother immediately asked what was wrong with me but I was just too tired and annoyed to explain anything to anyone at that material moment, so I went straight to bed.

After I had rested enough and was sure that I could talk about what that church had done to me without too much of bitterness I decided to answer the question my brother had asked me earlier and I had ignored to answer. Listening to my account of the predicament I had gone through, especially the part involving the risk to my life when I was compelled to drive with ?sandy? eyes, my younger brother was full of sympathy for me until I told him what I would have done to the priest if I had the law in my hands. His childish response was: ?I?m sorry, ?braa? but I think you need not worry too much about this since after all the church was performing ?Onyame adwuma??.

Onyame adwuma indeed, I thought to myself. Since when did God tell Ghanaian priests and prophets that they can shout and scream ?all night?, the very time He (God) has in own His wisdom, set for humanity to have some sleep and for which reason He has switched off His light?

We do indeed have a problem in Ghana in the sense that there are many people out there who do not understand that the mere fact that someone claims to be doing what he/she is doing in the name of God does not give that person the right to deprive others of their God-given rights. While Ghanaians may generally be described as religious, the fact is that thankfully we are still neither a ?Christian? nor ?Islamic? Republic. What this means is that a church has no more right to disturb my peace of mind than a group of drunken people returning from a disco.

Me, Anti Christian?

For the benefit of anyone out there who may wrongly have concluded that I don?t know God because I have the audacity to criticise some self-appointed ?Men of God? let me say this. I was brought up and baptised in the Methodist faith where I graduated through the Singing Band to become a Chorister. I started my lower primary education at a ?United? school (Methodist and Presbyterian) through a Catholic upper primary before finishing at a ?Local Authority? middle school. And those were the days when absenting yourself from church on a Sunday was punishable in school.

I vividly recall how as a member of the Singing Band and later the Choir, on Christmas and New Year?s Eve, we would sing melodious Christmas Carols through the township at dawn. In those days church services ran into the night only to welcome the birth of Christ or mourn his crucifixion. Church services were primarily aimed at teaching members the gospel, or in short, how to follow the footsteps of Christ as a path to salvation. Learning and paying heed to The Ten Commandments, The Lord?s Prayers, the Beatitudes and the rest were the order of the day. And this of course, could conveniently be taken care of during the day.

In those days, with the exception of an occasional ?abibinnwom?, the songs were all from the Methodist Hymn Book or Christian Asore Nnwom with nothing more than organ accompaniment. In other words even if the service was to go ?all night? people sleeping next door were not likely to be disturbed.

Today it is all different. With a full assembly of powerful electronic instruments, bands of many churches are far better equipped than some professional bands in Ghana. At the same time church services are lasting longer and longer and deeper and deeper into the night, or in short, ?all night?.

The city of Bern in which I live is only about an hour?s drive away from the City of Basel, the headquarters of the Basel Mission, which together with the Catholic (Roman) and the Methodist (Wesley) we have to thank for some of the best schools, colleges and hospitals in Ghana. So if anything at all, Ghana cannot be said to be more of a Christian country than Switzerland or Italy. I?m therefore wondering why, if people can sleep peacefully in the night Switzerland without being disturbed by a disco-level church music, we should not be able to sleep in Ghana where there is a sizeable non-Christian population.

?My Sleeping Brothers and Sisters?

Only a few days after my sleepless night in Kumasi, I was fast asleep when I was suddenly awakened by a lone preacher shouting ?Onua a w?ada, onua a wootie me?? (My brother who is asleep, my brother who is listening to me?) right behind my window. Thinking about it even now I think I only have my God (not his own) to thank for keeping the law beyond my reach that early morning else I would have taken it into my own hands. Well, I guess pouring water on a noise-making Preacher amounts to ?taking the law into one?s own hands?, doesn?t it? His only luck was that by the time I got fully awake he could only be heard in a distance. What this means is that all that this guy was doing that morning was going around waking other people up. Let?s face it, what right-minded person preaches to sleeping people? And what sense that does it make to wake people up from their sleep and then go away?

Lawlessness in the Name of Christianity?

I don?t believe we live in a lawless society. Sometimes, however, it appears that in Ghana, the line between the rule of law and a state of lawlessness is a very thin one. I wonder if the problem is a lack of political will to enforce existing laws especially when they do not directly cause physical harm to people. Otherwise I would expect someone to drum it into the ears of our noise-making churches that in the first place, unlike them there are some people who choose to communicate with their God rather quietly and peacefully instead of with loud music and screams.

I happen to know a lady in Kumasi who, no longer able to bear the noise from an all-night church very close to her home, politely approached the leadership of the church to see if there was anything that could be done about the intolerable situation. To show their disdain for the ?abomination? the lady had committed the following day the music was even louder and the song of the day was ?Metia Obonsam So? (I shall tread on Satan). From one day to the other, the lady had suddenly become a witch who was having problems practising her craft because of the powers of the church, hence her worries.

In the same vein, therefore, I?m not that na?ve not to expect what the ?Saints? out there are going to say about me for daring them to practise their religion in such a manner as not to disturb others especially in the night. Well, they are entitled to any opinion they may have about me just as I am entitled to my own opinion about them. And it is simply that Ghana would be a Paradise if all those who scream and dance all night long in churches were saints. Perhaps they also need to be reminded that even the dead are entitled to ?rest in peace?.

Something Needs to be Done

One bad culture we have in Ghana is that we tend to allow bad things to go on for so long that with time we think it is normal. I would want to believe that even if there are no laws governing where churches may be sited, there certainly are laws governing noise-making in the night. Law enforcement agencies must therefore be up to their responsibilities without fear or favour of any group of people.

Over the past few years, many churches in Ghana have opened branches all over Europe to reach out to the Ghanaian community here. And as one would expect, just like the ?parent? churches back home those here too worship with a full range of musical instruments. But I challenge any of the Prophets, Bishops, and Priests who tour the world visiting their branches to tell me whether when they worship in Europe they do so with all the noise they make when they are back home in Ghana. And if not, why?

The answer, I think is simple. In societies where the law is supreme, the right of anyone to worship does not override the right of the other to sleep!

Kwame Twumasi-Fofie,
Bern, Switzerland


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