Last week I found myself trapped in a conversation with a young Ghanaian who wanted to know if I had accepted Jesus into my life. This sort of thing happens frequently in Kumasi and as always, I have to decide whether to engage or walk away.
Religion is not the taboo conversational topic here that it is in the States. Ironically, it’s the Ghanaians preaching Christianity to the White Folk these days whereas 50 years ago the country was overflowing with White Missionaries hell bent on converting heathen Africans into sainted Jesus freaks. Obviously, they did a real good job.
Bob, BJ and I had gone to Kumasi’s Cultural Center to buy a few more African mementos to take home. As we left one vendor’s stall to mosey over to the next, the artist siphoned me off and herded me in the other direction to look at some more of his stuff. Since I was essentially done shopping and not so invested in following Bob and BJ, I politely followed him.
“Do you go to church?” he asked and my chest tightened. I should have seen it coming but I was blindsided and needed to make a quick decision. Would I diss him by saying something lame and walk away or would I humor him and let him have his say? I saw the earnestness in his eyes, a glint of pleading need to bounce his thoughts off of an old Obroni and decided to pick the middle ground. I decided to talk with him while backing slowly out of his stall. Kill a little time while waiting for Bob and BJ to finish shopping.
“Not so much” I answered. And we were off. He professed to a strong belief in the way of Jesus and I told him that I believe in being nice to other people. And as soon as I said that the irony hit me. Being nice in this case meant subjecting myself to an awkward conversation. One in which a Christian would try and convince an Atheist that the high road to salvation involved religion. And in which the Atheist was convinced that the simple act of engaging with the Christian WAS the high road.
He told me that if there was a chance that embracing the law of God would get him into heaven, what did he have to lose. If there were no heaven, no problem. If there were, he’d have done the right thing. “Can’t hurt.” I said amiably.
Next, I shared a story my brother Joe tells about working with Mother Theresa. Joe’s job was to bathe the sick and he found it very difficult. One old man in particular was covered in putrid sores. Day after day Joe gritted his teeth and attended to the man, gagging on the odor, until one day, noticing a sign that said something like “Jesus lives in all of us” Joe suddenly saw the sacred core of this man. After that, he found his work much easier.
Before I left the artist’s stall, he told me that one condition of his agreement with the church was that he spread the word. That’s when I realized that by simply not walking away I had given him the chance to fulfill his contract and earn some points.
The young man was glowing as I left him to follow Bob and BJ to the car. Which made me feel good about my decision. I had scored a win-win by humoring his need to talk about Christ while fulfilling my own desire to be nice to others.