We believe that people have physical needs, social needs, and spiritual needs. Our programs seek to address all of these needs in a holistic way. In reality, these needs cannot be easily separated: for example, meeting the needs of hungry widows often means addressing their social need for access to decision-making. Similarly, our experience has been that long-term, transformational development is only possible as people’s spiritual needs are met and they are freed to live as the whole people God created them to be.
Spirituality in Northern Ghana
In Northern Ghana traditional tribal beliefs permeate most native religious expressions. These beliefs are predominantly animist, which means that participants believe that everything – from animals, plants, mountains, and the far-reaching starts of the universe – have souls, or spirits. Each soul has a degree of spiritual power that can either be beneficial or adverse to the individual, including the souls of dead ancestors.
The ever-present fear that an individual might unknowingly offend one of these spirits creates enormous anxiety and stress upon their daily lives. Those who profess to be able to communicate with and influence the spirits through the use of witchcraft, magic, divination, spells, and enchantments are reverenced and feared by all the villagers. A majority of people adopt charms, talismans, and amulets of all types. Some are boldly displayed on their person while others brandish them on their vehicles. Objects considered more spiritually potent are kept hidden away and used only in crucial situations.
For the Animist, the Most High God is not a person. God is the Energy, the Force, the Power, and the Unknown. This Divine Being is not a somebody but a something. The animist’s goal is to influence this powerful something through the use of the right expression and application of magic to enable him or her to get this god to act in a beneficial way. This could include the healing of an illness, having a bountiful harvest, being successful in a business transaction, or being protected in a life-threatening situation.
The good news to the animist is that God, who is personal and loving to all people, has broken into human history in the life and death of Jesus Christ to reveal His power over the Prince of this world and to break the chains of Satan. On the cross, Christ “disarmed the rulers and authorities” and “made a public display of them (Col. 2:15). The Lord Jesus Christ triumphed over all the principalities and powers of darkness and offers His protection to all those who believe in Him.
This is Good News, indeed: the message of deliverance from demons, from fate, from magic.
While we eagerly want to see people released from spiritual fear, NEA does not enter a community by preaching the Christian gospel or by starting a church. Rather, NEA serves the poor, just as Christ commanded and modeled. We first collaborate with communities to alleviate other dimensions of poverty. We do not limit access to our programs on the basis of religion, but seek to extend God’s love to all in need.
As our collaboration deepens, our experience has been that communities ask us to explain our motivation and to share the Good News with them.
For example, after nearly 10 years of work in Janga, the community invited us to start a church. At one of the first meetings of this church, our Director, Dr. David Mensah, told community members, “We – those of us from NEA and you in the community – have been sharing food from the same dish for a long time. Now we are ready to share our meat with you. This Good News is our real meat, the best food that we have to offer you.”
It is that attitude of partnership and sharing that permeates NEA’s involvement with the communities we serve.