The soul of Ghana

Sign - Talented paintersGhanaians put up the marvelous signs. Some quote the Bible, others have Christian motifs, or are based on traditional proverbs. Some relate to a personal experience of the owner. There is a book of them: Joe’s Hair that Talks. I even produced a few copies of my own book of Ghana signs. Many signs are in Ghanaian languages, which makes it hard to share them, but I love that they value their languages.
From my perspective, a lot of the signs on businesses are overblown:
  • Ultimate Strategic Information Systems – on small, cramped shop filled with obsolete computers
  • Talented Painters – the sign itself is badly hand-lettered
  • International – often the first word in the name of a church or business that obviously has no international reach
Oh Jehova. [How man struggles for] the little that he gets to eat (in Ga)

Oh Jehova. [How man struggles for] the little that he gets to eat (in Ga)

It would be easy to criticize these signs. They promise more than the business or church can deliver. But, it seems to me that they can best be understood as expressing aspirations. Ghanaians are not satisfied with the things as they are. They want their businesses, their communities, their churches and their country to be something more. They put those aspirations, perhaps unrealistic, on their signs.

These signs full of aspirations get juxtaposed with signs which express the struggles they have in life:

  • Oh, this world!
  • Oh Jehova, How Man struggles for the little he gets to eat
  • Life is calculations
Big aspirations and lots of struggles. Seems like a good combination to me. If I were to summarize the soul of Ghana, that’s what I would say – big aspirations with struggles. My prayer is that their aspirations for themselves align with God’s aspirations for them. I know in my life, that is a struggle all its own.

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Festooned with signs

Sign painting shop

Sign painting shop beside the road in city of Tamale

When we moved to Ghana in 2011, I started doing some reading about Ghana. An article on economics mentioned something new to me. It said that and important next step in Ghana’s economic development should be the naming of streets and giving houses and businesses numbers on those streets. Being able to identify the physical location of a person, or where a vehicle or other piece of property is kept, turns out to be an important for business, banking, and credit.

Before coming to Africa, I naively assumed that all places had street names and house numbers. In Burkina Faso, our first assignment, only a few main streets had names, I never saw numbers and I made my own map. Ghana has more – some streets with names, some lots with numbers, and there are several maps of the city for sale. See an earlier blog – The Rock that God Put – for a story of how I found someone in a good-sized town when I only knew the part of town he lived in.

Street corner in Adjiringanor, Accra

Street corner in Adjiringanor, Accra

Businesses and churches want to be found. So they have solved the problem of lacking street names. The solution? Many roads wear a lively garland of signs. Intersections host a swathe of them, each vying for your eye so that you will see that their business, church or whatever is just down this street, if only you would turn here. The need for signage is an economic opportunity. Sign painting businesses proliferate along with the welders who make the bare signs for the imaginative painters.

Street corner near our place

Street corner near our place

The content of the signs is just plain fun. There is no other word for it. Not fun in the sense that they are to be made fun of, but fun in the sense that I don’t know what is coming next. Will it be the “Blessings come from God’s Great Covenant Beauty Salon?” Or perhaps the “Jehovah Lives Automatic Mechanic”, the “Out of Time Radiator Specialist” or the “Remember the Truth Photo and Video Studio”? I would love to have conversations with Ghanaian shop owners to find out how they chose the names for their shop, just like I did with a taxi driver to find out why he put Shame in his window.

Enjoy the signs, I sure do.

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Taxis in Ghana often have slogans or Bible verses in their rear windows. I was intrigued by this one I saw on my evening walk. The driver was cleaning his taxi, so I stopped to talk to him. When asked why he put “shame” in his rear window, he said that a client stole something valuable out of his taxi. “The shame is for that person”, he said. I guess so. Here is a little selection of what I have seen in the rear windows of taxis.

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God’s time is best

I was attracted to the bright colors of this roadside booth painted like a Ghana flag. I didn’t really notice the words painted on it until I was looking at my photos of the day at home.

Sign - God's time is best - don't give up yet lottery booth

Lottery booth in Accra, Ghana

Ghanaians express their religion and feelings about life in sayings they put on their businesses, taxi windows, and more. In this case, the owner has pressed his religious beliefs into a commercial use. You see, this is a private booth which sells tickets to the national lottery! It is obviously in the economic interests of the owner that the buyers “don’t give up yet” and that they keep hoping for “God’s time”, which would be when they will win the lottery, of course.

It is easy to criticize this commercialization of religious belief, and even some missionaries get stuck in critique mode.  In this case, if I am honest I have to admit that I tend to bend my beliefs to suit my needs and wants. It really is no small matter to let our beliefs frame our economic survival and not the other way around.

Besides, the statement “God’s time is best” almost surely expresses genuine sentiments, especially judging by the other businesses sporting the same words.


God's time is best grocery shop

God's time is best grocery shop

God's time is best clothing boutique

God's time is best clothing boutique

Roseflower fashion shop

Roseflower fashion shop - God's time is best



After a 10 1/2 hour flight from Atlanta to Accra, Ghana and another 90 minutes clearing immigration, retrieving my baggage and getting to the Guest House, I was dry as a bone.

So I went to the Guest House self-serve cooler. On the cooler was posted a price list in cedis (the local currency): small water 0.60 cedis, large water 1.20 cedis, minerals 0.70 cedis. I saw the water, but no rocks or other minerals. There was Coca-Cola and other soft drinks.  It turns out that soft drinks are called “minerals” here.

I could not keep that in my head. So every time I was offered minerals I returned a blank stare which qualifies me as a “dumb foreigner” – a category I have been in before more often than I would like to admit.  Maybe I need more minerals.

Whose Religion is Christianity?

Ghana is full of signs of Christianity – literally. There are signs on vehicles, on business and even billboards that bear unmistakably Christian messages. Some of them are a bit exaggerated or even humorous such as the “Last Stop Christian Centre”.

On my recent road trip from Accra to Tamale, we stopped to grab a bite to eat and found a group of ladies from a church selling “Shalom Delicious Bread” and “Jesus is Alive” bread. In addition to English, one of the bread stands had a blurb in the Thwi language meaning “Jesus is risen”. They readily talked about their faith and started witnessing to me. The growth of Christianity in Ghana is part of a much wider phenomenon. Christianity is growing by leaps and bounds in Africa, South America, parts of Asia and the Pacific. Even as Christianity shrinks in Europe and large parts of American society are cutting ties with its Judeo-Christian heritage, people in other parts of the world are adopting faith in Christ in the largest numbers in history. In the next decade or two, Africa will become the center of world Christianity at least in terms of sheer numbers of Christians. The title “Whose religion is Christianity” is borrowed from a book by Lamin Sanneh, an African, a believer and a professor at Yale. The book analyses the shifts taking place. Anyone who believes that Christianity is a western religion is way behind the times.

Billboards advertising all kinds of churches can be found alongside the roads in Ghana. Accra, the capital, has a number of growing and vibrant mega-churches. We drove by one when I came back to Accra. One of these mega—churches started a Christian university with money raised in Ghana! Christians in the growing Ghanaian middle class are filling those churches, giving to all kinds of ministries and organizing outreach in the cities and in the more remote rural areas. This has happened in the last 20 years, which makes me wonder what more will happen in the next 20.

Of course, not all is roses. There are sects. Some call themselves believers but their lives do not bear witness to that. But these things are true all over the world. Other things are right on target. Look up Deuteronomy 15:11 and see how appropriate that text is in the poorest continent.

My 18 days in Ghana were spent working with a Ghanaian Christian organization full of articulate, dedicated Ghanaian Christians who want all the peoples of Ghana to be blessed with God’s Word in their own languages. The churches are behind them. They are even talking about sending Ghanaians to do translations in other countries in Africa. I was part of a team, itself mostly African, sharing with them about how to make the work go faster and have greater impact. It looks like I will be blessed to make some more trips to work with them in defining specific ways to fulfill their vision.

It is so exciting to live in these days. God is at work in this world! If you are discouraged about what is happening where you are, lift your eyes!