Before missionaries — there was God

Did you know that the people of Ghana knew a lot about God before the missionaries came?

Gye Nyame - None other than the Lord

Akan symbol for the omnipotence and omnipresence of God

When the first missionaries arrived they found this symbol everywhere, and it still is found all over Ghana . It stands for the Akan language words “Gye Nyame” often translated “Except God”. I prefer the translation “None other than the Lord”. It echoes the most fundamental things the Bible says about God:
• He always was and always will be
• He is all powerful
• He is everywhere
• Everything comes from and depends on Him.

Gye Nyame sign

Gye Nyame (None but God) street sign in Accra

Akan symbol for the death of God

Akan symbol for the death of God

This next symbol is about the power of God to overcome death. It come from the Akan belief that God created life and death, but death killed him. However, he came back to life and now he lives forever.

This set of beliefs has too many parallels to the death and resurrection of Jesus to mention in a blog like this. Given that the Apostle Paul developed a whole theme from an idol to an unknown God in Acts 17, I have to wonder what he would have developed from this symbol if he had come to Ghana.

Akan symbol of the banch for the grace of God

Akan symbol for the grace of God

This branch stands for the Akan words “Nyame Nti”, meaning “by God’s grace”. From their belief that “Except (for) God” (first symbol) there is nothing and the obvious observation that man will die without food, the Akan people deduced that they could not survive without the food that God put on the Earth. From that, they further deduced that we humans live by God’s provision and so by his unmerited favor, or grace. In this, they are a lot more like the first settlers to celebrate Thanksgiving than a lot of Americans today, who are thankful, but may not attribute their bounty to God’s doing.

God was working here in Ghana long before missionaries came. After spending 30 years as a missionary in Africa, Dr. H. Junod stated: “Wherever I went, I found that my Master had been there before me.” He was referring to these symbols among other things. God prepared the way for missionaries by revealing himself. This is not a new idea. The Apostle Paul develops it in the book of Romans:

“But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being.” (Romans 1:20 The Message)

A modern-day missionary, Don Richardson has developed this idea further in his book “The Peace Child” from which a movie was made.

The image projected of Africa as “the dark continent” is way off the mark. God was at work here and he still is. Africans are responding to that in record numbers, finding in Christian faith the fulfillment of the thoughts God put in their ancestors. I’m thankful to be here and see it firsthand.


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