A Lesson from Ghana: Live by the Two Great Commandments

by Melvin Rhodes
Ghana is one of the friendliest countries in the world. It seems like everybody wants “to be your friend.” From the moment you arrive until the time of departure, it seems like nobody will leave you alone. Many request your e-mail address, while others want their photograph taken with you. Any visitor is bound to feel like the center of attention.
This has a negative side. When you’re trying to get something done in a hurry, the average Ghanaian won’t be hurried and must first “greet you” by formally saying hello and then asking about your wife, your children, your grandchildren and, if you have them, your goats and chickens!
Even funerals are great social occasions. When I officiated at the funeral of each of my parents in England, I was allowed just 20 minutes for my funeral message by the funeral home. The entire family had to be out the door within 30 minutes, allowing us just 10 minutes to talk with each other after the service. When I mentioned this to Ghanaian friends, they were aghast. That’s not surprising when you consider that no funeral in Ghana lasts less than three days!
With the extended family system, people spend a great deal of time at funerals, which, of course, means that they are not at work. Trying to get a plumber, electrician or carpenter to come at a specific time is a lost cause——they miss more days than they work, usually due to a funeral for a third cousin twice removed!
I frequently tell visiting Americans that time is meaningless. Even the locals joke about how GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) really stands for “Ghana Maybe Time.”
But a part of me wants to be more like them——to slow down and smell the roses (though there aren’t many in Ghana).
The pace of life in the Western world is too frenetic, especially in the United States. I even find myself slowing down when I cross over into Canada, a country that’s only 125 miles away from where I live. England, where I have family, is positively relaxing after the United States, while Ghana is a paradise.
I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that the modern afflictions that plague so many people today are common in the West, but almost unheard of in the slower-paced third world countries like Ghana. Nor is it a coincidence that we have most of the world’s psychiatrists, while countries like Ghana don’t have many.
The average American is desperately trying to cope in a fast-paced world that can soon leave you behind, with little help available to fall back on.
Ghanaians, on the other hand, may be poor, but they all have a vast social network they can fall back on whenever they need to. If all else fails, they can always go back to the village, where they can revert to a way of life that has changed very little in thousands of years.
Ghana is a very religious country. Without realizing it, their priorities touch on the two great commandments. We read about them in Matthew chapter 22.
“Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him and saying, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’
“Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment.
"And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:35-39).
It’s not uncommon for people in Ghana to spend a whole day at church. In addition, all churches provide regular evening Bible studies throughout the week. You can frequently see people carrying Bibles around with them, reading them over lunch or on the bus.
God, the Bible and their church are the central focuses of their lives.
Not far behind are their friendships with others. If you meet somebody on the way to work, he will stop and talk——and be late for work! So what? People are more important!
Perhaps we Westerners shouldn’t take it that far, or we could become as poor as Ghana. The work ethic is important in our culture. Obviously, Ghana is not a perfect society, but we can still learn a lesson from them and strive to achieve more balance in our lives.
The fact is that Jesus Christ was right——the two most important things in life are our relationship with God and our relationships with each other. This is where we will find the greatest happiness. It’s also a key that opens the door to breaking free from our other problems!