Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Sabbatical Day 13

Saturday, 17 June 2017
Sogakope, Volta Region, Ghana

The Holy Trinity Spa and Health Farm

I did not know this before I went to Ghana: It is a very ostentatiously religious country! I've called it religiose and pietistic at different times, but there was no moment we spent in Ghana in which we were not reminded of God's sovereignty and Christ's lordship and the Spirit's abiding presence... and the people's reverence in their regard.

The right side of Evans' windshield 
I have not mentioned yet that, wherever we drove with Emmanuel, his radio was usually tuned to a station playing Christian music. I recall, on the day we went to Cape Coast, he rolled the dial round to a program that sounded at first like someone preaching. Then the preacher began singing, and he sang and he sang and he sang! Belted, really. Emmanuel turned down the volume, but it was never lost on any of us that this preacher, who surely sang this same song for half an hour as we drove, was pouring out his heart in praise of the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in his life. As I recall now, I think that this song also accompanied us for a long stretch, as we traveled that first night from the airport in Accra to the resort in Elmina.

Evans did not have nearly as much religious music playing, but the windshield of the van was decorated with a decal portrait of Jesus and more decals expressing satisfaction with the workings of God. And an Israeli flag; I never got much of an explanation about that. Virtually every other car or taxi or bus carries some message of Christian encouragement. Those that did not, and they were few, expressed an Islamic sentiment.

It is not unusual to hear Christian music playing at restaurants during meals, or at poolside. Everywhere we went were eateries (chop bars) and drinking establishments (spots) and shops with names like "God Is Good Grocery" or "God Did It All Fashion" and other businesses, like "Bride of Christ Aluminum Works" or "Blessed Assurance Car Repair." By far, one of the best I've heard of is in the image at right, "Jesus Is Above All Liquors."

Source: Google Maps
So, I guess it should have come as no surprise that the place where we would stay in Sogakope - a place that Gershon described as a spa and which we chose over the resort he also recommended - should have been called, "The Holy Trinity Spa and Health Farm." In the accompanying YouTube video (scroll to the end of this entry to view it) you will discover, as we did, that our home away from home for the next three days was not only dedicated to the pleasure, health and well-being of its clients but also to the glory of God. Our room, named rather than numbered, was the Royalty Room in the Queen Esther building, which adjoins the King David building. Nearby is the Bezaleel building, which seems to serve as their main storage unit. One lovely enclosed garden is called, the Vineyard of En-Gedi (Song of Songs 1:1). Other locations are the Valley of Beracah (2 Chronicles 20:26), a "block" featuring smaller guest rooms and apartments. And there is the Abishag building, notable for being as Abishag was for David, a comfort from the strains of life. This was where Gwen and Coco went for massages and facials and mani-pedis; it was also the site of the Ruth and Boaz Conference Rooms.

In much the same way as music seemed to be constantly playing in the cars and restaurants wherever we were, at the Holy Trinity there was a constant loop of instrumental gospel music playing in the main courtyard. At first I had thought that I was hearing someone at a piano or electric piano, but - as with the classic jazz music playing in the lobby of our Paris hotel - I became used at certain times of day to hear the same pieces playing. This, I am sure, is intended to direct the mind and spirit but also to provide a measure of relaxation and healing.

The Holy Trinity Spa is, as it turns out, an outreach of the Department of Integrative Medicine of Holy Trinity Hospital in Sogakope. Both institutions are owned and operated by Dr. Felix Anyah. The Spa, for a great part like our own First Congregational Center for Counseling and Healing, is a ministry of healing. It is designed to offer treatments but also introductions to healthier living. Its Ten Health Pillars are announced throughout the complex:
  1. Regular and appropriate exercises (sic)
  2. Scientific relaxation and restful sleep
  3. Health diet
  4. Detoxification (including fasting)
  5. Management of stress and stress disorders
  6. Supplements
  7. Positive attitudes
  8. Spirituality
  9. Health through water (SPA) (C.A.M.)
  10. Medical, surgical, and dental treatments
All but the last of these are provided onsite by a sizable, capable and competent staff. Probably our favorite staff member was Jennifer, a college student from Accra who was able to provide care and companionship for Gwen from lunchtime until bedtime daily. On the 17th when the two of them were introduced, Jennifer offered to put together a team of staff to play basketball with Gwen after Gwen said that this was her favorite sport (actually, softball at that point probably was her favorite game, but they don't play much softball in Ghana). Having seen the Holy Trinity bill of fare for various treatments and treatment programs, I worried a bit that the formation of a staff basketball team might be more than the Lilly Endowment might be prepared to provide for, financially. However, Jennifer just took Gwen out and shot hoops with her, later giving her a tour which included the building which housed a gym with basketball and squash courts. Tennis courts are outside, but Gwen doesn't play tennis. So they rambled round to the stables, where there are horses and camels, and to the bar which overlooks a crocodile pool and (separately) an enclosure with tortoises. After supper, Jennifer took Gwen to the gym building to play a couple rounds of ping-pong and some badminton. Before they left, I handed Gwen a GHc20 note to give to Jennifer as thanks for being Gwen's company. Jennifer delivered Gwen back to our room, looking a bit serious. Gwen reported, after Jennifer left, that Jennifer wished we wouldn't tip her. "She says it's her job to do that," Gwen reported, "and tipping her feels like we're paying her twice."

Coco and Gwen enjoyed facials and mani-pedis, this day (the therapists providing these did not flinch at being tipped). Coco noted that the products used were not the high-end creams and polishes that one might expect at a salon in America or Europe; the most expensive products were by l'Oreal and Oil of Olay. Coco noted that the Holy Trinity Spa's merchandise at the gift shop was somewhat different than what one might expect to see in a typically evangelical place of business - including not only sunglasses, books, and supplements but also sex-enhancing oils and edible panties. When she brought these to my attention, I looked online at the resort's website and found that it is promoted as a honeymoon and marriage enrichment destination. And, certainly, among the very few guests there present with us were couples who appeared to be very much in love and taking full advantage of the provision for relief from the stresses of getting married (just as the website promises).

It was the bathroom of the Abishag building that gave Coco her first clue, however, that the Holy Trinity at least had a different sense of humor from most evangelical institutions with which we are acquainted. There, she was greeted by a sign when she closed the door of the stall she was using:

The Holy Trinity logo
But such was the entire place, full of unexpected things. The cable television provided to our room had fourteen channels, of which eleven provided actual programming and only three of those non-religious programs. Of the religious programming, I discovered one channel with the symbol for the spa pasted in the upper right corner. It ran only the preaching of someone who seemed to be a popular speaker, talking about how just about all medical science agrees with the Bible. Of the few times I tuned in and watched for five minutes or more, I watched a channel with the Spa's logo on it and which featured the Singapore-based evangelist Joseph Prince. He seemed like a curious choice for Ghanaian TV viewers to be watching, considering that he is not even African, but the owner of the Holy Trinity may have found in Rev. Prince's sermons' blending of science and Christianity some resonance with Dr. Anyah's holistic approach to medicine.

That said, Joseph Prince was just one more voice among many on television and radio and promoted on billboards spouting Prosperity Gospel themes and promising miracles. I'll try and address my feelings about this in another article, but let it suffice for me to say here that - seeing the conditions of life in Ghana, which are much like the conditions of its infrastructure and the practices of drivers and pedestrians there - people there as everywhere are simply wanting to make ends meet, and it may indeed require a miracle for most of them to do it!

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