As the world's Christian community marks the birth of Jesus Christ, Ghanaian faithful are joining in the celebrations with various church activities, including conventions and all-night prayer sessions. However, a religious sect in Ghana is not marking the December 25 holiday. Zetaheal, a spiritual church started by a woman, 31 years ago, brings believers of Christianity and Islam together to worship without a sense of conflict, on a continent dotted with religious conflicts. From the mission's premises at Zongo Junction, a suburb of the Ghanaian capital, Accra, Efam Dovi reports the group disagrees with some generally accepted Christian teachings.
Hundreds of followers, men, women and children, in all white attire and bare-footed, are kneeling, facing the east, on a huge compound of a magnificent white church building, as cocks crow to mark another dawn.
Comfort Narh, known to followers as Prophetess Lehem, is leading the first of the seven prescribed prayer sessions for the day. Members prostrate as the leader approaches, sprinkling Florida Water and blessing them in a local dialect. Then in a chorus they thank her for the blessings.
Thirty-one years ago, Narh, then a seamstress, said she was instructed by angels to set up a church that will bring Muslims and Christians together to worship, for peace to prevail in the world. She said that revelation saw the birth of Zetaheal, which she says is a Hebrew word meaning "lean on me for salvation".
Daniel Opoku is spokesman of Lehem. He talks about other revelations that he says the angels made to Lehem.
"And that Christ was born on the 14th of November and not 25th [December] as most Christians know and Christ also died on the 11th [April] and his death is not a blessing because God was angry when Christ was killed and that we need to beg for forgiveness," said Opoku. "Christ was supposed to have come to stay with us and teach us the way of God that we should follower and have our salvation, the death is not a salvation for mankind, it is rather a curse for man, which Zetaheal has come to straighten."
Followers also celebrate Ramadan, the Muslim festival.
The group believes Abraham had two sons, Isaac and Ishmael. Muhammad, the Islamic prophet, descended from Ishmael, and Jesus, who the group believes is a Christian prophet, descended from Isaac. The group sees followers of Islam and Christianity as being from one family, which must live in peace.
During service, those with Christian background sit on chairs and pews, while those of Muslim origin sit on mats.
Followers receive Islamic teachings on Fridays and Christian teachings on Sundays. Sermons are preached and interpreted in three Ghanaian languages, as well as English and Hausa. Children are also taught to read both the Koran and the Bible.
Opoku, an orthodox Christian, joined the mission 22 years ago. All his children were born into the church. Nana Serwaa, 22, is his oldest daughter, who gives Islamic lessons to children in the church. She says, even as a child, she was never confused about the Zetaheal doctrine, saying she rather felt unique. She says she reads a lot and that helps her to better understand the two religions.
"There was a book I read, The Secret and Revelation of the Anti-Christ, and you could realize so many things in that book. There was a part that was like a woman is the religion, who is that woman? That was when I knew that, yes, I have that woman right here in Zetaheal. Because at the last days it claims in [the book of] Revelation that a woman is the religion, so if I have it, I don't get confuse, I'm so happy here, you don't have to get confused, and reading wide also help," said Serwaa.
Followers have various reasons for joining the mission. Freddie Dankwa says he had unanswered questions that led him to Zetaheal.
"Why Christ came to die for us? Why is it that the prophet only comes through the white race and not the black race? Questions about what we've been told in our everyday life concerning rituals and spirituality, of the African and that of the Christian, the conflict that we have," said Dankwa. "We know we have a soul as we've been told in childhood and the life after the death, as one say there is one, others say there is no life and so forth."
He says he now has answers to all sorts of problems and says he knows God better now, instead of being previously told to just believe.
Ramatu Lawal, a Muslim, is now one of the more than 5,000 members of the sect. She converted 28 years ago. Now she prays seven times a day, in accordance with the teachings of Zetaheal, and says the confusion between the tw religions comes as a result of misunderstanding,
She says, if Muslims and Christians across the world come together as one, she believes the world will be a nicer place. She blames the devil for conflicts between the two religions, and says the world needs to unite against the devil. She says Christians and Muslims will live in harmony if there is an understanding like what they have in Zetaheal.
The mission says its imposing church building, with a well manicured compound, was built from proceeds of its plantation. Members help on the plantation during their free time and the proceeds are used to finance church activities.