The Cambridge dictionary defines Cleanliness as the habit or state of keeping yourself or your Environment free from dirt. However, spirituality relates to people’s thoughts and beliefs rather than their bodies and physical surroundings, according to the Collins dictionary. Ordinarily, there should not have been any direct relationship between Cleanliness and Spirituality, judging from their definitions. In real life, however, a significant correlation exists between them, although the former involves the physical or material world and the latter, the unseen world. In the spirit world, certain spirits can only be invoked or invited by the burning of particular substances or incense to attain certain scents within a given space. It is often argued that because God is a Spirit, He only relates and concerns Himself with our spirits and souls, not the body or physical surroundings.
This warped assertion has unfortunately led to the careless and irresponsible attitude some believers exhibit towards the environmental and general Cleanliness of their surroundings. One only needs to pay a casual visit to some homes, organisations and places of worship to witness the gross lack of appreciation of the direct relationship between keeping a good environment and spirituality. In some Christian homes, you dare not request to use their washroom as a visitor. What you may witness can be enough to grant you the needed restraint to defer relieving yourself until you get home. In doing business in certain top organisations or institutions, your whole professional energy and momentum gathered for the day’s work can easily be deflated by a visit to the restroom. One would, therefore, expects that the place of worship, which is supposed to provide the needed rest to the soul in this ever-stressful world, would set the pace for the secular world to emulate. Unfortunately, You visit some churches, and you would have to force and overwork your immune system to enable you to get home before using the washroom or, better still, run to an available open field to relieve yourself.
Yet, we all would have appeared well dressed and polished, singing and dancing around the “throne” of glory. Sometimes you wonder whether a different set of people passing by came and used the washrooms. You can not relate the people in their gorgeous apparel with what you went to see in the toilet. If care is not taken, you can be spiritually disengaged for a whole day, if not more, owing to what you saw with your eyes. Not long ago, I met a group of people who were lamenting profusely and contemplating leaving a place assigned for them to lodge due to how some of their colleagues were using the washroom they shared. Even though the meeting was for spiritual renewal, they left before the program closed. The Lord Jesus bemoaned the phenomena of what can be best described as “polished on dirt” when He confronted the hypocrisy of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:25-26. About Cleanliness of the heart, He said, “…You hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside, they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” He continued, “…First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” It can be deduced that the Lord is not amused at all when He sees people outwardly well-dressed and polished but harbouring plenty of dirt in their inner chambers. The Lord encourages Cleanliness in the internal or hidden compartments, which automatically spills outward for all to see and admire.
If even humans can barely stand bad stench and dirt, how much less the Holy Spirit? Besides water and air-bone diseases associated with the irresponsible attitude towards our surroundings and environments, the cost of maintenance can be avoidably high and needless. A desk study, Economic Impacts of Poor Sanitation in Africa – Ghana, found that annually, disease like diarrhoea has caused 19,000 premature deaths in Ghana, including 5,100 children under the age of 5. Out of this, nearly 90 per cent of it is directly attributed to poor water, sanitation, and hygiene combined.(crs.org)
Unfortunately, some who do not acknowledge or believe in the existence of God are even more responsive to the rudiments of Cleanliness than some disciples of the faith. In much the same way, it is pretty ironic to witness the Environment and ambience some religious sects we comfortably tag as anti-Holy Spirit owing to their doctrine have kept for themselves. The Spirit of God appears to be just an invite away from such congregations due to their Environment’s serenity. Can the same be said of those of us who have believed and accepted the Holy Spirit to make His home in us and forever keep His presence wherever we are? The objective of this article is to derive a linkage between environmental Cleanliness and our spiritual act of worship. The write-up would also suggest practical ways believers can imbibe Cleanliness irrespective of our unique socio-cultural settings.
Some observed factors for our abysmal performance in environmental and general Cleanliness are as discussed;
- The lack of appreciation of the linkage between Cleanliness and spirituality:
When God created humankind, He expected them to take complete control of their Environment, subdue it and ensure its mutual benefit to both parties. It is, therefore, not surprising to see God postulating environmental laws that would attract and keep His presence with Israel after they left Egypt en route to the promised Land. Besides His directives to keep the human body clean, He unequivocally outlawed open defecation. Open defecation is the practice of defecating outside rather than into a toilet. People may choose fields, bushes, forests, ditches, streets, canals, or other open spaces for defecation.
Today, open defecation is a global health problem, affecting almost 1 billion people worldwide. And in sub-Saharan Africa, limited access to basic sanitation coupled with high population growth have led to an increase in open defecation and the spread of deadly diseases. According to Michael Stulman in an article published at the web page of the Catholic Relief Services, nearly 5 million people in Ghana lack access to toilet facilities. He continued, “For many households, the cost of constructing a private toilet is simply out of reach. And, for poorer households unaccustomed to using toilets, open defecation has traditionally been considered the cleanest, easiest, and most economical option. As the population grows, however, this practice is costing many people their lives.”(crs.org)
In Genesis 3:8-9, “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” God told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 23:9, “When you are encamped against your enemies, keep away from everything impure.” He continued in verse 13, “Designate a place outside the camp where you can go to relieve yourself. As part of your equipment, have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement. The LORD, your God, moves about in your camp to protect and deliver your enemies to you. Your camp must be holy so that he will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you.”
The above scriptures depict a God who constantly visits His children to interact, protect, strengthen or deliver them from their enemies. Instructing the Israelites before human civilisation and industrialisation to design and keep a piece of equipment to dig a hole to cover up their excrement suggests He was not going to take any excuse for open defecation or any ugly scenes. Indeed, what we see in some washrooms at our homes, institutions, and churches perfectly falls under open defecation within poorly ventilated and restricted enclosures. “The camp must be holy”, as directed, also implies God expected all their activities from their thoughts, hearts, actions and Environment to be devoid of every impurity and uncleanliness. Efforts must not be made to push this literal admonishing by God into the categories of some of the parables and metaphors He used in His teachings. He actually meant physical Cleanliness and not only the holiness of thoughts and hearts. God sees, smells and feels whatever humans do around their Environment. Therefore, it is possible to have upright people render their Environment unholy through their actions and inactions.
The danger and bitter truth in all of this are God’s inability to stay and be kept in an indecent or dirty environment. God told them then and is still telling His children today that He will turn away and leave them to their fate, even in battle, should He see anything unsightly in their camp. A direct link can, therefore, be drawn between God’s divine presence and humankind’s physical Environment. No believer, I think, would trade God’s abiding presence for anything. Therefore, Moses was right when he said he was not going to move an inch in his assigned task without God’s presence (Exodus 33:15). Can we, for once, imagine some of the things we did that might have driven God away at a time we probably needed Him the most? Waiting upon Him through fasting and prayers may bring Him, but dirt can easily keep Him off our radar.
The Lord indeed loves and abides with those who surrender to Him and maintain a pure heart in all moral uprightness. He, however, expects His children to maintain good personal hygiene in a clean environment if enjoying and sustaining the power of His presence is their goal.
- Upbringing, Culture and our Value System: Here, I must admit that the educational institutions are doing their best, and the syllabus about environmental care is quite exhaustive, if not enough. The problem concerns complimenting it with good parental training and mentoring. As Parents, we cannot be absorbed from blame when it comes to bringing up our children to be responsible caretakers of the Environment. A typical household does not need an excavator or imported implements to maintain a tidy environment. We have everything at our disposal, either in its original or improvised form, to tidy up and clean every mess out of our daily living. God was not adding to their expenditure when He told the Israelites to make equipment or spades to cover up their excrement. He was subtracting from the spending by way of ill-health and premature deaths and adding longer days and good health in His walk with them.
In much the same way, we must not accept as a people that we probably were wired by our ancestors to live comfortably in dirt or unhygienic conditions. No culture frowns upon Cleanliness and personal hygiene, and it is not unusual to pick up certain traits or bad habits during one’s upbringing. Indeed there will be some who, for no fault of theirs, may disregard the rudiments of environmental Cleanliness. In such cases, deliberate efforts must be made to educate them to appreciate its value patiently. Israel had lived for about 430 years in Egypt and had probably been raised with a certain mindset that needed to be re-aligned. God did not give up on them but invested in educating them. This means, we must also not give up on any group of people whose worldview on environmental Cleanliness falls short of acceptable practices.
- The Lack of sustained educational campaigns in our communities and Churches: I was quite at a loss the first time I heard of my church’s leadership’s decision to take centre stage in the environmental care campaign drive in the country. I thought it was the sole duty of the National Commission for Civic Education’s (NCCE) outfit to create that awareness. However, after listening to Apostle Eric Nyamekye, Chairman of The Church of Pentecost, on the church’s role in nation-building, I realised a great deal of disservice we have all done to this dear nation of ours. Since then, I have loved every bit of the church’s involvement in the National Environmental Care Campaign because it adds meaning and practicality to the numerous sermons we have heard from the pulpits.
A couple of days ago, I led my church members to a lorry station around the community where my church is located to sensitise the drivers on the need to keep their surroundings clean. As we made our presentation using the megaphone, I was saddened by what I saw a few steps away from where I was standing. Guess what; an open drain by the main road at the lorry station where the drivers sat with the food vendors was filled with plastic and refuse waste. After our presentation, one driver came and asked me the location of our church so he could fellowship with us the following Sunday. As of the 2021 census, a little over 71% of the Ghanaian population are Christians. With a high rate of church-attending populace, I believe the discussion on the pulpits these days must intentionally inculcate topics on personal hygiene and environmental care issues. It must not only be topical when its adverse effects, such as floods, air and waterborne diseases, begin to bite hard. Where Ghana meets today are the churches and the mosques. Leaving this campaign to NCCE alone will, therefore, not bring us the needed results.
- Lack of Budget for Environmental Cleanliness: Most individuals, households and institutions in our society stand when it comes to budgeting for the Environment. Even though attitudinal change stands tall regarding keeping our Environment, the lack of budgetary allocation for purchasing essential equipment, detergents and trash bins has contributed to what we see in our streets and communities today. No matter how people become aware and poised to turn a new page concerning their environmental responsibilities, they can do just as much. It appears easier for a household to budget for replacing a TV Set at the beginning of the year than to think about the compound and the landscaping works.
It is a generally accepted norm for an organisation to re-paint its external walls to protect its brand and look good to the outside world. However, telling the same organisation to invest a bit more of its annual budget in maintaining the washrooms becomes a problem. In most churches, the passion with which musical instruments and interior decorations are attended can nowhere be compared to the maintenance of their toilets. As though allergic to maintenance, we have succumbed to the negative tag as a people with no maintenance culture. The saying of Jesus about investments may probably solve this menace of “No funds” for keeping the Environment clean. It reads, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21). This means if keeping a clean surrounding is a desire and objective, then funds will be channelled there during budget preparation at all levels.
- Lack of Law enforcement regarding environmental Cleanliness: The language we communicate by the lack of enforcing the voluminous laws in our statutes books is louder than deleting them from our statutes. In other words, the silence on non-compliance is loud enough to neutralise any sustained environmental care campaign. In societies where the Environment looks neat and well catered for, the laws are allowed to work for the betterment of the masses, not the selfish few. Public sensitisation on air and water pollution and their dire consequences to society will be ineffective unless they are complemented with the necessary sanctioning regimes as and when applicable. The subtle campaign of applying what has become known as the “human face” against the strict enforcement of the law has brought us where we are today as a people. Judging from our Environment today, we have all seen the mess proponents of the use of “human face” in the application of our laws have brought to us. It has actually been a “Demon face” we are all watching live as you walk along the streets, markets and neighbourhoods.
It would be observed from the above discussions that dirty environments are not only detrimental to our physical well-being, but it also has dire consequences on our ability to keep God’s ever-abiding presence as believers in this part of eternity. The following is, therefore, being proposed;
- “Cleaning Before Breakfast.” Cleaning before breakfast at home must be part of the morning devotion discussions, and parents and guardians must ensure the house and its environs are clean before breakfast. Once it becomes a regular topic during devotions, household members would be nurtured to imbibe Cleanliness wherever they find themselves.
- Regular Inspection of Facilities. In the case of our institutions and churches, a routine inspection by designated officers during peak hours and Intermittent visitation to the washrooms by high-ranking officers would be beneficial. In a typical household, the parents should take a keen interest in the regular inspection of the bathrooms of their wards in cases where theirs is separate. Apart from applying the laws without fear or favour, the lack of routine inspection to check for standards compliance has also not been helpful. Louis V Gerstnealso said, “People do what you inspect, not what you expect.”
- Engagement of Professional Cleaners: In big organisations and places of worship, professional cleaners must be engaged other than relying on the few committed hands within the set-up. An unkempt environment and surroundings go a long way to affect the brand of any institution or organisation. Depending on the size and sensitivity of their operations, it may be prudent to engage additional hands to ensure well-deserving environmental Cleanliness commensurate with the organisation’s brand. This age-old argument that church members must continue to offer such cleaning services irrespective of the scope of work needs to be revisited in our modern-day context. At this moment, I want to seize this opportunity to pay a glowing tribute to all who have been cleaning all para-church organisations and ask for God’s bountiful blessings upon them and their children’s children. It is an open secret that even when something is offered for your services, they are woefully inadequate and just a statement to acknowledge your hard work by management. Your labour in the Lord is never in vain.
- Integration of Environmental Cleanliness in Sermons and Church Programs: As indicated in my earlier submissions, topics relating to the responsible use of our God-given Environment must be well integrated into our messages from the pulpits. God bless the Church’s Vision 2023 bearer, Apostle Eric Nyamekye and his Executives for introducing new dimensions in our National discourse for the Christian community worldwide. Kudos to the National Coordinator of the Environmental Care Campaign in the person of Apostle Samuel Gakpetor, for his passion and his coordinators at all levels for excellent work.
- Budgetary Allocation for Environmental Cleanliness at all levels: There must be a conscious effort to have a workable annual budget for Environmental Cleanliness from all households, no matter how little. Institutions, Organisations, and Managers of Public buildings should also push for regular and realistic budgetary allocations to ensure their facilities are Eco-friendly and fit for purpose. Monies raised on the commissioning day, if any, must be invested as seed money for maintenance with practically outlined strategies to replenish them regularly. Here the leadership of the church has also taken a bold step through its National Estate Committee in ensuring some minimum amount is set aside for maintenance purposes at all levels. The practice where huge profits or gains are pursued in organisations when the restrooms, for example, and surroundings are nothing to write home about must be avoided.
- Sustained Educational campaign nationwide: Some don’t appreciate environmental Cleanliness, which has nothing to do with scarce resources. Therefore, they will move heaven and Earth to repair a worn-out sound speaker with their meagre resource rather than replacing a urinal bowl that no longer serves its intended purpose to the church members. The NCCE, Para-State agencies and The Church of Pentecost alone cannot take up the nationwide campaign for attitudinal change concerning Environmental Cleanliness. Efforts must, therefore, be made by all and sundry to keep and sustain the campaign year-round. The campaign is yielding good fruits even though there is more room for improvement.
- Reward and Reprimand Regimes enforced at all levels: Cleaner or Eco-friendly public places must be acknowledged, commended, and rewarded if possible as a motivation for others to emulate. In much the same way, unkempt or edifices with dirty environs should be named, reprimanded or denied, if practicable, any further financial support until the needful is done. Humans generally would comply if their livelihoods were tied to meeting specific demands. That is why even God tied the conditions under which He would visit and defend His children in battle with their Environmental Cleanliness.
From the write-up, besides sin, one major thing that creates a hostile environment for God and His Spirit is dirt or uncleanliness. If the aroma and stench around a place can either facilitate the visitation or expulsion of spirits, be it good or evil, then we must quickly revise our notes if permanent habitation and coexistence with the Holy Spirit is the desired goal. Believers can’t do anything less if those who do not believe in God’s existence and thus have nothing to do with the Holy Spirit keep a clean and friendly environment that attracts His presence. James 4:17 states, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is a sin for them.” It is said that a journey of 1000 miles begins with a step. We must, therefore, start from our homes and begin the discussion during our family meetings. The results, I believe, will trickle down to the local churches, our workplaces and the communities at large. Long Live The Church of Pentecost, and Long Live Ghana.