“Ghana—A Household of Faith,” Ensign, Mar. 1996, 34
When a relative sent missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to his home, Isaac Kojo Botwe tried to make it clear from the beginning that he was not interested.
“I would abandon them in the sitting room, go into the boys’ room, and smoke my dirty pipe,” he says, laughing as he recalls what followed. Soon he decided that he really ought to listen to what the missionaries were teaching to his family. Not long afterward, he decided that he needed to give up that “dirty pipe” and live the Word of Wisdom.
Mark Owusu, one of the missionaries who taught him, remembers that Isaac Botwe had his children gather his pipes, his tobacco, and his coffee—and then he lit fire to the lot of it!
Isaac, his wife, Frances, and their children of baptismal age came into the Church together in 1987. Today, Isaac is Bishop Botwe of the Takoradi Ward, Cape Coast Ghana Stake. His family has an extensive history of service to the Church. So, too, does Mark Owusu, who has served in a variety of teaching and leadership positions since his mission. Currently he is elders quorum president in the Madina Branch, Accra Ghana Stake.
In many ways, what has happened in the lives of the Botwe family and Brother Owusu parallels what has happened in Ghana during the seventeen years since the Church officially arrived. The story of Latter-day Saints in this West African country is the story of families and individuals who turned their backs on old beliefs and practices because they discovered the new joy of following Christ.
Joseph William Billy Johnson is one of those individuals. He has been there from the beginning.
In 1964 an associate gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon and some Church tracts that had been sent from Europe. When he read a tract containing the testimony of Joseph Smith, he recalls, “I was inspired,” and when he read the Book of Mormon, “I knew it was true.” He began to preach to others the gospel truths he learned. Writing to Church headquarters, he received from President David O. McKay encouragement to continue studying the scriptures and to be patient and faithful until missionaries could be sent to Africa.
Billy Johnson persevered in his preaching for fourteen years despite persecution. He built congregations to whom he taught the gospel doctrine he found in Church books. As nearly as he knew how, he tried to direct his congregations according to the practices of the duly organized Church, yet he understood that he did not have authority to perform its ordinances.
Often he felt directed by the Spirit; he was sustained at times by visions and dreams. His son was named after Brigham Young because of a dream in which that former President of the Church offered encouragement. Brother Johnson came to know about salvation for the dead after deceased relatives appeared to him in dreams and asked him to be sure they would have the opportunity to receive baptism by proxy.
“I drew inspiration from the pioneers,” he says. Reading of their struggles to build a haven in the western United States where they could worship in peace, he longed for the day when it might be possible to enjoy this same blessing in Ghana.
When Latter-day Saint missionaries arrived late in 1978, after the revelation extending the priesthood to all worthy male members, hundreds of Ghanaians in congregations he had established were ready to be taught and baptized.
Despite the hardships he endured, Brother Johnson, now patriarch of the Cape Coast Ghana Stake, rejoices at the opportunity he had during all those years to help prepare others for the gospel. “Whenever I see in conferences the number of people who have been baptized in the Church, I start weeping for joy at the great work the Lord has done.”
There are many pioneers in the Church in Ghana. Some of them were baptized while studying or working outside the country, then returned home to share their newfound truths with family and friends.
Monica Ohene-Opare was baptized as an exchange student in New York in 1979. She married shortly after returning home and was instrumental in converting her husband, Emmanuel. Each of them has since held a variety of Church callings. Currently, she is president of the Primary in their ward and he is president of the Accra Ghana Stake. But their most important leadership contributions may have been in family life.
Sister Ohene-Opare knows that their five children have been blessed with an opportunity that was not available to her; they are among the first generation in Ghana to grow up in the gospel, “and it has become part of them.” She says she is grateful that they have its high standards to help them handle the present-day spiritual challenges confronting them and their peers.
Emmanuel Abu Kissi’s experience with his extended family typifies another pattern of growth for the Church in Ghana—one person’s testimony becoming a catalyst for the faith of others.
Emmanuel was furthering his study of medicine in London when LDS missionaries contacted his family. His wife, Benedicta Elizabeth, was immediately healed of illness and depression through a blessing they gave her. In what they taught, Emmanuel found answers to questions of faith that had troubled him for years. The Kissis were baptized early in 1979.
Both became stalwarts in the growing Church on their return to Ghana; each has served in a variety of leadership positions. He was a regional representative for several years and is now a counselor to the president of the Ghana Accra Mission. But in the beginning he probably had no idea how much fruit would come from seeds he sowed in his own family.
Emmanuel introduced his younger brother, Stephen Abu (their last names differ because of Ghanaian traditions in naming children), to the gospel while Stephen was visiting in Accra. After his baptism, Stephen returned to Abomosu, their isolated home village, and began to “organize” his own family, as he says, teaching them the gospel. His teaching extended to friends, and when missionaries were finally sent to the village, there was a group of people waiting to be baptized.
From that beginning came the Abomosu Ghana District, which now has more than six hundred members. With two branches in the village, Latter-day Saints are a significant portion of the population. Two miles up the road, a new meetinghouse is under construction for the branch in Sankobenase.
There is another important area in which the gospel has helped Ghanaians develop leadership—in family relationships. Traditionally, Ghanaian men are more rulers than partners in marriage, often spending their free time outside the home. But many Latter-day Saint men and women are becoming leaders by example as they apply gospel principles in marriage.
Several years ago, Philip Xaxagbe (the Xs are pronounced like Hs) was working in Nigeria, so deeply involved in his job that his family life was withering. He was troubled by drinking. He and his wife had drifted apart and each was secretly contemplating divorce when she met the missionaries. Philip agreed to listen to their message. “It seemed that everything they were teaching me I had heard somewhere before, but I didn’t know where.” He was baptized after it was made plain to him in a dream that if he did not accept what he had been taught, he would eventually be separated permanently from his wife and daughter.
Since returning to Ghana in 1992, he has shared his faith with loved ones and friends and has seen three members of his extended family come into the Church. He currently serves as president of the Christiansborg Branch of the Accra stake. President Xaxagbe credits the gospel with saving his marriage, and his spiritual life. “All I am now, I am because of the Church.”
Many Ghanaian members know that attending the temple would strengthen them and their families. Agnes Adjei, Relief Society president in the Koforidua First Branch, Koforidua District, withdraws a small, folded piece of paper from her purse and says reverently, “I am a temple recommend holder.” It may be many years before she can afford to visit the temple in London or Johannesburg, but she has hope of fulfilling that dream. The cost of travel is a barrier for many Ghanaians. Ato Ampiah, stake clerk in the Cape Coast Ghana Stake, says wistfully: “One thing I would love is to be sealed to my family in the temple. Perhaps sometime I will have the opportunity of kneeling at that altar.”
Doe Akua Afriyie Kaku, Relief Society president in the Ola University Ward, Cape Coast stake, is a returned sister missionary and one of the few Ghanaians who has been sealed with her husband in a temple. That opportunity has helped her try harder to live worthy of the celestial kingdom, because she now understands more fully that “you can’t make it alone.”
It is necessary for a husband and wife to be one, she adds, and “if there is some misunderstanding, you definitely cannot kneel together to pray and feel right about it.” Instead, couples who humble themselves can receive help in resolving problems as they listen to the Spirit. Listening to the Spirit makes a noticeable difference in the lives of faithful families, she says.
That noticeable difference helps the Church grow. Ghanaians watch as neighboring Latter-day Saint families become stronger, and they want to know what it is about the Church that makes this happen. Their questions provide opportunities to teach.
There was a time, however, when it appeared that the Church had a very limited future in Ghana. It is impossible to tell the story of Latter-day Saints in this country without covering what has come to be known as “the Freeze.”
In June 1989 the government banned all public worship, proselyting, and other activities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Members believe the ban was motivated by misinformation about the Church that was widely distributed and broadcast.
In Abomosu, civilian authorities, police, and soldiers escorted President Stephen Abu to the meetinghouse, where everything in the building was inventoried, the keys were confiscated, and he was warned that members were forbidden to use both that property and the Church farm outside the village. Priesthood leaders in other areas of Ghana had similar experiences.
Worship in the home was not expressly forbidden, and members began holding services on a family basis. “But you could not sing loudly, or you would be picked up,” President Abu recalls. He was among those who were jailed or punished after being accused of violating the ban. Some members were evicted by landlords or otherwise persecuted during the Freeze. Despite the risk, however, priesthood leaders continued in their roles as shepherds, unobtrusively visiting individuals and families to lend them strength.
In November 1990, apparently satisfied that Latter-day Saints could be strong contributors in Ghanaian society, the government lifted the ban. Joyously, Ghanaian members spread the news from home to home. Young Ghanaian missionaries serving in their own country had been honorably released at the beginning of the Freeze, but except for a few who had married or were out of the country, they eagerly returned to finish their missions, when given the opportunity.
Many members now look back on that period as a blessing that strengthened their faith and brought new spiritual opportunities.
John Buah, who has served as a counselor to two mission presidents, notes that “after the Freeze, good people wanted to know more about the Church.” Curious to find out if things they had heard were true, they asked LDS friends or neighbors—and accepted the resulting invitations to learn about the gospel. Many of these truth seekers were baptized.
Today, “those who have the opportunity to know the Church want it in their communities,” Brother Buah says. They see not only its strengthening influence on families but also the solutions it offers to social problems that Ghana is trying to head off or resolve—immorality and teen pregnancy, drinking and drug use, for example.
When Ghana’s president, J. J. Rawlings, received Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder J. Richard Clarke of the Seventy, Africa Area president, in 1994, members saw this as recognition that their religion is an important influence in the lives of many Ghanaians. It signaled the opportunity at last to display their faith as openly as do citizens of other faiths.
Public recognition does not mean, of course, that the path for Ghanaian members is always smooth. They struggle with the same economic and educational difficulties faced by others in their country. On the person-to-person level, they still find those who ridicule or criticize their beliefs. But the gospel helps Latter-day Saints find solutions to these problems.
Ghana is a country with great potential for development, yet struggling to find the needed financial resources. There are too few jobs to go around. The abundance of small businesses attests to the industry and thrift of Ghanaians willing to work hard at any available opportunity.
Latter-day Saint businessman Kweku Anno of Accra gestures toward the men working under the metal sheds of his manufacturing enterprise. “Every one of them has a cousin or a brother who needs to be trained.” If he sent out word that he wanted ten workers, Brother Anno says, there would be one hundred outside his gate before the day ended. It is a measure of the economy, and he is grateful that he can help provide jobs.
A mechanical engineer, he designed the simple, sturdy concrete block- and brick-making machines built in his shop. Brother Anno estimates that each machine will provide construction jobs for four people. His own business enterprises support fifty-two people, employing Church members whenever possible.
Bishop Holbrook Christian MacArthur of the Cape Coast First Ward estimates that 80 percent of the members in his ward are either unemployed or underemployed. Some 30 percent of the priesthood holders are out of work—mostly younger men who have not yet established themselves in vocations or careers. Like Latter-day Saints in some other wards or branches in Ghana, members of his ward have banded together to organize several cooperative business enterprises; their efforts have ranged from construction work to selling food products made of cassava, an important Ghanaian crop.
Their perseverance in spite of setbacks is a manifestation of the faith of Ghanaian Latter-day Saints, the bishop says. Sometimes in interviewing members, he learns of problems that would be daunting to others. “But just give them a little encouragement and they will ignite. They will look up to their God. They have a faith that God works in his own due time.”
This kind of faith gives Ghanaian members confidence that their Father in Heaven is watching over them.
One day last year, Beatrice Ashon withdrew five million Ghanaian cedis (about $4,500 in U.S. funds) from her bank in Accra for use in her business enterprises. Apparently, someone was watching. That night, a gang of men burst into the Ashon home, fired several shots, tied up a relative, and locked a group of visiting children in another room. The gang demanded Sister Ashon’s money and also stole some household goods. But no one was hurt. Police learned through fingerprint comparisons that this was the same gang that had killed victims in other incidents. Sister Ashon believes everyone in the home was protected by the power of God.
After the trauma of the robbery, her businesses failed because of the loss of the money. “That was a very big test,” she says, “but we are happy.” They are persevering in the gospel and looking for ways to begin again financially.
The scarcity of jobs and the financial difficulty of starting out as a couple make many young Ghanaians put off marriage. But Kofi Opare tells other returned missionaries in their mid- and late twenties that it’s a mistake to delay, waiting for the perfect job to support a family. “You have to forget all the hardship, and do it.”
At twenty-six, Kofi was about the average age for a Ghanaian bridegroom. Like most young member couples, he and his wife, Theresa, had a legally binding traditional marriage. He visited her parents and brought gifts—money, in place of the customary alcoholic beverage; cloth (an African print); a hymnbook for the young woman; and her engagement ring.
That ceremony took place in December 1994, but Kofi and Theresa chose not to live together as husband and wife until they could have a formal wedding at an LDS chapel in June 1995. They wanted the influence of the Church in their married life from the very beginning. In the interim, they dealt with practical details—saving cash for all the costs of starting a household, and securing a place to live.
Theresa has a steady income from her seamstress shop, but Kofi has had to take part-time work as he can get it. Despite this, Theresa says, she and her husband felt that “you have to make a bold decision” and go ahead. But a wise Latter-day Saint man, she adds, will find a young woman in the Church who understands the eternal purposes of marriage and will not demand material things for her fulfillment. “We know it takes two to make a team, to make a marriage work.”
Literacy can be another challenge for members. While English is the official language of government and business in Ghana, it is a second one for most citizens, who learn a local African language in their homes. Many who have had the full benefits of education speak English, perhaps another European language, and several local languages. But schools are run by private (usually religious) groups, and fees may push education out of reach as some Ghanaians grow up. Thus they are not prepared to learn skilled jobs, to interact with people from other areas, or to feast on the scriptures.
Because of this, literacy classes are common in stakes and wards, districts and branches throughout the country.
Alice Sackey, Young Women president in the Accra stake, has great confidence in younger members of the Church: “I see that we will have strong leaders in the future from our youth.” She says their participation and their obedience to the gospel are outstanding, but in her responsibility for the young women, she finds the need for special help with literacy. “Some of them don’t attend school. But we’ve made it our goal that every one who passes through Young Women will know how to read and write English before she goes into Relief Society.”
Cecelia Oduro, Cape Coast stake Relief Society president, points out that those who are unfamiliar with English are handicapped in studying the gospel; they cannot “get the message by reading for themselves.” But she has seen people who were intimidated by the need to learn English rejoice later as they became fluent enough to discover the treasures of the scriptures on their own.
Members for whom literacy was never a problem have set an example of feasting on the word of God. Returned missionary Ronald Adjei Danso of Accra says that if he did not “dig” constantly for the truths of the gospel, it would be difficult to meet the spiritual challenges of daily life. Edmund Frempong, a former bishop and now a high councilor in the Accra stake, came into the Church partly because he discovered that the gospel offered solutions for his theological puzzles. “I found that the teachings of the Church were so systematic and so reasonable. Everything that is true must appeal to reason.”
The plan of salvation, he says, encompasses and clarifies the concept of life taught by his Akan tribal ancestors—that we came from a spirit world and will go back there after this life. “That is what my forefathers were trying to explain.”
Ghanaian members still face the challenge of misinformation and erroneous thinking about the Church. False impressions linger in many minds.
The majority of Ghanaians are Christians, though there is a significant Muslim population and there are still many who practice native religions. While long-established Christian religions are well represented, numerous small, independent churches emphasizing one biblical teaching or another have sprung up in Ghana. In many ways, this religious atmosphere in the country is a blessing, Church members say. Children begin learning about Jesus Christ at the elementary school level, and moral values are an integral part of education.
In this religious atmosphere, however, it has been easy for the idea to persist that Latter-day Saints are not Christians because their doctrine is different. Monica Ohene-Opare runs a school, and some parents have withdrawn their children upon learning that she is a Latter-day Saint. Others have been pleasantly surprised by LDS beliefs about Christ heard in Primary songs that she taught their children in classes.
Kenneth Kobena Andam, president of the Cape Coast stake, says the idea that Latter-day Saints don’t believe in Jesus Christ is losing its credibility. Many Ghanaians “now recognize that ours is a Christian church. And they recognize by the way we live that we have something special.” In fact, he says, the teachings of the Church have become well enough known that people expect higher standards of behavior from Latter-day Saints.
Also, the old criticism about a “white man’s church” has lost its credibility. Love is largely responsible for overcoming it. In the early days of the Church here, the idea was put forward that people of another race and another culture had come to Africa to exploit its people yet again. But Ghanaians who valued newfound gospel truths would not be dissuaded from baptism, and those who felt the Christlike love radiated by LDS missionaries could not believe they had come to exploit. Today, Ghanaians lead the stakes, wards, districts, and branches in their country, running Church programs so well in many instances that they might serve as casebook examples for members anywhere.
Today, too, the Christlike love radiated by many Ghanaian members mirrors the love they felt from those early LDS missionaries. This love motivates a young waiter in a hotel restaurant to approach a visitor and say, smiling broadly, “I am a member of the Church too. I am your brother in Christ.” The only appropriate answer is: “Indeed you are.”
The loving example of Ghanaian members has a powerful effect on their friends and families.
Phillip Ohene, clerk of the Koforidua Second Branch, says his LDS employer “talked to me about the Church through his actions. He would tell me the thing, and I would see him doing it himself.” This example helped Phillip decide to investigate the gospel. In shaping people’s attitudes about the Church, he says, “What they hear is not so important. It is what they see.”
What John Sule-Bukari’s Muslim parents saw made them feel good about their children’s involvement in the Church. John, his older brother, and two older sisters are Latter-day Saints. Their parents, John says, are pleased about the ways the gospel has changed their children for the better. One of his sisters and his brother have served as full-time missionaries, and John, second counselor in the Young Men presidency of the Koforidua Second Branch, hopes to go next. To do it, he will have to work around his obligatory two years of national service, which can range from military training to school teaching.
Perhaps the example of members like these stands out because of the way the gospel shapes their responses to the challenges and tests of life.
Latter-day Saints are given unique opportunities for spiritual growth through these challenges, says Jonathan Koranteng, first counselor in the bishopric of the Tesano Ward in Accra. Some churches teach that people who truly come to God will have all their problems resolved, he says, but we should be grateful that all of our trials in this life are not taken away. “They are good experience, and they are a part of our Heavenly Father’s plan, meant to prepare us for a better future.”
Brother Koranteng, who has experienced a healthy share of trials through family tragedies and through the events of the Freeze, notes that Lehi said there will be opposition in all things (see 2 Ne. 2:11, 15). “I only pray that I will have the courage to withstand everything that comes my way.”
Fortunately, says Sister Kaku of Cape Coast, Saints in Ghana, like those everywhere else, have access to the best of help in meeting their daily challenges. “If you have the Spirit, you are able to live the gospel wherever you are.”
Thinking of Church members scattered across the earth, she says, “We share the same gospel, unity, love—everything.” While there may be differences of color, “when the Saints meet, these are wiped off.”
“The Spirit is the same. The Spirit makes us one.”
Current population of Ghana: nearly 17,000,000
Members: More than 10,000
Stakes: Accra Ghana (five wards, five branches), Cape Coast Ghana (seven wards, three branches)
Districts: Abomosu (five branches), Assin-Foso (five branches), Koforidua (five branches), Kumasi (nine branches), Winneba (six branches)
Buildings: Twelve Church-owned (plus three more under construction); twenty-five leased or rented