In the early 1960s, long before the Church was officially established in Ghana, several Ghanaians learned about the restored gospel either abroad or through friends. In February 1964, Joseph William Billy Johnson received copies of Church literature from his friend Raphael Abraham Frank Mensah, a preacher and spiritual healer, who had received a Book of Mormon from a woman in England.
Johnson awoke one morning after reading the Book of Mormon and heard a voice call his name. “If you will take up my work,” the voice said, “I will bless you and bless your land.” Moved by this experience and by what he read, he joined Mensah in preaching from the Book of Mormon, and the two organized congregations of believers in Accra and Cape Coast.
They began to write to Church leaders in Utah, asking for recognition and resources. The Church sent literature and encouragement in the form of letters, but leaders were reluctant to send missionaries and officially establish the Church in West Africa. As long as black African men could not be ordained to the priesthood, self-sustaining branches with local leadership would have to wait.
Johnson and Mensah continued to preach and establish additional congregations. In their meetings, faithful believers would often select the hymn “Come, O Thou King of Kings,” and when they sang the line “We’ve waited long for thee,” tears would spring to their eyes. Johnson felt a spiritual kinship with Brigham Young and looked to the example of the early pioneers for strength.
By the mid-1970s, there were 10 congregations with nearly 1,000 members. One of the largest congregations was in Takoradi, led by Rebecca Mould, a woman known as “the Mormon Prophetess.” These early believers waited and prayed for the day when the Church would send missionaries.
One evening during the summer of 1978, Joseph William Billy Johnson felt inspired to turn on his radio and tune to the BBC. To his astonishment, he heard the announcement that Church President Spencer W. Kimball had received a revelation authorizing the ordination of all men regardless of race. “I burst into tears of joy,” he recalled.
That December, the first missionary couples arrived in Ghana. Rendell and Rachel Mabey and Edwin and Janath Cannon met with Johnson and others in Cape Coast and planned a large baptismal service at a nearby beach. On December 9, Mensah, Johnson, and 123 converts from their congregations were baptized. The next morning a branch was organized in Cape Coast with Johnson as president. The missionaries then drove down the coast to Takoradi, where they baptized 124 more, including Mould.
The work of Johnson and others prepared the way for many more to be baptized in the coming weeks and months, and additional branches were established. Though some who belonged to the earlier unofficial congregations parted ways with the Church after the arrival of the missionaries, many stayed and formed the foundation for Church growth in Ghana.