I pray thee, O Lord
Thou, O Lord
Undo my fetters,
Thou, O Lord
-African Song of Enticement
click on photos to enlarge
There is an old Akan saying, “All men are Nyame’s (God’s) offspring. No one is offspring of the earth.” I never felt so keenly a part of the family of God as I did during my short stay in Ghana. One reader wrote in to say that as she saw the pictures of Ghana’s Latter-day Saints, she felt like she was looking at a family album. She was. I, too, felt the nature of our common identity and how much we share as Heavenly Father’s children.
I spoke with dozens of members, many new to the church and old-timers as well; several who had joined the Church prior to the 1978 Priesthood revelation. Without exception they carried a sense of the divine in their lives. The West African saints shared with me a familiar vision of man as a special creation of deity. In the shadow of the temple we talked of the bridges this church builds back to the morning of creation through genealogy work, and of how it projects us into a time yet to come through sacred covenants and ordinances.
When they introduced William Sowah as ‘bishop’ I wondered how it could be that such a young man would be called as a leader in Zion. It turned out that Bishop William Sowah was actually in his 40s and not the 25 year-old I thought him to be. Not only that, William had earned his stripes in God’s army. He joined the church in his youth and was instrumental in bringing his parents and brothers and sisters to the gospel.
During the 1989 ‘freeze’ imposed by the government on the Church, William stood faithful despite some serious opposition. On one occasion William was called to a neighbor member’s home to administer a blessing to a sick child. During the blessing they heard shouts outside only to discover it was the security police force. William and his friend were arrested and thrown into jail. “Even though we were behind bars, the Lord was with us,” recounts William. “It galvanized our testimony. We had read about the persecution of the early saints and how it only made them stronger. We realized more than ever that this was a Church with whom Christ was well pleased.”
Brother Sowah saw this as an opportunity for him. In jail, the cell captain (an informal leader of the inmates) asked William to preach to the prisoners. He taught the restored gospel for about 20 minutes and ended with a prayer. Normally the prison was a very noisy place, but all were quiet after the sermon. The inmates reflected upon what had been taught them, and they soon went to bed without the normal banter and rowdiness.
That night William’s mother, not a member of the Church, visited him and told him she knew he was in the right Church. She said that only the true Church of God would be so persecuted, and she was pleased with his decision to be a member. The next morning another Church member, who was with the national security force, had William and his companion released.
William says of the experience, “I gained a stronger testimony from that experience. The period of the ban allowed Ghanaians to ask a lot of questions about the Church. It was a great opportunity for missionary work. The Church has grown tremendously since that time because many people wanted to know more about the church. Any time the adversary tries to destroy us, the Lord allows that to work in our favor. No one person or force can stop this Church from growing. The Lord always keeps his promises to his children and it is up to us to get ourselves ready for the blessings being offered.”
Ebenezer Johnny Dsane-Laryea
It was prior to the 1978 revelation when Johnny started investigating the church in Germany. During the course of his studies with the missionaries, one of his friends told him that the Church was racist and told him that black people were not allowed in the church. Johnny asked the missionaries if this charge was true, and one of the young elders responded, “We are not here to talk about that (priesthood), we are here to tell you to repent and be baptized. We are here to tell you to repent and come unto Christ.”
Johnny continues, “That is when I felt something stir in my bosom. I was expecting them to give me some excuses or explanations as to why, but they only testified of Christ and said the church was true. It was then I felt I had a testimony. What I felt then, is here still. I cannot explain how I have felt. Words cannot describe it. I have never bothered to ask why the priesthood was withheld from black people since. It doesn’t make any difference. My testimony has been built on a revelation which came to me that it was true. What more do I need?” Johnny joined the church and has “never looked back.”
Johnny attended the Nauvoo temple dedication with his family and said he felt the same spirit here in Ghana that he did there in Nauvoo. “This temple is going to help raise honest leaders for Ghana and Africa as a whole. With a temple more will be married, more will honor their vows, more will know of the true purpose of life. It will have an effect to help people choose righteous leaders and organize society in a more righteous way. There is a spirit in the air as in the early days of the church. There are many, many churches in Ghana, but The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is rising out of commotion as the true church and the people of Ghana now have a choice for truth before them.”
Brother Dsane-Laryea ended with his testimony, “I know the church is true. Why? Because it has changed me from what I was to what I am now. It has made me a better husband, a better father, brother, and manager in my own business. It has taught me honesty, justice, sincerity and all of the concepts we need in order to lead a productive wholesome life. I do not need to see Jesus Christ to believe that He is the Son of God. If he appeared to me today, it wouldn’t make any difference. I know it already. What makes the difference now is that I live what I’ve been taught, that I stay on the right and narrow path. Sufferings will come but I must strive to be worthy to the end. There is no other church under the sun that has the authority and power to change individual lives. It is my confession that I was once a vagabond, now I am a man. I know it is true.”
Kofi Opare, in denim, his shirt sleeves rolled up in the heat, has been a bishop and businessman, but the day we met him, he was our driver on the 3-hour journey from Accra to Cape Coast.
Kofi joined the church in his youth, back when drumming and dancing were still the fare; but as a young man he had a decision to make that sent him searching his heart and convictions.
Kofi wanted both to get an education and serve a mission, so he submitted his papers to attend school in the U.K.; at the same time he applied to serve a mission. He decided that wherever he got accepted first, he would go. Both acceptance to the university and a call to serve a mission came at the same time, leaving him in a quandary.
Then, one night in a dream, Kofi found himself standing in the midst of missionaries. It became clear to Kofi that he should serve a mission. He was called to his home country of Ghana and was such a successful missionary that his mission president requested he stay longer.
At age 27, he was called to serve as branch president. The problem he faced then and later as a bishop was teaching the members about temple work when he had not gone through the temple himself. Like so many leaders in Ghana, until recently, the expense of a trip to either London or Johannesburg was prohibitive.
Kofi drives by the temple every day on his way to work. He has watched its development and felt the spirit become stronger with each day of progress. “Non-members feel the spirit. Even before the temple was dedicated you could feel the presence of the Lord there. From one room to the next the spirit gets stronger. Our ancestors have been crying for this and the Lord has listened to their prayers and our prayers.”
Brother Hayford remembers clearly the day in 1992 when he was introduced to the gospel. He was immediately struck by the wisdom of the Family Home Evening program and what it could mean for his family. In a world that tears at the foundation of family life, Hayford wanted more for his children. He wanted to be able to mold them into high-quality people with good values and a love of God.
The family ties run deep among Hayford’s kindred. He recounts a vision his wife had just two days prior to the dedication of the temple, “My wife had a dream wherein she saw many of her ancestors. One of them held a piece of paper and was pleading with her to look at it. He eventually threw the long paper, which resembled a list, to my wife and told her to do her family histories.”
Stories like this are not uncommon among the saints in West Africa. Many have felt the presence of their ancestors waiting for this day and have rejoiced in this opportunity to save their dead and, hence, save themselves.
How many people from Ghana do you suppose have been to Sharon, Vermont? In 1981 Juliana was on a foreign exchange program and the family she was staying with took her to visit an obscure site called Sharon, Vermont. Her host family told Juliana they personally did not believe in the story of this place, but thought she might be interested in it. In Sharon she heard the story of Joseph Smith and was invited to watch a film called Man’s Search for Happiness. This film spoke to Juliana and she knew she was receiving answers to very personal questions she’d had.
For many years Juliana’s children had asked her questions about where they came from, why they were here on earth and where would they go when they died. Questions she had never been able to answer. When Juliana returned home to Ghana, she told her family that she had seen a church that answered their questions. She looked for the church in Ghana, but was unable to find it. One day while visiting the school her children attended, she noticed one of the teachers had some of the same pamphlets she had received in Sharon. The teacher told her where the church held its meetings and Juliana was delighted to discover it was within walking distance of her home. Transportation is costly and difficult in Ghana, and to have the church so close was a great blessing.
Soon Juliana started the missionary discussions despite the fact that she already had a testimony. She wanted to be baptized, but her husband’s permission was required. The missionaries asked for his permission, but he refused. Although this brought great sadness to Juliana, she was not deterred. She traveled all the way to Nigeria and sought permission from the area president. Juliana was granted special permission to be baptized and was baptized without her husband’s permission. He was not upset with her when he found out and gave her his blessing. Juliana’s faith had given her the desire of her heart and she became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets . . . And when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy” (Ezra 3: 10-12).
Samuel has carried a temple recommend with him for 9 years now and soon he will have his first ever opportunity to use it. He remembers clearly the day the Prophet came to Independence Square to announce the building of a temple, “We all shouted for joy.” Samuel says, “We had been asking for a temple. When the Prophet said it, we knew it would be.” His family attended the ‘sword cutting’ (groundbreaking ceremony). Samuel says, “Since the groundbreaking we have had a new government, more rain and an abundance of food. The Lord has blessed us and continues to bless us. Three days before the dedication it rained. I know that God lives. God has come to Ghana to stay.”
Isaac and June Addy
Brother and Sister Addy traveled from London for the temple dedication. She looked most elegant in an all-white dress and he had a serious, yet inviting countenance. Isaac is one of the old-timers to the gospel. He joined the church before the revelation on the Priesthood in 1978.
Isaac had some solemn questions about the truthfulness of the church when he first heard about the Priesthood restriction. June was worried about what she would tell her young sons as they grew in the church and reached priesthood age. Brother Isaac went to God with his concerns and received personal revelation that the Church was true. He accepted it, “just like that.” June, too, had confirmation that this was God’s true church on earth.
They both remember the day President Spencer W. Kimball announced that all worthy male members would receive the Priesthood. One of their friends in the U.S. army ran to tell them of the revelation. It was a day much like today, of promises fulfilled. Regarding the temple in Ghana Isaac says, “We have looked forward to this day for 25 years.”
Patriarch & Sister Usue
Brother and Sister Usue have stayed in London these many years to be near a temple.
This temple in their homeland of Ghana brings new hopes and opportunities for them. Sister Usue comments, “We especially wanted to be at this historic event. We see it as a very special event in our time. It means a lot to us to know that the Lord has found our people worthy to have His house in their land.” “Our ancestors have been waiting, waiting. Waiting for sacred work to be done for them. There is so much work that we need to do so our loved ones can enter into Heavenly Father’s kingdom.”
The Usue’s hope to be called from their London home to serve as temple missionaries to Ghana.
Jonathan Ofori Ewahin
Jonathan had been an active minister for 40 years. He preached with Billy Graham and was well-established in the community. Not only that, he made a good living at what he did. Yet, as he passed Elder and Sister McDowell’s flat that day, something compelled him to knock on their door. He had received a Book of Mormon ten years prior, and despite his peers severe criticism of the Latter-day Saints and his own personal fears, he had to find out more.
Elder and Sister McDowell, who had prayed specifically for a call to Africa, told Jonathan that there was no paid ministry in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Still, he wanted to know more, so they gave him the first discussion. Days later Jonathan returned for a second discussion and at the end of the lesson informed the McDowell’s that he had already quit his ministry! After one discussion and some prayerful days and nights, Jonathan walked away from his livelihood and friends to follow the promptings of the spirit. “I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Luke 7: 9).
The day of his baptism, Jonathan practically ran to the font. No longer employed, Jonathan spent hours devouring the scriptures and every piece of written material the missionaries and members gave him. Although his wife sewed clothing to help support them financially, many became concerned about his financial well-being. Jonathan’s response, “The Holy Ghost is moving me about.” He had no fear that he would be led in what to do. Within a few months Jonathan received an unexpected and large inheritance.
Jonathan’s is the kind of faith that moves mountains. It is the kind of faith that called the church to Ghana and a temple to West Africa. This is the kind of faith that is needed in the last days.
These are the faces of Africa; faces of hope and promise; faces of the children of God. There is a wind blowing across Africa and it carries with it more than the Sahara dust. The light breeze that touched Joseph William Billy Johnson and a few others so many years ago has become a gale force that is penetrating the most remote village and distant heart in the land. A temple of the Most High God now stands as a witness to God’s love for all of his children and thousands are gathering to it, seen and unseen, to receive the blessings and promises of a loving Father.
Having spent a few short days with our West African brothers and sisters, I have renewed hope in so many things. As Christianity seems to be struggling in the West, I see that it is flooding forth into new lands and taking hold firmly in the hearts of the faithful. These Saints are going about God’s business and take their covenants seriously. The depth of understanding of spiritual matters among the West African Saints is remarkable and heartening. Someone commented that they could envision a hundred million people coming into the Church from that continent alone. I, too, can more clearly see the eternal possibilities for the church and its people. The faces of Africa are changing the face of the Church.
I didn’t want to leave Ghana. These were my dear brothers and sisters. I kept thinking of Ruth when she said, “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” We were humble witnesses to the power of God moving on a land, a people and a nation that has been in bondage for thousands of year. No more. Africa is ascending in hope and offers a new face of light and promise to the world.