Meridian’s Senior Staff is in Ghana, reporting on the temple dedication and the Church’s astounding growth in West Africa. Stories on the Saints in Ghana, humanitarian efforts there, doing family research from oral histories and much more will be appearing in the days to come in Meridian.
Russell Tanner, Director of Temple Building for the Africa West Area had a staggering assignment—build a temple in a land where you cannot, as he jokes, call 1-800-Give Me Anything, as you can in developed nations. Materials to create a building to the standards of the temple are not available in Ghana, nor anyplace in West Africa. Machinery is nearly impossible to procure in a land where even the long stretches of major roads are often built with painstaking and tedious hand labor.
Ghana, frankly, has not one building that approaches the beauty or quality of the temple. This is a place where most of the businesses are rectangular shelters made of weathered wood and corrugated tin roofs. Many of the more substantial buildings often are weathered and dilapidated, their paint peeling and their stucco pitted. Building methods are rudimentary and the best buildings are subject to the steamy tropical weather that blights them with rust and mold.
To make the assignment even more daunting, it is not merely the Ghana temple that the Church built, but it is also in the process of building the temple in Nigeria where the problems are similar. To complete both temple projects, Russ, said, will actually involve the completion of 15 buildings, a road and a bridge by the time stake centers, office buildings, and patron housing is included. In cities were electricity is fickle, outages are frequent and clean water is impossible, calculated into that figure are also buildings that contain back-up generators, water supplies, and of course, a well.
These are extras not considered when a new temple is built on the grounds of a stake center in Minnesota.
For help, the Church turned to Taysec, the largest construction firm in Ghana and the only ones who had done major work there. This made the team working on the temple truly international. The architects were Ghanian, home offices of the construction company are in Europe and all were working for a Church based in Utah.
Liam McVeigh, construction manager, said of the temple, “Nothing of this standard has been built in this country, so there wasn’t even another building we could show people as an example of what we were looking for. Even five-star hotels are not of this standard. The challenge was to get people to understand that we really meant what we said when we were looking for these very high standards. Consequently, we had to bring in specialists from offshore to do some of the very fine work at the end.”
The temple building required a small army—as many as 600 people employed at a time with another 150 subcontractors. “We had to have facilities for all of these people,” said Liam, “catering, toilets and more just to keep the job moving. We housed a total of 60-70 expatriot workers. It was 6 months for designing and planning, and another two years in construction.”
Still that doesn’t tell the whole story. President Hinckley announced that a temple would be built in Ghana in 1998. He warned the Saints then that it would be a process that would take years, but no one could have foreseen the painstaking, often contradictory messages that emanated from the government while the Church was seeking approvals.
The initial design that the Church offered in 1999, based on the small temple model used many other places, was shot down, and it was only after the Church announced a second design that the process was revived again. Russell Tanner said, “The Ghanian authorities wanted to have lots of height. The new plan was taller. We made the stake center two stories and the office and patron housing each four stories high. They are trying to do many things to improve the looks of Accra, and for them more was better.”
The approvals came back piecemeal. First came the nod for approval on the stake center, and, when it came, Russ urged something unusual, “I want to dig today,” he said, feeling that “if we could start the building, momentum would keep the ball rolling. That day they began to move earth.”
Three weeks later approval came for other buildings on the temple lot, and three days later the approval for the temple itself. At that point they broke the construction team up so that all of the buildings would rise at once.
Still, keeping in budget and meeting deadlines requires sweat and strain in a developing nation. The Church wanted to use as many materials from Africa as possible—not just for expense, but for culture’s sake. This had to be an African temple throughout, one that would ring with recognition for the people.
Thus began the great African exploration, not by adventurers in khaki shorts looking for big game, but by the LDS temple department looking for materials.
“The original plans,” said Russ, called for Bethel white granite out of Vermont like that used on the Bountiful Temple. I couldn’t sleep at night about that. I knew there had to be a local solution, and so I started talking to lots of people who told me that the quality stone in Africa is all in the South.”
He found a stone company in South Africa that indicated the quality of stone he was looking for was in Namibia, so it was off to a forgotten corner of the Kalahari desert, through dunes that looked like Lawrence of Arabia, finally coming to a German-owned stone quarry where he found a lovely consistent granite called Namibia pearl that is the material used on both the Ghana and Nigeria temples. It is beautiful. It is African, and it saved a lot of money.
The hardwoods used in the interior of the temple are another rich reminder of Africa. Here are not the familiar northern hemisphere grains of oak and maple, but the resplendent trees of Africa, unusual and elegant in their growth patterns.
The temple woodwork is a mahogany-stained makore wood, with an unusual, staggered checked grain. It is a wood that is at home in Africa, naturally resistant to the termites which build their homes in fierce mounds that look like five-foot castle compounds.
Russ said, “We had to work long and hard to process the woods properly to meet the temple standards, but every time we met a challenge, the way was opened up for us.”
Design for the interior of the temple was created by Bengt Erlandsson, who started working for the Church ten years ago, and has done similar work for several other temples. He claims that doing this design work on temples is the best job in the Church.
In Ghana, a traditional handicraft that is revered and passed from generation to generation is the weaving of kente cloth, a fabric marked by diamonds and distinctive geometric lines in bright African colors.
He found a piece of kente cloth in purples and greens, then muted it for the design of the stained glass windows.
The diamond shape, in fact, became a theme repeated throughout the temple interior in glass and wood. Bengt had to be careful not to play off any symbol that belonged distinctively to any one Ghanian tribe, so the geometric shapes he chose are universal. “I understand that the diamond shape to them represents a turtle, which represents wisdom. That seemed an appropriate theme for a house of knowledge like the temple.”
The pilasters in the temple are designed with palm fronds to signify Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem.
One persistent question for Bengt was how to find African furniture for the temple. Temple quality furniture is not readily available in Ghana, so he had 90% of it custom designed using a manufacturer out of Spain. He wanted furniture that said Africa to the patrons. This brought him to furniture designed with subtle touches of lion’s feet and elephant tusks. Chairs in the sealing rooms, where couples and officiators sit, use a north African design to create the tree of life. In the celestial room, a piece of furniture resembles the traditional chief’s stool.
One young man saw the chief’s stool and said he couldn’t sit on it because it signified royalty. He was reminded, “We’re all royals here.”
Bengt said they had been worried about putting a temple so beautiful in a land so impoverished, but the result has been what they hoped. It is a reminder of who the people are, royal children of a Heavenly Father.
Before the furniture was placed in the temple, it was stored in a warehouse and in the stake center. About 20 young men, all local members, were hired to move it. “I have never felt such devotion and spirit,” said Bengt. “I think the Ghanians are a very strong people.”
What the people, both members and visitors, have felt as they have been able to see the temple is not just that it is beautiful, but something far more. A tangible spirit and power is felt here, unmistakable.
One of the members of the Ga tribal council, a ruling group in Ghana, summed up the sense that even a casual visitor felt, “Right from the gate, we knew we were entering a unique place. We knew we were entering somewhere where you could have contact with God. I felt something really falling on me. I felt a lot of people would like to join your Church.”