After a 10-day visit to West Africa more than 10 months ago, Elder Russell M. Nelson described the members there as optimistic and enthusiastic, "particularly as the blessings of the temple are within sight."
"For so many years, that possibility seemed remote, almost beyond their expectation," Elder Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve told the Church News soon after his return.
For Latter-day Saints in Ghana today, the blessings of the temple are no longer "remote" or "beyond their expectation." They are available now with the dedication of the Accra Ghana Temple Jan. 11 the first in West Africa. (Please see related articles in this issue of the Church News.) This singular event is a joyful culmination of decades of perseverance, patience and devotion by Ghanaian saints. Many of the faithful may have reflected back to the first time missionaries entered their country Dec. 9, 1978, a few months after the revelation on the priesthood extended full gospel blessings to all worthy male members.
The following is a look back on the history of the Church in Ghana, highlighting significant dates and events:
- 1950s Letters began arriving at Church headquarters from Ghana and Nigeria requesting literature and membership. By the 1960s, there were more letters from these African nations than from other countries throughout the world combined.
- 1964 Joseph William Billy Johnson, a preacher, obtained a copy of the Book of Mormon and established congregations without Church authority. Some reports in the 1960s had more than 60 congregations in Ghana and Nigeria, with more than 16,000 participants, none of whom were baptized.
- June 9, 1978 President Spencer W. Kimball announced the revelation extending the priesthood to all worthy male members. The revelation was received June 1, 1978.
- Dec. 9, 1978 Elder Ted Cannon and Sister Janath Cannon and Elder Rendell Mabey and Sister Rachel Mabey, all of Utah, arrived in Ghana as the first missionaries. They came from Nigeria, which they had entered in November. In Ghana on Dec. 12, they baptized Abraham Frank Mensah; Brother Johnson and his 10-year-old son, Brigham Johnson; Priscilla Sampson-Davis, and many in Brother Johnson's congregations. Eighty-nine people were baptized that day.
- 1979 A building program was started. More than 400 people in Ghana had been baptized. In all of West Africa, there were more than 1,700 members in 35 branches.
- July 1, 1980 The Africa West Mission was created.
- July 1, 1985 The Ghana Accra Mission was created. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the Church completed several humanitarian service projects.
- June 14, 1989 The government of Ghana expelled missionaries and banned the Church. Missionary work was shut down. LDS leaders had no advance notice of the ban, which was announced over state-controlled radio. Elder Emmanuel A. Kissi, now an Area Authority Seventy, served as interim mission president and administered the affairs of the Church during the ban.
- Dec. 1, 1990 The government permitted Church activities to resume. Sacrament meetings were resumed Dec. 9. The announcement by the government expressed satisfaction that the Church teaches members to honor the flag and promotes racial harmony. By year-end 1990, there were more than 9,000 members in Ghana.
- 1990s Humanitarian efforts focused on self-reliance. Some 90 percent of the meetinghouses in Ghana have some form of gardening activity going on. A gari-processing project, using locally manufactured machinery, automates parts of the processing. (Gari is a West African staple food made from the starchy root vegetable cassava.)
- Feb. 16, 1998 President Gordon B. Hinckley announced during a member meeting in Accra plans for a temple to be built in Ghana, the first in West Africa. Reminding the outdoor gathering of some 6,700 that it would take several years to complete the temple, President Hinckley, who was on a five-nation African tour, admonished the people to ready themselves by obtaining temple recommends.
- Nov. 16, 2001 Ground was broken for the long-awaited temple, with Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve turning the first ceremonial shovelful of soil. While in Ghana, Elder Nelson paid a courtesy call on Ghana President John A. Kufuor. After the meeting, Elder Nelson said, "The Church is a major factor now in the religious and social activities of their country." Membership in Ghana was more than 20,000.
- April 20, 2002 An open house was held for the new chapter of the Latter-day Saints Students Association at the Cape Coast University in Ghana.
- May 17, 2002 The Ghana Missionary Training Center was dedicated, the first in Africa. Fifty-four missionaries from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Uganda and Togo entered the center on May 22.
- Sept. 17, 2002 Ghana President John A. Kufuor met with the First Presidency in Salt Lake City. "We consider you as part of Ghana," he told President Hinckley and his counselors, President Thomas S. Monson and President James E. Faust.
- July 24, 2003 Mary Cartin Yates, U.S. Ambassador to Ghana, toured the temple construction site, hosted by Elder Sheldon H. Child of the Seventy and president of the Africa West Area.
- Dec. 3, 2003 The temple open house begins. President Kufuor visits on this day, along with several VIPs, including the vice president of Ghana, Alhaji Aliu Mahama, and members of Ghana's parliament. The open house concluded on Dec. 20. By Dec. 17, 17,398 had come to see the new temple. A total of 24,633 visitors attended.
- Jan. 11, 2004 President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the first temple in West Africa and the 117th in the world. Some 5,311 attended the three dedicatory sessions.
Sources: Deseret Morning News 2004 Church Almanac; Safe Journey: An African Adventure by Elder Glenn L. Pace; Church News, Dec. 6 and 20, 2003, Aug. 16, 2003, May 31, 2003, March 1, 2003, May 18 and 25, 2002, Sept. 21, 2002, Dec. 1, 2001, Nov. 24, 2001, Feb. 21, 1998, Dec. 8, 1990, June 24, 1989; BYU Devotional address by E. Dale LeBaron, Nov. 3, 1998.