One of the lessons President Stephen L. Graham teaches the missionaries who pass through the doors of the Ghana Missionary Training Center is that the MTC experience is not only preparing them to serve as full-time missionaries, but also that the doctrines, experiences and lessons learned will bless their lives well beyond their missions.
“We try to remind the missionaries that this mission experience is the greatest kind of preparation that the Lord can give them to prepare them for their entire life,” President Graham said. “They will learn about the Savior, how to draw closer to Him and to help others know how to do the same. They will study and teach the doctrines and principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, learn how to plan and study, and other gospel-oriented life skills. They are the next generation of priesthood leaders and mothers and fathers. They do the same with their investigators. It’s life-changing.”
Many of the missionaries who come to the Ghana MTC are recent converts “and many who come who are the only members of the Church in their families,” President Graham said.
Some are first- and others are second-generation members. Some have little or no support at home, others have been raised in the Church and attended seminary and institute. But regardless, they will all be counted on to become leaders in their respective homelands when their missionary service is over.
President Graham and his wife, Sister Vanessa Graham, have served hundreds of missionaries during their time in Ghana. They have worked with missionaries from all corners of the earth, though most of them hail from Africa.
President Graham pulled out his iPad and showed a visitor a video of a group of elders singing “Israel, Israel, God Is Calling” in French with beautiful harmony and unique African rhythm.
“The Africans love to sing,” President Graham said with a smile. “How would you like to teach a priesthood lesson after that opening hymn?” he asked.
How do the Grahams deal with the wide array of missionaries and their divergent cultures? The answer is simple, they say. They labor to establish a culture they can all relate to — a gospel culture.
“We talk about culture here, and how we all come from different cultures, even within Africa,” President Graham said. “We all need to make adjustments. But regardless of what our culture of origin is, we’re all trying to adopt and create a gospel culture. All cultures of the world have their negative points. It’s the very positive points that we want to preserve. But here we emphasize the importance of cultivating a true gospel culture, not only for the time of our missions but for the rest of our lives.
“It’s new for them to be surrounded by people with the same beliefs,” said Mathias Eguko, Manager of Training and Operations at the Ghana MTC. “When they come here and they see the level of work that is done here, for some of them it’s a lot of stress. We go from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. It’s very structured. That structure is very different.”
“All missionaries go through a process of adjustment to the MTC and to becoming a full-time missionary, Sister Graham said.
“It’s a big adjustment here. Just being away from home, and it doesn’t matter where they are from,” she explained. “The Africans are homesick. I was surprised, and I shouldn’t have been. For the Congolese, for example, the food is so different. It’s as much of an adjustment for them as it is for an American in many ways. That really surprised me because we think of Africa as one big nation. It isn’t. It’s a huge continent. There are a lot of cultural differences and the languages are different.”
For President Graham, the most gratifying aspect of his calling is the people —particularly the missionaries.
“It’s hearing their testimonies and their gratitude to the Lord for the privilege it is to serve,” he said. “They love the Lord and they understand who He is, and what it means to serve Him. They don’t understand everything about it, but they do grasp that. They’re really close to the Spirit and innocent. They’re just ready to learn and really want to do the right thing. They have their weaknesses, like everyone else, but they are really ready to be taught by the Spirit. It’s a marvelous blessing.”