On June 14, 1989, the government of Ghana banned public meetings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and sent police to lock down LDS chapels in the country. For the next 18 months, Ghanaian Latter-day Saints were unable to attend Church meetings.
Security forces stood outside LDS meetinghouses to make sure no one entered. Missionaries left the country. Many thought the Church would cease to exist in Ghana because of the ban — known by members as the freeze.
“The freeze was very hard for me personally and for my family,” said Flint Mensah in a new Church video about the freeze. “Church was our everything and all of a sudden it was all gone.” (history.lds.org/article/our-homes-became-the-sacrament-hall-sabbath-day-worship-during-the-freeze?lang=eng)
“It was like being an orphan,” said Kweku Ghartey.
Benedicta Elizabeth Kissi said before the freeze, members in Ghana were taking their ability to gather together on the Sabbath day for granted.
“When the freeze came we couldn’t meet as brothers and sisters,” she recalled.
However, the 9,000 Latter-day Saints in Ghana committed to keep the faith on their own.
With permission from Church leaders at headquarters, members began to organize meetings in their homes with their families. Each week they dressed in their Sunday best, partook of the sacrament and sang hymns.
William Acquah said, “Our living room became a sacrament hall.”
Brother Ghartey said partaking of the sacrament in their homes sanctified their homes. “The Spirit of the Lord was strong.”
Charles Sono-Koree said the freeze taught Church members to know and to understand how important the Sabbath day is to God’s children and to His Church.
President Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said during his April 2015 general conference address that though the doctrine pertaining to the Sabbath day is of ancient origin, it has been renewed in these latter days as part of a new covenant with a promise.
“That thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day;
“For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High.
“And on this day let thy food be prepared with singleness of heart that thy fasting may be perfect, that thy joy may be full.
“And inasmuch as ye do these things with thanksgiving, with cheerful hearts and countenances, the fulness of the earth is yours” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:9-10, 13, 15-16).
Quoting Isaiah in calling the Sabbath “a delight,” President Nelson said, “true believers keep the Sabbath day holy.”
Most of us may never be faced with a challenge similar to that faced by the Ghanaian Latter-day Saints — who lost their ability to worship together on the Sabbath day.
However, like them we can show our dedication and commitment to the Lord and His Church. One way to do this is following the recent directive from Church leaders to improve our observance of this sacred day.
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained in a training video released in June 2015 that Church leaders have felt the importance of encouraging families and individuals to rethink and refocus their efforts on what they do on the Sabbath day. “Our whole desire is that throughout the Church, we focus our Sabbath day worship on the Lord,” he said. (www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-leaders-call-for-better-observance-of-sabbath-day)
A committee was appointed by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that includes four apostles and seven presidents of the Seventy to focus on the issue, said Elder Ballard. He said that with the input from women leaders of the Church, “we felt that it was urgent that we strengthen the faith of our people. The world seems to be getting a little more difficult. We’re hoping that home activities will be more centered on learning and knowing more about the life and ministry of the Savior and the great plan of happiness that our Heavenly Father has given us to live by.”
During his October 2008 general conference talk, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said the ordinance of the sacrament makes the sacrament meeting the most sacred and important meeting in the Church.
“How can we have the Spirit of the Lord to guide our choices so that we will remain ‘unspotted from the world’ (Doctrine and Covenants 59:9) and on the safe path through mortality?” asked Elder Oaks. “We need to qualify for the cleansing power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We do this by keeping His commandment to come to Him with a broken heart and a contrite spirit and in that wonderful weekly meeting partake of the emblems of the sacrament and make the covenants that qualify us for the precious promise that we will always have His Spirit to be with us” (see Doctrine and Covenants 20:77).
In 1989 during the ban by Ghana’s government on Latter-day Saints meeting in their chapels, members responded by increasing their observance of the Sabbath day. The government closed their meetinghouses, but “you can’t close my home,” said Joseph Larbie. “You can’t close my heart.”
Latter-day Saints in Ghana were forced to learn the gospel with more intensity, because they had to defend the Church in their country. They visited one another and fellowshipped one another. When members had needs, other members filled them. Home and visiting teaching continued. Latter-day Saints faithfully participated in Sunday worship services in their homes.
“Our homes became sanctuaries, sanctuaries of the Spirit,” said Brother Acquah.
Following the lead of the faithful Latter-day Saints in Ghana, may we never take for granted the ability to gather and worship together each Sunday — may we sanctify our Sabbath worship.