Monday, November 17, 2014

AFRICA: LDS CHURCH IN GHANA, PART I

One of the things I really looked forward to on this trip was the opportunity to attend church in Ghana. As we drove along the Ghana coast, we noted LDS chapels in almost every town of any size, and if not a building, at least a sign for the church with an arrow pointing down a dirt road. The LDS Church presence is very strong on the coast, a miracle considering it's been there less than 40 years.
Graph from here
I've already discussed the fact that Bob's third-great-grandfather was a slave trader on these shores, and it was partly to better understand that part of Bob's ancestry that we went to West Africa, but there is another part of the Cannon history that drew us to Ghana. In 1978, Bob's uncle Ted Cannon (his dad's brother) and his wife Janath were called to serve an LDS mission in Ghana and Nigeria with another couple, Rendell and Rachel Mabey. The two senior couples were the first official LDS missionaries in West Africa, and what they found when they got there was astonishing, and I'll get to that story in a minute. First, a few words and pictures about our experience attending Sacrament Meeting in the Cape Coast 2nd Ward.

Unlike many of the other LDS buildings we had seen during our travels, this one wasn't the typical American-style architecture:
It looked more like a hotel or apartment building, and it's probably a lot more practical for Ghana than the more Westernized versions of an LDS chapel we had seen in other towns.There was a nice entry:
. . . with a nice barbed wire fence:
 . . . coupled with a welcoming sign. (However, I think you're only welcome if you come when the gate is open.)
 
We were welcomed as we drove up and parked, one of only two cars in the lot at the time:
 We posed for pictures by the main entrance:

 . . . and admired the neighborhood before going in:


The chapel had some western touches, but it was definitely not the same chapel we are used to at home. It was full of natural light, and open slats on the window blinds coupled with electric fans helped the air to circulate. When we arrived, priesthood members were busy preparing the sacrament table, and a few people were already seated. Note the group in white--students from BYU who were interning in Ghana.
We were there on the first Sunday of the month--a fast and testimony meeting. First there was the confirmation of five new members of the church, followed by a baby blessing. After the sacrament, there was a steady stream to the pulpit. What a joy it was to hear the members' testimonies, about half in Ghanaian English (which often sounded like a foreign language to Bob and me) and half in one of several native African languages. One woman read the words of "More Holiness Give Me" in English in the middle of her Ghanaian language testimony; another read a familiar verse from the Book of Mormon. Every now and then we would catch words like "Jesus Christ" or "Thomas Monson." One young man began his testimony in English, and then said the Spirit has no language and proceeded in an African language.

In addition, how wonderful to sing familiar hymns with this room full of very exuberant singers. With the open windows, the whole neighborhood must have enjoyed our music. A keyboard was used in place of an organ, and the young man playing was really good, adding chords, simple runs, and a between-verse interlude. In chatting with him after the service, we discovered that he had learned how to play while on his mission!

I wish I could have taken pictures of the ward members in their white shirts (men) and their vibrant colors (women). Unfortunately, it was neither the time nor the place. However, recently Shelley and Russ sent out some pictures in their family email of church members wearing their Sunday finery, and they gave me permission to post them here. The women are so beautiful.

Russ and Shelley said that the members usually dress very modestly, but the bare-shoulder look is popular in other churches.  I'm assuming that means this woman on the right in the picture above is not LDS.
James Ewudzie's niece and daughters (More about him later) 
Sisters and brother attending church in Accra
As in the United States, twins are frequently
dressed alike when they are young
One of my favorite pictures--the sisters in Accra wearing their "Latter-day Prophet" 
dresses to celebrate the Relief Society birthday
 Aren't these young ladies radiant?
Shelley said that this brother and sister are
both leaving on a mission at the same time.
Young Women and their leaders attending the Accra Temple
More Young Women in their Sunday best.
Shelley wrote, "A Perpetual Education Fund
recipient who is happy about getting
her loan approved." (Not a Sunday dress
photo, but isn't she beautiful?)
Many of the members in the Cape Coast Ward were similarly dressed in traditional African clothing. What a treat! I especially love the headwraps. They sure would save time on Bad Hair Day Sundays.

The other significant part of going to church in Cape Coast was that it gave us a glimpse of the early days of the church in Africa. When Bob and I got married, his uncle and aunt were walking these streets in Cape Coast as missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They returned to Utah a few months after our wedding with incredible stories about the miracles they had witnessed in Ghana.

For example, they had heard of a congregation organized and led by a man named Joseph Billy Johnson. He based the doctrine of his church on copies of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and Talmage's Articles of Faith, as well as a few Mormon tracts that had been given to him. Although he had never had the missionary discussions nor been officially baptized, he had been a tireless missionary for over ten years, converting many to his beliefs, and had founded a church in Cape Coast.

Without a lot to go on (there are no street signs, and it is very difficult to find one's way around, especially in an unfamiliar town), the Cannons and Mabeys were able to find Brother Johnson's meeting house, which was located in an old shed. Imagine their surprise when they went inside and discovered a life-sized reproduction of the Angel Moroni sculpture that adorns the top of many LDS Temples!
Ted and Janath's photo


Johnson had a copy of the old blue paperback Book of Mormon, the one with a picture of the Angel Moroni on the front. A sculptor had used that picture as the model for the statue. The Cannons and Mabeys noted other familiar things in the room, including a painting of Joseph Smith, a picture of the Tabernacle Choir, and a blackboard listing the Sunday hymns, including "Come, Come Ye Saints." Johnson had a full congregation just waiting for the missionaries.


In addition, a sign on the front of the building read "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Cape Coast":
Ted and Rendell immediately got busy interviewing the members of Brother Johnson's church, and eighty-nine people were baptized on December 9, 1978, in the ocean just east of Cape Coast. The next day, the first branch of the LDS church was organized in Cape Coast with Joseph Billy Johnson as Branch President. Two days later thirty-six more people were baptized, and then 125 two days after that, and before long a second branch was organized. By the time the Cannons and Mabeys left Africa, they had baptized 1,725 people and organized thirty-five branches and five districts in Ghana and Nigeria.
Another picture of the "chapel" with James Ewudzie standing on the left--the 
fourth person baptized in Ghana and the father and uncle of those beautiful girls in the picture above.
James Ewudzie with Russ Cannon
2013
On the Sunday we were in Cape Coast, Russ and Shelley took us to see the old shack-chapel. Russ had a copy of his parents' photo on his iPad, and we compared it to the present-day building:
Not much had changed. It still had its distinctive patchwork roof:
We peaked through the open doors. There was a congregation inside belting out some Christian hymn, but it was no longer an LDS church.
When Ted Cannon was baptizing all those people in Cape Coast, the very first members of the church in Ghana, he would not have known that Captain Cannon had twice traded slaves at Cape Coast Castle. While he knew his great-great-grandfather was the captain of a slave ship, Ted didn't know anything about where he had gone on his voyages. There were many places in Africa where slave ships stopped to trade. Even when Ted died in 2005, the extraordinary twist in his family history story had not yet come to light. Bob discovered the facts only a few years ago after years of research, making the unbelievable connection between a slave trader and a missionary separated by four generations and 185 years.

One last improbable piece of the puzzle that fell into place during our trip was the relative location of various parts of the story.
Incredibly, the old shack where Joseph Billy Johnson held his meetings and prayed for the Church to send missionaries was mere blocks inland from the slave castle, and the new LDS meetinghouse where we attended church was just a few more blocks beyond the shack. The proximity of those three significant places to each other was mind-boggling.
It seems no coincidence that these buildings are so close together--just another piece of Divine intervention. After all, what are the chances that a British slave ship captain and his American great-great-grandson would walk the same streets in Ghana but for such diametrically opposed purposes--one to imprison the body and break the spirit, and the other to bring the restored gospel to heal and bless? If I saw it it in a movie, I would think it impossible, and yet there it all is, right there on the map.


For a much more thorough discussion of Ted and Janath Cannon's LDS mission to Ghana, see Bob's post "Redemption of a Slave Trader: Captain George Q. Cannon and Edwin Q. Cannon, Jr." and the LDS.org post "A People Prepared."

4 comments:

  1. The proximity of Joseph Billy Johnson's first branch to Cape Coast Castle and the proximity of the current church building to the first branch was a wonderful surprise to me. I also came away with so much respect and admiration for Ted and Janath's year in Ghana and Nigeria. It was brutally hot and humid and extremely difficult to find things.

    ReplyDelete
  2. That's quite the missionary story! As always, fascinating reading. I, too, love the bright colors of the women's clothing, and you know, of course, that we used that photo of the sisters in the prophets' dress in one of our RS programs.

    ReplyDelete
  3. What a beautiful and moving story. The path of the church in Africa has been incredible.

    I do love those prophet dresses!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Nice post. The inside of the chapel reminds me of the décor I see in Mexican LDS chapels.

    ReplyDelete

http://www.bloggersentral.com/2012/11/pinterest-pin-it-button-on-image-hover.html