Friday, November 21, 2014

AFRICA: LDS CHURCH IN GHANA, PART II

Just a few miles east of Cape Coast is a secluded beach with a view of the Atlantic Ocean stretching to the far horizon. A line of rocks a dozen yards from the shore makes a nice wave break.
This is where the Cannons and Mabeys brought Joseph Billy Johnson and 88 members of his congregation to be baptized on December 9, 1978.

Rocky mounds on the shoreline provided privacy for changing into and out of baptismal clothes:

The group named the place Baptism Beach.  They waded out into the water in the area in front of those rocks for the baptisms:

Ted and Janet wrote in their personal memoir:
The water was warm and pleasant, [but] it was not always as deep as we would have liked it, especially when we had tall men and big women whose feet and knees wanted to come out when their heads went in. The swelling waves added to the difficulty, until a team system was begun, with one of the two officiators baptizing while the other held down the feet of the person being baptized. Some of the young men helped the women and children in and out of the water. Women on the shore held the babies that had been wrapped on their mothers' backs. That night Janath wrote in her journal, "What a glorious, exhausting day!"

Newly baptized members were confirmed at the waters edge, and the ordinances continued past sunset and into the night. Ted and Janath wrote:
The moon came out, casting a pale light on the beach. Fireflies and glow-worms sparkled in the dusk . . . "It was a lovely night," wrote Ted in his journal, "a memorable day. The people sang together as they walked back to town."


Here are two of Ted and Janath's pictures from Baptism Beach:
According to Russ Cannon, the baby in this picture is now (or has been?) the Bishop of one of the Cape Coast wards:
The next day, the first branch of the Church in Ghana was organized with Joseph Billy Johnson as branch president, James Ewudzie as his first counselor, and Edward Ewudzie as second counselor. Thirty-one men were ordained to the Aaronic priesthood.

The next day, another baptism took place at Baptism Beach, just thirty-six converts this time, Ghanaians who had walked six miles to Cape Coast from their village and arrived too late for the first baptism. They were led by the prophetess Martha Mills, one of Billy Johnson's converts. 

In 2009, some of those original members of the Church who had been baptized here had a reunion on Baptism Beach:
That's Joseph Billy Johnson in the center front with the open-collar white shirt, and the man to his right who raises his hand during the singing is James Ewudzie. These are pioneers in the truest sense of the word, and they have earned the right to sing this pioneer anthem! Their singing so perfectly exemplifies the delightful exuberance of the Ghanaian Saints. I love the joyful "Amen!" at the very end.  (Note: This video was taken by Elder Tylon Carton, who served in the Ghana Cape Coast Mission  from 2008 to 2010. His father told me he had a wonderful experience there. I think I could watch this video 100 times in a row and never tire of it!)

Unfortunately there were no such goings on when we were there, although we did enjoy watching these stately pied crows in their very proper white vests:

We also shared the moment with a man using the remote beach as a slaughter site for a few goats, which he had eviscerated on the rocks:
He was washing the body cavities in a tidal pool, and he didn't seem to mind that we were watching, but he did keep his back to us:

Hooded vultures waiting to be seated at a table so that they could dine on the entrails did somewhat spoil the spirit of the place:
Unlike his friend at the water's edge, another man waiting in a ramshackle building at the entrance to the cove posed, unbidden and somewhat cavalierly, for a photo:
In addition to paying little mind to the butcher and his vulture pals, we also tried to ignore the detritus on the periphery of the beach. This place could use a good Mormon Helping Hands Service Day.
In spite of all the distractions, the rugged and lonely scenery made it easy to imagine what had transpired here almost thirty-six years before.
I would like to have been a crow on a rock on that day in 1978 (kind of like a fly on the wall), but we'll have to settle for having experienced it second-hand as tourists on the sand:
One other stop we made was the Roseville Villa that Ted and Janath Cannon lived in when they were in Cape Coast. Joseph Billy Johnson arranged for the rental and the furnishings.


Janath described the house as having a covered porch overlooking the ocean and luxuriant, yellow-flowered green bushes falling down the steep hillside to a church steeple, palm trees, and fishing village shacks that looked picturesque from the heights. Those heights prevented running water from reaching the Roseville pipes, and the only air conditioning was the ocean breeze. But the breeze kept out mosquitos, and water could be hauled in jerry cans up the hill by car, so that was no big problem.
Ted and Janath's son Russell and wife Shelley in front of Roseville, June 2014:
The once open-air porch has now been screened in, but if you look at the older picture, you can see where Ted is sitting under the portico as he converses with Billy Johnson:
We also visited the house next door, the home of William and Charlotte Acquah. In the years before the Cannons and Mabeys arrived in Ghana and while Billy Johnson was building his congregation, Lily Andoh-Kesson, Charlotte Acquah's mother, cleaned the chapel before meetings and fed and housed Billy Johnson, freeing his time for missionary work.
Lily was in the first group baptized on December 9, 1978, at Baptism Beach with Billy Johnson and others. While we were on the property with the Roseville Villa and the Acquah home, we met Lily's grandson, the son of William and Charlotte Acquah, and Russ was able to share with him some of the pictures of the early days of the church that he keeps on his iPad:
Russ shared this great story with us about the Acquahs:
William and Charlotte's daughter Wilmina Baaba works in the Accra Temple and had previously told us an interesting story about the Roseville villa in Cape Coast. Baaba's father, William Acquah, was adamantly opposed to the Mormons being in Cape Coast and probably thought his mother-in-law, Lily, was crazy giving money and refuge to Billy Johnson. William would try to disrupt Johnson's church meetings and even tried to burn the few copies of the Book of Mormon that were used by the group of unbaptized believers.  According to Baaba, her father learned about the missionaries living right next door and determined to walk over and tell the Obruni [white person or foreigner] missionaries to go back home to America. Elder Clegg and his wife [missionaries who overlapped with and replaced the Cannons] were in Roseville at the time, and William walked next door and knocked on Elder Clegg's door.

Elder Clegg opened the door and greeted William with a handshake and a warm welcome into their home. He told William that they were both children of the same God and that they were brothers. William was caught off guard when treated as a long-lost brother and could not bring himself to deliver his intended message. These were not the wicked Mormons from America that he expected to drive away from Ghana. He eventually made friends with his new neighbors and investigated the strange new church. The combination of his new friends next door and the Book of Mormon that he had tried to burn led to his conversion. He was baptized by Elder Clegg in early 1980 and later became a counselor in the branch presidency when James Ewudzie was branch president.

William and Charlotte raised their seven children in the Church and six of the children have served missions. The youngest daughter, Theodora Fritsewa, also plans to serve when she is old enough. William converted two of Charlotte's brothers who are now Stake Patriarchs in Cape Coast and Accra.

Russ concluded, I'm glad that the old Roseville Villa still stands today with the rapidly expanding Acquah family still living next door as an example of how an angry neighbor can be turned into a close friend and brother-in-the-Gospel.
Charlotte and William Acquah,
painted by Emmalee Glauser

L: Theodora Fritsewa Acquah when she was eight years old.
R: Charlotte Acquah and Theodora (age 15 and still planning to
serve a mission) on a recent visit with Russ and Shelley in Accra.
There was so much to see as we walked around the Roseville and Acquah property, set on a high hill overlooking Cape Coast, as previously noted by Janath:
Cape Coast Castle, where Captain Cannon dropped anchor and did business, is readily visible from Roseville. Again, if only Ted had known of the Castle's bizarre role in his family history. O for a time warp to place the two men--Ted and his great-great-grandfather-- in each other's presence.
Come to think of it, it's also pretty incredible that Ted and Janath's son Russell and their daughter-in-law Shelley were standing on the Cape Coast property where Ted and Janath once lived. Another time warp possibility!

As we looked around, we could see a small house across the way . . .
. . . with an elementary school in between. George Ekem Ferguson, who died in 1897, was a African surveyor and cartographer who had been educated in London.
Much like the map of the fifty United States mural at my children's elementary school, there is a map of the African countries painted on the school wall (47 if you count just the countries on the continent, 53 if you add the islands off the coast):
But the most delightful scene was the children. I have no idea who they were or where they lived, but they were ebulliently exploding all around us . . . 
. . . and absolutely thrilled to pose for photos:





They were also natural and completely uninhibited performers. 

Who can turn away from such enthusiasm? What role will they play in their country's future?

2 comments:

  1. Very fun to make connections to Ted and Janath, with Russ and Shelley. The children in Africa were so friendly and uninhibited. Baptism Beach is not as warm and friendly today as it was then. You'll note that bare rock now stands where sand used to be. I think the fact that it has turned into an area for a slaughterhouse has denigrated it.

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  2. Imagine being part of that original missionary effort in Africa--it must have been life-changing. I like the baptismal spot-wild and colorful like the country it's in. Those children at the end are delightful.

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