President Gordon B. Hinckley announced plans Feb. 16 for a temple to be built in Ghana, the Church's first temple in west Africa. Announcement of the new temple came at a member meeting in Ghana's capital city, Accra, the second official stop on the Church leader's five-nation African tour. (See related article on this page.)
The announcement by President Hinckley, the first president of the Church to visit west Africa, came after he challenged members to make a special effort to fellowship new converts to the Church. "Put your arms around them, make them feel at home. Teach them the doctrines of the kingdom. Befriend them and help them in every way possible," he said. "I make you a promise that if you will do that you will be blessed with a temple in your midst."Earlier that morning, President Hinckley had visited a prospective temple site in Accra with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve and Elder James O. Mason of the Seventy and president of the Africa Area.
Then, at an outdoor gathering of some 6,700 members assembled in Accra's Independence Square that afternoon, President Hinckley said: "You've gone a long time without a temple. When I was here five years ago (as a member of the First Presidency), we tried to find a place to build a temple. We didn't find anything and we didn't say anything to anybody."
But efforts Monday, Feb. 16, were more fruitful. "This morning we approved the purchase of a beautiful piece of ground," President Hinckley announced. The 3.6-acre site is in a residential neighborhood on one of Accra's main thoroughfares.
The first person to hear the news was Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings, who met with President Hinckley shortly after noon at the presidential home in Accra. "We're going to do more building here to accommodate our people. We'll likely build a temple," the Church leader told President Rawlings.
The Ghanaian president told President Hinckley that he was supportive of the Church and its objectives. The remarks were particularly meaningful because the Ghanaian government shut the Church down in 1989 after it was wrongfully reported that Latter-day Saints were working against the government. Church buildings were locked and guarded by police, members could hold Church meetings only in the privacy of their own homes, and foreign missionaries were expelled from the country.
The ban was lifted Dec. 1, 1990. However, the meeting on Feb. 16, 1998, between Ghana's national leader and the Church leader officially closed the 1989 matter. "I must take back some of the conflicting signals," President Rawlings said.
The new temple will take several years to complete, President Hinckley told the congregation assembled in Independence Square. "When it's completed you won't have to travel all the way to London, or all the way to Johannesburg, to have the blessings of the Lord."
President Hinckley encouraged members, in the meantime, to ready themselves by obtaining temple recommends.
For Joseph W.B. Johnson, news of the temple is something he has waited 15 years for. He is one of the Church's pioneers in west Africa, having in 1964 started a congregation patterned after the Church after he read LDS literature and the Book of Mormon. He and others in his unofficial congregation were baptized after the missionaries arrived in Ghana in 1978. (See page 10 for a brief history of the Church in west Africa.)
Brother Johnson said that he had a dream several years after he was baptized that the spirits of people who had died asked him what he was doing for them. "What could I do?" he pondered, not having access to a temple.
"Now we can start doing the temple work for those of our ancestors," he said after President Hinckley announced the temple.
Elder Holland characterized the Ghanaian Saints as pioneers, but pointed out differences between contemporary Church pioneers and those of times past.
"For many dispensations we gathered. We often left homelands to go to other locations," he said. "That was more or less true of every dispensation until this last and greatest of all dispensations.
"And now, as it were, we stay and grow and develop in our own lands in our countries, in our own communities, in our own nations and neighborhoods and cities. And the times are such and the circumstances are such that the president of the Church can come to us. There's no way you could all go to Salt Lake City. There's no way any of the other nations of the world or the members thereof could travel to Salt Lake City. But what a wonderful day and age that President Hinckley can come and bless you here, and that we stay and plant ourselves and grow and develop and pass that great Latter-day Saint tradition on to our children and our grandchildren . . . to grow wherever we are."
Patience and resourcefulness are hallmarks of the Saints in west Africa.
On Nov. 8, 1978, the Church's first official delegation to visit west Africa brought news of the priesthood and the pending establishment of the Church in Nigeria and Ghana. It was news entire congregations, most of them unbaptized followers, had been fasting and praying for.
Now nearly 20 years later, on Monday, Feb. 16, President Hinckley brought news that a temple would soon be built in Ghana. This is also news for which Latter-day Saint congregations here have been specifically fasting and praying.