Missionaries from the Ghana Accra West Mission celebrated the new year with a new tradition — singing in the mall.
In Ghana — a nation of 25 million people designated as the most religious country in the world by a survey from the Pew Educational Trust in Philadelphia — the holiday tradition of Christmas caroling was imported by LDS Missionaries and carried into the new year.
“While Ghanaians enjoy music, no one has gone house to house before singing Christmas carols until now,” said Daniel Abeo, Stake President for the Accra Tesano Stake. “It is surprising to people here. It is so unusual to see anyone going round singing on street corners, in housing compounds, or on city streets. People stop and listen. Sometimes they join in. Sometimes they want to have their photos taken with the missionaries. Often they want to know more about this gospel.”
A year ago, the Ghana Accra West Mission began caroling in market areas, near LDS church buildings, and in parks. “People loved it,” said Joseph Ikoro who has since returned home to Nigeria from his mission in Ghana and is sharing the experience with members and friends there. “At first, local members did not know what we meant when we said ‘Let’s go Christmas caroling.’ So, we told them it was singing hymns and songs of praise in small groups outdoors during the festive season. It did not take long for even members to join in. At the New Town Ward, we planned 10 different locations to go caroling over 10 different days with members and missionaries. We all enjoyed it and were able to get a large number of investigators who were curious about what we were doing.”
Remembering last year’s success, the New Town Ward again planned Christmas caroling several times on a busy street near their building. “The New Town ward is ideally situated to sing Christmas carols since it is at a cross section of several major pedestrian walk ways. There are not a lot of entertainment options for many people in Accra so singing carols is a fun way both for passersby and missionaries to meet each other," said Elder Timothy Clark from Star, Idaho.
In late November, a new shopping mall opened in a suburb on the west side of Accra and so Elder Roger Wickham from Chubbuck, Idaho and Elder Keitumetse Moroke from Phokeng, South Africa decided to talk to the mall management about singing carols at the mall on Christmas eve.
“At first, when Elder Wickham explained things to them, the management didn’t get it. But since I had never sung Christmas carols in my home country until I came on a mission, it somehow seemed easier for me to explain it. Since Elder Wickham played in the BYU orchestra before his mission, he gave us some additional credibility that we would not have had otherwise," Elder Moroke said.
On Christmas Eve and again on New Year's Day, the missionaries from the Odorkor Zone gathered together at the mall, not knowing exactly what to expect. The mall was filled with shoppers. They started at opposite ends of the mall and began singing as they walked toward the mall entrance. Some people followed them; others stopped and looked over the handrail from the upper floor. Families gathered around them as they arrived at the entrance.
“The look on people’s faces was amazing," said Elder Henry Bwamble from Masaka, Uganda. “I was not on a mission last year and no one sings Christmas songs in public places like this back home so I was a little nervous about it all. I did not need to be worried. Sometimes people would stop and just admire what we were doing. At times, little children would come to hold our hands or just stand beside us. We all had kindhearted feelings that are hard to put into words, but we knew it was the Spirit of the Lord. In our mission, we have missionaries from 24 different countries so when a zone with 20 of us gets together; we are already an unusual sight. “
The missionaries did some things to appeal to the local audience that gathered as well. “I brought a locally made drum to play when we sang ‘Little Drummer Boy,’ " said Elder Kade Kochevar from Henderson, Nevada. ”There is a different beat that is used here and I seem to have picked it up rhythmically so it really shows that we understand the local culture. Then, we close by singing ‘How Great Thou Art' in Twi, a local language spoken in this part of Ghana,” he said.
With the closing song in a local language sung together by white and African missionaries from countries outside Ghana, the spectators spontaneously broke into applause and rushed the missionaries, shaking their hands, congratulating them, and asking questions about what they were doing in Ghana. Some thought they were professional musicians hired by the mall. Others made appointments to find out more about the gospel message. All had a great time.
“When I get home we are going to start singing Christmas carols in my home country,” said Elder Shingirai Svinurai, from Yellow City, Zimbabwe. “With missionaries from so many different places in Africa who are learning Christmas carols here while on a mission, this could start a whole new tradition in many, many different places.”