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Descendants of Latter-day Saint pioneer and missionaries in Ghana become missionary companions

Then-Elder Rendell N. Mabey baptized faithful pioneer Billy Johnson in the ocean in 1978. Now a great-grandson and grandson are serving in the Accra Ghana Mission together

When two full-time missionaries became companions in the Accra Ghana Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they found a shared history that has its roots in the very beginnings of the Church not only in Ghana, but in all of West Africa.

Elder Martell Johnson, from the Twifu Hemang Branch in the Twifu Praso Ghana District, is the grandson of Joseph William “Billy” Johnson — the first member of the Church in Ghana.

And Elder Ezra LaBelle, from the Valley View 5th Ward in the Salt Lake Valley View Stake, is the great-grandson of Rendell N. Mabey — who baptized Billy Johnson.

Beginning in the late 1940s, people in West Africa began hearing about the restored gospel and wrote to Church headquarters for more information. In 1964, Billy Johnson found a copy of the Book of Mormon in Ghana and was converted. He began preaching the gospel and starting congregations.

Johnson and others faithfully studied, prayed, petitioned Church headquarters and prepared others to receive the gospel as well.

In 1978 the revelation extending the priesthood to all worthy male members ages 12 and older, regardless of race, was received. President Spencer W. Kimball called a couple missionary — Elder Rendell N. Mabey and Sister Rachel Mabey — and sent them to Ghana. They found hundreds of people waiting to be baptized.

In December of 1978, Elder Mabey baptized Johnson in the ocean near Cape Coast, Ghana.

Two missionaries stand with Billy Johnson in the center and many others behind them all in white before a baptism.
Elder Rendell N. Mabey, left, Billy Johnson, center, and Elder Edwin Cannon at the first baptism in Cape Coast, Ghana, in December 1978. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Although Elder LaBelle never met his great-grandfather, and Billy Johnson died when Elder Johnson was very young, both are aware of the significance of this event in 1978.

Said Elder Johnson in February 2024, “Where I am today is because of the faith of my grandfather through many trials and great suffering.”

Both young missionaries recognize how much their ancestors contributed to the development of the Church in West Africa, reported the Church’s Africa Newsroom.

“We have a great history here, and through us, the gospel work continues to march onwards,” said Elder LaBelle. “Focusing on our history will hopefully provide inspiration to others.”

The Mabeys served in Ghana and Nigeria until October 1979. After Johnson’s baptism, he was ordained as a priest and called as the first branch president in Ghana. He later became the first district president. He served faithfully in the Church until his death in 2012.

The branches that Johnson and the Mabeys helped organize together formed the heart of the early Church in the area.

Two missionaries riding bikes in Ghana.
Elder Martell Johnson, left, and Elder Ezra LaBelle, right, are mission companions in the Ghana Accra Mission in February 2024. Elder LaBelle's great-grandfather baptized Elder Johnson's grandfather in 1978 in Ghana. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The latest statistics list 101,924 members of the Church in Ghana. The Accra Ghana Temple is currently operating with two more temples announced for the country.

And in the Africa West Area, there are 465,000 members of the Church with 141 stakes and many districts, reported Africa Newsroom. The area has 21 missions with three new missions opening in July. Besides the operating and announced temples in Ghana, the Aba Nigeria Temple is currently operating and there are three temples under construction and two other temples announced in the area.

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