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Some historical highlights of Church in Nigeria, Ghana

West Africa, particularly the nations of Nigeria and Ghana, are among some of the most fruitful fields of labor in the Church. President Gordon B. Hinckley's visits to Nigeria and Ghana - part of a five-nation African tour - will be remembered for many years as a historic event.

Following are historical highlights of the Church in Nigeria and Ghana, with some glimpses of the countries' peoples and traditions.

NIGERIA

Nigeria is located on the west coast of Africa bordering the Gulf of Guinea. Nigeria is to Africa what the United States is to the world, Nigerians are fond of saying. One of every four Africans is a Nigerian, and this country has the highest level of industry on the continent, aside from South Africa. The nation is about half Christian and half Muslim. It is peopled by some 250 tribes, speaking mostly Hausa, Yoruba and Ibo. English is spoken widely.

Nigerians are "doers" who fill the roads early in the morning on their way to work. Assertive, they insist on their right of way as they drive cars and motorbikes, weaving in and out of traffic. Yet, Nigeria is a spiritually active nation with more than three-fourths of its population attending religious services on a weekly basis, the highest attendance rate in the world.

Signs advertising churches cluster the roads, and new congregations spring up overnight. Clapping, singing and drumming are part of a typical worship service. People attend some denominations every evening.

In this environment, quiet Latter-day Saint meetings stand in stark contrast.

In earlier days, letters arrived from Nigeria inquiring about the Church, some as early as 1946. Groups of people began meeting unofficially in the Church's name, and through the years some of them wrote to Church headquarters requesting missionaries. Glen G. Fisher, returning from serving as president of the South Africa Mission, visited Nigeria in 1960 and reported that the groups were sincere and recommended sending missionaries. However, attempts to send missionaries were thwarted because visas were unavailable. LDS Sunday Schools were organized in 1966.

The historic revelation on the priesthood, announced June 9, 1978, was the catalyst for the start of missionary work in Nigeria. In August, just two months after the revelation on the priesthood, Merrill Bateman and Edwin Q. "Ted" Cannon were sent by the Church to west Africa on a fact-finding trip. On Nov. 8, 1978, Elder Cannon, with his wife, Janath, and Rendell N. and Rachel Mabey arrived in Nigeria as representatives of the Church's International Mission. They soon searched out and taught the gospel to people who had been meeting in the Church's name and praying for the coming of its representatives. The first baptized was Anthony Ozodimma Obinna, one of those who had waited many years for the coming of the missionaries. By early 1980, more than 1,700 converts were baptized in the two countries.

Brother Obinna died Aug. 25, 1995. His funeral in Aboh Mbaise, Nigeria, drew a huge congregation, and a homemade mortar provided a gun salute.

The Africa West Mission was organized July 1, 1980. The name was changed to Nigeria Lagos Mission July 1, 1985. The Nigeria Port Harcourt Mission was established July 1, 1988, and the Nigeria Enugu Mission was organized July 1, 1992.

LDS membership is skyrocketing in the area as congregations can double in a year's time. One ward with an attendance of about 350 divided in November 1997, reducing it to an attendance of about 150. By this month (February) it had an attendance of more than 300, although not all are baptized members. Another ward recorded 84 convert baptisms in 1997.

As of year-end 1997, there were 33,000 members of the Church in Nigeria in eight stakes and 150 wards and branches.

GHANA

A republic, Ghana is located on the south central west coast of Africa and has a population of 52 percent Christian; 30 percent tribal; and 13 percent Muslim.

In the 1950s, various pamphlets about the Church found their way to Ghana that were read by Ghanaians, who believed the pamphlets and used them as the basis to start their LDS-like congregations. Ghanaians also learned of the Church as they visited other countries. Pricilla Sampson-Davis, for example, received a copy of the Book of Mormon from missionaries during a visit to the Netherlands in 1963, from which she gained a testimony. In 1964, Joseph W. B. Johnson gained a testimony of the Book of Mormon and began organizing congregations. As early as 1960, President David O. McKay attempted to have leaders visit these sincere but unauthorized congregations, but the leaders were unable to obtain visas.

Edwin Q. "Ted" Cannon and his wife, Janath, and Rendell N. Mabey and his wife, Rachel, entered Ghana as representatives of the Church's International Mission in 1978, shortly after the revelation on the priesthood. They met and baptized Sister Sampson-Davis shortly after their arrival. Brother Johnson and many of his congregations were baptized. A building program began in 1979.

Within a year, more than 400 people had been baptized, and branches were organized. By 1981, seven branches functioned in Ghana. The first president of the mission, Pres. Bryan Espenschied, and his successor, Pres. Sylvester Cooper, saw that all converts were taught the gospel in their own language, and trained in leadership skills.

One of the early converts was Dr. Emmanuel Abu Kissi, a physician who established a clinic supported by friends of the Church. A number of humanitarian projects were completed by the Church in Ghana in the 1980s.

Growth continued and by 1983, the number of branches increased to 28. The Africa West Mission was organized July 1, 1980, and the Ghana Accra Mission July 1, 1985. By 1987, membership reached 5,500.

In the 1990s, humanitarian efforts have focused on member self-reliance. A number of projects were undertaken through local initiative by members in districts and stakes. Some 90 percent of meetinghouses in Ghana have some form of gardening activity going on.

Members are also reaching out in compassionate service, as exemplified by Relief Society sisters of the Kumasi District of the Ghana Accra Mission. Among service endeavors was a visit to an orphanage, where they taught children a Primary song, presented gifts and played games.

Compassionate service to and in this African nation continues, such as bales of clothing being sent from Salt Lake City for distribution of the Ghana Accra Mission.

As of the year-end 1997, there were 16,000 members of the Church in Ghana, in four stakes and 57 wards and branches.