This letter was written by Alice Haney.
My father, Billy Johnson, known to many as the first leader of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ghana, was a very simple, but unusual, soul with an unusual grace. Billy Johnson was a person that I have studied and pondered over and over. Through this studying, I have come into full understanding that “many are called but few are chosen.”
Because of Billy’s humility, loyalty and perseverance, God was able to use him as an instrument in bringing the Church to Ghana. Heavenly Father also endowed Billy with the gift of revelation, prophecy and healing to serve his children in Ghana. By the time the missionaries arrived in 1978, my father had prepared over 1,000 people to receive the gospel and be baptized in 10 different congregations. Some of the early missionaries called him the “St. Paul of Ghana.”
One early morning in March 1964 while Billy was about to get up to prepare for his daily chores, the Spirit of the Lord fell upon him. He heard a voice from heaven speaking to him saying, “Johnson, if you will take up my word as I will command you to your people, I will bless you and bless your land.” Trembling in fear, he replied in tears, saying, “Lord, by thy own help, I will do whatsoever thou would command me.”
My father was a very prayerful man. He prayed wherever he was. As kids, my little brother Brigham and I were curious about why he prayed so often, so we used to sit behind his closed doors to listen to what he was telling Heavenly Father. But when we grew up, we realized that prayer was his source of strength. Constant fasting was his spiritual weapon, and if any of my siblings or the church members contacted Dad with a problem, he would not hesitate to declare two or three days of fasting to inquire of the Lord for a solution.
My dad in all his life did not mock God; he strictly followed the commandments and tried to serve others. When I was growing up, the church and all its activities were the center of my life. My family was among the first group baptized when missionaries arrived in our country since my father had been organizing congregations of the church on his own for years. The first two senior missionary couples assigned to Ghana were Rendell and Rachel Mabey and Ted and Janath Cannon. I was baptized by Elder Mabey and confirmed by Elder Cannon.
I was blessed to grow up around members who were striving to be to do their best. I observed the struggles, many fasting and prayers of the early saints in Cape Coast, Takoradi, Moree and Assin Fosu under the direction of my father just waiting for the missionaries to visit our soil. Indeed I also witnessed God answering those prayers.
As a little child these experiences strengthened my faith in God and I have never doubted Heavenly Father’s powers and faithfulness toward his children. My testimony of the love of God became even stronger at the end of my father’s life. Heavenly Father’s grace was in abundance. He was a poor man but patient and very honest with God and his fellow man. Greed was not part of his conduct, a quality that I have vowed to emulate and teach my daughter. [Proverbs 19: 1-2]. He lived happily serving God until the end of his life.
Although he had his share of life’s challenges and disappointments, he did not allow these obstacles to sway him from his calling. I am grateful to my Father in Heaven for giving me the opportunity to witness my dad’s preparation for eternity. Living under the same roof with my father for his last three years on earth and the experiences that I gained is a treasure I will hold dear until I meet with him again. He was a faithful disciple of God.
No one visited Billy with a problem and returned home with it. The sick were healed, the paralyzed received strength, the dead were raised and the mad healed. All witnessed the miracles of God through a man with the deepest respect for and strong faith in God. [Luke 5:17]. My father’s enthusiastic devotion to God and the restored gospel kindled my eagerness and ardent interest to also serve that God that my father loved so much. Hence at 18 I applied to serve a mission.
Immediately after graduating from high school in Ghana, I was called to serve a full time mission in my own country. I was just 18. In September of 1988, I reported to the MTC at Accra Osu Christiansburg excited but at the same time full of emotion. Serving a full time mission had just been introduced in Ghana and there was just a hand full of returned missionaries to ask for their experiences. Being the first to serve from my family, I was very anxious about this imminent event.
Although I was spiritually prepared to serve the Lord, I was not completely prepared emotionally to leave my family for the first time. My first few days at the MTC were very challenging, but I was blessed with dynamic instructors at the time, Brothers Ezra Sekyere and Ignatius Amoah, two returned missionaries who played the dual role of instructors and counselors for all the missionaries. Sister Cecilia Brobby, a cook at the MTC, became a substitute mother who continuously helped me to adjust to my soon-to-be new life. It was a blessing also to have three devoted MTC brothers from the same district and ward who were of great support to each other. One of these brothers, Elder Steven Amoah, ended up becoming my zone leader; a very hard working one.
How grateful I am to these individuals who contributed so much to my mission journey. I need to point out that I was not the only one who was a “home sicker”. The home sickness gradually diminished as I learned the magnitude of the work I was about to be part of and also allowed the spirit to take control.
Part of my anxiety was because I did not know where I was going to serve. At the MTC, the sister missionaries shared an apartment with the American couple missionaries, Elder Raymond Tenhove and his wife Roslyn. This couple played a very important role in our lives, especially my mission life; they were my parents away from home. My Father in Heaven always provided someone on my path to aid in my life mission, and I am very grateful for that.
One unique things about my mission was that none of the missionaries during my MTC attended the temple before serving. We all served a mission without temple endowment just as it happened to the early pioneers. Nevertheless, we were to become instruments in the hand of God.
I served under President Gilbert Petramelo and his wife, Gretchen. My first assigned area was Koforidua in the eastern region of Ghana, “the most fertile field” I experienced during my mission. My senior companion, Doe Kaku, now a member of the Cape Coast, Ghana, Stake Relief Society Presidency, and I were the first sister missionaries to ever serve in this area. I was blessed with a companion who was spiritually inclined, and we connected so well in terms of following the promptings of the spirit.
With constant prayers and fasting, we were very successful in tracking, teaching the gospel, and baptisms. We did suffer our fair share of persecutions but our successes outweighed our persecutions. We were blessed with multiple baptisms almost every month but needless to mention that not all our discussions resulted in baptismal commitment. There was one occasion when we had a chance to meet Elder Pace who was visiting Ghana. He had a chat with my companion and me. Then he asked, “How many people do you have in your teaching poll?” When we answered, “Sixty-six,” he was pleasantly surprised.
I became an instrument in the hands of the Lord for bringing over a hundred souls to Christ. This work is spiritual; and it takes spirituality to accomplish it. Bringing souls to Christ can never be accomplished without the spirit of God.
The death of a Bishop in London brought about the salvation to many in a small African Village.
One of my most humble moments occurred while serving in Koforidua, when a senior couple from England, Elder and Sister Reeves, were assigned to serve in the same branch with us. The Reeves’s past bishop in England, Bishop Danso, was a native of Ghana, and when this good bishop lost his battle with a terminal illness, his remains were sent to Ghana to be buried in his home town, which is located near Koforidua.
When the Reeves were called to serve in Koforidua, this beloved ward in England asked the Reeves to lay a wreath on his grave. This act of kindness opened a marvelous work. My companion and I, the Reeves, and the branch president of Koforidua, Richard K. Ahajie, travelled to Akim Mase, a little town of the late bishop; that was a memorable moment.
This late bishop, Twum Danso, was a royal so we needed to obtain permission to visit the royal cemetery. Therefore, we visited the “Akim Mase” palace and met with the chief and his elders. The Reeves informed the chief and palace authorities of the purpose of their visit and also their desire to share the gospel. We were permitted to visit the cemetery to lay the wreath and then we were paraded thru the town with the help of the king’s men. We later scheduled a date with the palace to introduce the gospel to the community leaders, which was a week after the visit and it was a sight to behold.
The first discussion took place at the palace and it was a mass discussion. Most of our investigators were the school teachers of the town; most of whom eventually accepted the gospel and committed for baptism. Our first baptism was 30 converts, followed by 27 and then 21 souls who entered the waters of baptism. Most of these converts became the first leaders of the group at Akim Mase. The death of Bishop Manso in England indirectly saved dozens of wonderful people in a distant village and the thoughtfulness of a single ward expedited the salvation of a large group of new converts. What a caring God we serve!
In April 1989, my parents were called to serve a full time mission. They attended the England London MTC and returned to Ghana to serve at Koforidua, the same area where I was serving. In fact, we were serving in the same ward together! I was living about two miles away from my parents.
Just a few weeks into their mission and my ninth month on my mission, June 14th 1989, the government of Ghana banned the church’s activities for allegedly conducting ourselves in a manner that undermined the sovereignty of Ghana. I was proselyting with my companion sister Hetty Brimah when the news was broadcast to the public, but we were not aware of it. We soon realized that a lot of people were staring at us (more than usual), and my companion commented, “Why is everybody looking at us?” I ignorantly responded, “Because we just came out of the hair salon and we look beautiful.”
Immediately when we reached home, our landlord, the late Patriarch D. K. Boateng, told us that we needed to report to the local mission home (my parents’ home). My dad, Elder Billy Johnson, told us the sad news and advised us to gather our personal belongings, for we all needed to report to the Accra Mission home early in the morning. My dad was very calm when he told us the news and there was a period of silence. He later became very defiant and exclaimed, “This is the work of the devil, and we must fight him with prayers and fasting.” When we reached the Accra Mission headquarters early in the morning, the yard was packed with missionaries; a sight I will never forget in my lifetime. There was not a single dry eye; everybody was crying.
On July 12th 1989, all missionaries [including myself] were honorably released to go home until further notice. My parents were the only missionaries serving in disguise; they continued their full-time mission without wearing their name tags. Their mission was to strengthen the members during this period; to get them to hold on to their faith and wait for the reopening of the church.
Returning home suddenly from mission after just ten months was a very confusing moment in my life. I felt like I was losing everything of significance in my life. I couldn’t go back to school immediately due to the time of the year, and I could not find work. All the returned missionaries faced the same challenge. I was very desirous to complete my mission as I vowed to my Father in Heaven, but since I wasn’t sure when the ban would be lifted, I decided to find temporary employment while I waited.
Within a few months, I was offered a job at Cadbury Ghana limited western region as marketing and sales associate by Benjamin Abbey, a marketing manager who was one of the returned missionaries.
During this waiting period, I decided to prepare for my future life as well, so I enrolled in an evening remedial class to retake math and biology to further my education. I was successful with my remedial classes and gained admission to attend Holy Child Teachers Training College.
On September 1990, before the first semester ended, the Ghanaian government finally lifted the 18-month freeze on the church effective November 1990. I felt obligated to return to complete my mission, so when I returned home for the Christmas holidays, I did not go back to school. I put my education on hold to complete my first priority in life, “to serve God”.
I returned to complete my mission in early February 1991 under the presidency of Grant Gunnell and his wife. When I returned to the mission field for the second time, I fully understood why my spirit was so eager to complete my obligation to God. After the freeze there was no MTC in Ghana for about six months, so all the previously serving missionaries just picked up their scriptures and went off to the mission home, and then to the field without any problems. But problems soon started erupting when the new missionaries arrived without any training. Their behavior needed immediate attention. I suddenly became the new female missionaries’ trainer as well as assisting those who needed special encouragement to stay focused. I was very successful on both of my missions, because I tried as much as I could to be in tune with the spirit. I submitted to the Lord’s will and learned to listen as the Spirit directed. I was finally released from my mission on March 12th 1992, serving an additional 13 months. In total, I served 22 months in my mission.
In January 1997, I was blessed to travel to the United States to attend BYU-Hawaii under the work-study program. Due to life changes, I moved to New Jersey and transferred to New Jersey Institute of Technology to complete my Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering Technology and Masters of Science in Information Systems. I met and married my husband Vernon O. Haney, and we have been blessed with a precious gift, my daughter Veronica Haney.
The gospel has always been the very core of my life through the numerous callings. From Sunday school teacher, ward missionary, word music chair, a member of the Relief Society presidency, and a leader of the stake African members. I have followed the promptings of the spirit and acted accordingly, which has resulted in conversion and saving spiritual lives.
Active participation in the church has been my greatest source of strength and support. So far away from home, my Heavenly Father blessed me with multiple substitute parents in my New Jersey ward who showed and continue to express genuine interest in my life and my many pursuits. I am so grateful to these individuals in the church whose examples have helped me to continue on the path of righteousness.
I moved with my family to Virginia a little over a year and a half ago. After meeting with the bishop, I was called to serve as a ward missionary. Within the same month, an invitation was extended by the stake president to meet with him. During the meeting, he expressed his concern about the welfare of the African converts in our stake and extended a calling to me. My calling was to form a committee and come up with annual programs which will help the Africans to feel more involved. I willingly accepted the calling.
With the help of eight committee members, we have organized three social activities which were quite successful. We have been able to keep in touch with each other and offer immediate help to those within our reach. With the help of the mission presidents and senior missionary couples, many active African members within the Mount Vernon Stake have been prepared to be temple-worthy, receive their endowments and be sealed with their families.
Sister Alice Haney