A People Prepared: Latter-day Saints in West Africa


Anthony Obinna of Nigeria had a dream in 1965 of a beautiful building. “A personage appeared to me three times,” he said. “He took me to the beautiful building and showed me everything in it.” Anthony never forgot that dream, and later, when he came across a picture of the same building in an old copy of Reader’s Digest, he recognized it. It was the Salt Lake Temple.

He wrote to Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, for information about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then continued to correspond. As he and others in his area learned of the gospel, they began to meet together in worship services and tried to live the gospel as best they could. It is no surprise that in 1978, when the first official Latter-day Saint missionaries arrived in West Africa, Anthony Obinna became the first native of Nigeria to be baptized in that country.

Brother Obinna was only one of hundreds of West Africans who had been previously prepared to receive the gospel. These early converts were readied in a variety of ways. Some West Africans traveled to other countries, learned of the gospel while there, and then brought information back with them. Others learned from West Africans who already believed in the gospel. In these ways, congregations with testimonies of the Book of Mormon gathered in both Nigeria and Ghana. These individuals were not taught by full-time missionaries, and several of the congregations were unknown to each other.

Simultaneously, between the years of 1959 and 1978, some Latter-day Saints lived in West Africa and worked on business or educational projects. Among those who became unofficial goodwill ambassadors were Virginia Cutler, a Brigham Young University faculty member who helped establish a home economics program at the University of Ghana, and Barnard Silver, who, with his wife, Cherrie, managed a cane sugar agro-industrial complex in the interior of the Ivory Coast. And Merrill J. Bateman of Provo, Utah, now a member of the Seventy, taught at the University of Ghana and later worked there. The friendships these people and others developed in West Africa eventually helped the Church acquire official recognition there.

In late 1978, the Church formally entered West Africa. The June 1978 revelation announcing that all worthy males could be ordained to the priesthood paved the way for African congregations to be led by their own members and to enjoy full gospel blessings. Within the first year, and with only three missionary couples, more than 1,700 people were baptized in West Africa.

The gospel “falls on a prepared people—a people prepared by the Spirit of God,” says Elder Alexander B. Morrison of the Seventy. “Anxious to learn and quick to understand, attentive and responsive, spiritually sensitive, thirsty for the living water and hungry for the bread of life, they long have been in preparation for this day.” (Ensign, Nov. 1987, p. 25.)

Since those early missionaries in 1978, hundreds of others, mostly couples from the United States and Canada, have followed. Large numbers of young men and women from West Africa have also served as missionaries in their own countries and abroad. West Africa stands as one of the new frontiers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today.

Following are works of art of Church members in West Africa from “A People Prepared: Latter-day Saints in West Africa,” an exhibit of the Church’s Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City. The items, which are among the earliest visual expressions of gospel testimonies from Latter-day Saints in West Africa, add to the growing treasure of international Latter-day Saint art—a testimony that the truths of the restored gospel are applicable in all cultures.

Happy Family string art

“Happy Family” string art, representing the whole family of God from all nations, is one of the first pieces of Latter-day Saint folk art created in Nigeria.

A hand-carved Nigerian mahogany dish

A hand-carved Nigerian mahogany dish was made by President Anietie Isaac Etuadudo from the Abak Branch, Uyo District, Nigeria Aba Mission.

Batiks which document familiar Church activities Batiks which document familiar Church activities

In 1992, Emil Wilson, a Latter-day Saint from Sierra Leone, created these batiks which document familiar Church activities: priesthood ordination and attending church.

Map of Nigeria

Church members in Cross River State (CRS), Nigeria, created this banner, which includes a map of Nigeria showing the various political divisions within the country.

Dress made at Deseret Fashion Shop

A dress made at the Deseret Fashion Shop.

Picture cloth of African village

Abu Conteh, currently a branch president in Nigeria, created this picture cloth depicting an African village. He sold this and similar picture cloths in order to finance his mission to Sierra Leone.

[photos] Left: This Nigerian cane, symbolic of leadership, was given to President Spencer W. Kimball. Clockwise from right: A chapel in Cape Coast, Ghana, built and used before the Church officially entered the area, contains symbols of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including a cement statue of the angel Moroni.

[photo] Border: Kenti cloth, a symbol of royalty, is woven in narrow strips by men. These strips are then sewn together in rhythmic but asymmetrical patterns.

[photo] The commitment of West Africans to family and faith is integrated into the fabric of everyday life. Even employment is seen as another facet of a whole and spiritual life and is sometimes reflected in the names of businesses. Representative of this African idea are businesses owned by Latter-day Saints such as Deseret Hospital (owned and operated by Dr. Emanuel Kissi, first regional representative in Ghana), Redeemer of Israel Grocery Store, and the Deseret Fashion Shop (left).

Marjorie Draper Conder, a curator at the Museum of Church History and Art, is a Relief Society teacher in the Midvale (Utah) East Fourth Ward.