A People Prepared: Art and Memorabilia from African Latter-day Saints

Years before the Church entered Africa, the Lord was preparing the way. This was particularly so in West Africa. 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 them 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, November 1987, page 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 memorabilia and works of art from Church members in West Africa. The items come 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. They are among the earliest visual expressions of gospel testimonies from Latter-day Saints in Africa.

Nigeria banner

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

Batiks Batiks

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

[photo] This Nigerian cane, symbolic of leadership, was given to President Spencer W. Kimball.

[photos] A chapel in Cape Coast, Ghana, 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] Chief Nana Yadae Kojo is also known as President Joseph Kwomena Otto of the Mjsintsen Ghana Branch. Since 1988 he has served as the second highest Ashanti Chief in Ghana.

In 1982 he became a member of the LDS church and was soon called as a branch president. His love for the gospel led him to teach and baptize over one hundred people. But his life was repeatedly threatened, and attempts were made to ban both him and the Church.

In 1988 he was approached by the council of Ashanti chiefs to assume his rightful place as a chief because of his great personal integrity. President Otto fasted for three days and then met with his LDS district president. Together they met with the Ashanti chief’s council. Joseph Otto agreed to become chief if none of the customary practices involving traditional ritual, alcohol, and polygamy would be required of him. The chiefs agreed to these conditions.

Chief Kojo is dressed in Kenti cloth, a symbol of royalty.

[photo] In this historical photo, Primary children from Enugu, Nigeria, are learning about early Mormon pioneers. They, too, are gospel pioneers.

Marjorie Draper Conder is a curator at the Museum of Church History and Art.