J.W. "Billy" Johnson
Joseph William “Billy” Johnson prepared a large number of people in Ghana for baptism into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Through Dr. R.A.F. Mensah, a Ghanaian schoolteacher, Johnson received and read the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Articles of Faith, and The Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Mensah had received Church literature when visiting England.
Johnson converted to the faith and, with Mensah, began preaching and reading from the Book of Mormon on the streets of Accra.
- In 1969 Mensah appointed Johnson to head the Mormon congregation in Cape Coast, the second largest city in Ghana, while Mensah oversaw the congregation in Accra. Another convert, Rebecca Mould, led the congregation in Sekondi-Takoradi. For the next eight years, Mensah, Johnson, and Mould built the LDS Church in Ghana as “an offspring of the parent organization” to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the United States, with an emphasis on evangelizing and financial welfare.
When the Church of Jesus Christ officially sent representatives to bring the Church to Ghana in December 1978, the gospel was already well-established there, largely through Johnson’s efforts.
“I was constrained to do it,” he said. “Despite opposition I met on the way -- I was highly, really opposed. But still I went on. I couldn't stop it at all.”
- The men wrote to Church headquarters in Salt Lake asking for missionaries to be sent to Ghana to baptize them and establish the Church there, but because of restrictions that didn’t allow men of African descent to be ordained to the priesthood (making Church organization there impossible), their requests went unfulfilled. They were encouraged by Church President David O. McKay to continue studying the scriptures and to be faithful -- officials at Church headquarters helped by sending magazines and literature to help the fledgling congregations -- but for the time being, they were essentially on their own.
Johnson started the Brigham Young Educational Institute for children. He eventually establishing several branches with hundreds of members in Ghana. For years, he led the members in regular fasts, pleading for missionaries from Salt Lake to come and establish the Church among them.
- “The Lord knew we had no one to help us, so he helped us through revelation, daily revelation,” he said. “[We were] trying to do the little that the Lord taught us to do. We were really depending upon the dictates of the Spirit.”
- American emissaries from other churches repeatedly tried to persuade Johnson and the other unbaptized converts to abandon the Latter-day Saints. In the spring of 1978, Johnson prepared what he said was one last letter to President McKay’s successor, President Kimball. He pleaded that the time was right “for our brothers to come,” John Dan Ewudzie said.
- The congregation fasted and prayed before sending the letter. “One lady told the congregation she’d had a dream,” Ewudzie said. “She saw the letter in the clouds. There had been no dream like that with previous letters. We believed this time would be different.”
- At about the same time, Johnson had an impression that the time for change had arrived. On June 6, the congregation began a three-day fast, unaware that President Kimball had received the still-unannounced revelation five days earlier.
- The lack of direction and the members’ inability to be baptized was a challenge both for the church and for Johnson, but for fourteen years he pushed through the opposition, believing Ghana’s time would come.
- In 1978, it did: President Spencer W. Kimball announced a revelation extending the priesthood to all worthy males. Johnson heard the news around midnight at the end of a hard day when he was compelled to tune his radio to BBC before going to bed.
- “I jumped and started crying and rejoicing in the Lord with tears that now is the time that the Lord will send missionaries to Ghana and to other parts of Africa to receive the priesthood,” he remembered. “I was so happy indeed.”
When missionaries finally arrived a few months later, they were directed to Johnson’s chapel in Cape Coast, Ghana, where they found “a large statue of the Angel Moroni standing on a ball and blowing a trumpet. There were also pictures of the Bible and the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, the Tabernacle Choir, and other Latter-day Saint scenes.”
Johnson was baptized and appointed as the first branch president of the Cape Coast Branch. He then served as district president, full-time missionary, and as patriarch of the Cape Coast Ghana Stake.
On February 16, 1998, the Church announced that a temple would be built in Accra. It was dedicated on January 11, 2004.
Johnson was born on December 17, 1934, in Lagos, Nigeria. He died in Accra, Ghana, on March 27, 2012.