Patriarch Johnson, flanked by Elders Whisenant and Armstrong on the left,
and Elders Markham and Walker on the right.
In 1962, a woman in England answered an appeal for support of religious activities in Ghana by sending books and pamphlets she had received during discussions with missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Dr. Raphael Abraham Frank Mensah in Ghana. Dr. Mensah was an active religious leader and preacher, having affiliation with several congregations. He read the material and wrote to Salt Lake City requesting more materials and support. He began to preach the LDS doctrines in his sermons. Although he did not receive the support he sought from Church headquarters, he began efforts to etablish an LDS congregation in Ghana. In 1963, Dr. Mensah dreamed that a man named Johnson would help to establish the church. The next year, the good works of a dynamic, young religious leader named Joseph William Billy Johnson came to the attention of Dr. Mensah. Johnson was invited to meet with Mensah. After a brief discussion the two knelt in prayer to ask the Lord to sustain the LDS mission in Ghana. During this prayer, Johnson saw a vision of a book. He inquired about the book, and Mensah reached under the bed and retrieved a copy of the Book of Mormon and handed it to Johnson. Johnson immediately recognized it as the book he had seen in vision due to the blue cover and trumpeting angel. Johnson joined the work and continues today.
As Johnson started reading and using the Book of Mormon, persecution also flared up. But, he and Mensah pursued and succeeded in establishing an LDS Church in Ghana (not recognized by Church Headquarters as official) with several congregations. They continued to request visits from church leaders and materials to support their efforts. During the late 60's and early 70's two interesting trends unfolded. First, foreign leaders of other faiths often approached Johnson with offers of money, support and position if he would affliate his congregations with their church. In each case Johnson prayed and felt impressed to decline the offer. Second, visitors who were strong members of the LDS Church in Africa on business or as visiting educators made unofficial visits to the congregations and developed relationships with Johnson and Mensah. They were impreesed by the sincerity and provided what support they could.
On July 9, 1978, while listening to a BBC broadcast during a night when he couldn't sleep, Johnson learned of the announcement by the Church of the revelation given to President Spencer W. Kimball that all worthy men should be given the Priesthood. Johnson immediately wrote to President Kimball reporting that he and many others were ready and waiting for missionaries to come. The missionaries did come and Johnson with many of his unofficial congregations were baptized and became the foundation of the Church in Ghana.
His story can be found in several books, two of which are Safe Journey by Glenn L. Pace and Walking in the Sand by Emmanuel Abu Kissi. He has experienced inspiration, dreams and visions while working tirelessly to build the kingdom of God in Ghana. On the day we met him, he was in Accra to be interviewd by a British television crew doing a special on religions. They had heard of Joseph William Billy Johnson and he received Church permission to give the interview. He is 69 years old, was suffering from malaria fever (common in West Africa), had traveled several hours to be in Accra, and was just leaving a 2 hour interview under television lights. But as he met us, a group of Area Missionaries leaving for a lunch together, he acted like we were long, lost friends and he had all the time in the world for us. Sister Markham ask him to bear a quick testimony for her camera. He did so without hesitation. Elder Markham, who had the privilege of meeting President Kimball many years ago, feels that Patriarch Johnson and President Kimball were linked as great and noble spirits before coming to this earth. They both overcame tremendous obstacles to fulfill their missions here. In his presense, we felt as if we were standing with our pioneer ancesters whose faith still sets the standard which we desire to obtain.
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Patriarch Johnson bears testimony
Transcript: Well, today is a great day to all of us. It’s a day I’ve been able to meet Brother Markham (reads his name tag) and Sister Markham. We want to share our testimonies--Especially I want to share my testimony with you. The Church is true. Indeed, the Church, the teachings of the Church has brought much transformation to our people. The Ghanaian people are happy because they’ve been brought to the truth. [phone ringing in foyer.] We have leaders who are exemplary, who are probably—who are shining examples and we have emulated them. And we feel happy. And now we will not turn our backs to the Church, we serve for the Church, for the Church is true.
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