|Here are many of the missionaries who returned after "the Freeze"|
“The Freeze” – Not Unlike the Kirtland Period in Church History
After all the prayers and many years of waiting to have the Church in Ghana, there was a time, when it appeared that the Church had a very limited future in Ghana. It is impossible to tell the story of Latter-day Saints without talking about “the Freeze.”
In June 1989, under the direction of Ghana’s president, J. J. Rawlings, the government banned all public worship, proselyting, and other activities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Members believe the ban was motivated by misinformation about the Church that was widely distributed and broadcast.
In Abomosu, civilian authorities, police, and soldiers escorted President Stephen Abu to the meetinghouse, where everything in the building was inventoried, the keys were confiscated, and he was warned that members were forbidden to use both that property and the Church farm outside the village. Other Priesthood leaders in Ghana had similar experiences.
Worship in the home was not expressly forbidden, and members began holding services on a family basis. “But you could not sing loudly, or you would be picked up,” President Abu recalls. He was among those who were jailed or punished after being accused of violating the ban. Some members were evicted by landlords or otherwise persecuted during the Freeze. Despite the risk, however, priesthood leaders continued in their roles as shepherds, unobtrusively visiting individuals and families to lend them strength.
The mission president and North American missionary couples were given one week to leave Ghana and were required to sign documents to the effect they would never return to Ghana again. The local missionaries were sent to their homes and encouraged to go to school, learn a trade or get a job. Had it not been for the faithful leaders and Saints this could have been a major concern for the Church in Ghana. Emmanuel Abu Kissi, a medical doctor who comes to the MTC to visit missionaries serving in Ghana in each new group, was a designated leader (Acting mission president). What he wrote to the Saints was reminiscent of the Apostle Paul’s writings to the Saints at Ephesus:
“I am writing this communication to you in order to promote your faith and help strengthen your testimony of Jesus Christ during this time of bitter persecution. It will be one full year soon since we were required by the laws of our country not to worship our God. The congregational worship of the Saints in their meetinghouses has been declared illegal since then and this has jeopardized the steadfastness of some of the Saints. Satan has loved situations like this which has removed supervision of the Saints and made them like sheep without a shepherd.”
“In situations like this the Saints should be encouraged to read the scriptures and be reminded of their baptismal covenants and also remember their purpose for coming into this mortality which is our second estate. In short, we are here to be tested.”
On November 29, 1990, the government of Ghana, under the direction of President J.J. Rawlings, officially removed the Freeze. The first meetings were held in the districts December 2, 1990.
John Buah, who served as a counselor to two mission presidents, noted: “after the Freeze, good people wanted to know more about the Church.” Curious to find out if things they had heard were true, they asked LDS friends or neighbors—and accepted the resulting invitations to learn about the gospel. Many of these seekers of truth were baptized.
Today, “those who have the opportunity to know the Church, want it in their communities,” said Brother Buah. They see not only its strengthening influence on families but also as having the solutions to social problems that Ghana is trying to resolve—immorality and teen pregnancy, drinking and drug use, for example.
When Ghana’s president, J. J. Rawlings, received Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder J. Richard Clarke of the Seventy, Africa Area president, in 1994, members saw this as recognition that their religion is an important influence in the lives of many Ghanaians. It signaled the opportunity at last to display their faith as openly as do citizens of other faiths.
Those instrumental in working with the government to lift the freeze were Elder Robert E. Sackley of the Area Presidency, Georges Bonnett of the Africa temporal affairs office and Emmanuel Kissi, a local respected physician and Church leader in Accra.
Having served 14 months as a missionary couple in the Nigeria Aba mission Elder Grant Gunnell, with his wife Alice, was called as the mission president in November 1990. Soon after the freeze was lifted the Liberia Monrovia mission became part of the Ghana Accra mission. This included the countries of Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast.
At the time of the freeze there had been 76 full time missionaries serving in Ghana. Sixty of those were located, interviewed, and invited to immediately continue serving their missions. Some had married; others had moved away however, 57 returned to continue their missionary service. There was a special outpouring of the Spirit during this time of reorganization.
The experience interviewing the returning missionaries was humbling. The area presidency had suggested that if the potential missionaries were in school or had good jobs, they should keep that status. However, when this was suggested their answers were always positive and upbeat. Without exception none elected to stay in school or keep their job. One elder who had acquired a taxi during the Freeze said: “Heavenly Father helped me get this taxi. If I finish my commitment to him, he is very capable of getting me another car when I get back if that is what he wants me to do.” One young woman said when asked if she had been living the standards of the Church replied: “I was sick. The doctor recommended for my low blood pressure that I have a little bit of alcohol each day. I did that for a few days and then decided that I would rather have low blood pressure than break the Word of Wisdom, so I stopped taking it. Am I still worthy to serve?”
Freebody A. Mensah, president of the Kumasi District made one of the classic statements that seemed to sum up the feelings and attitude of the Saints. In his opening prayer he began by thanking the Lord for the Freeze. Later he explained his reason for making such a statement. “For one and a half years during the freeze we have witnessed fathers taking the role as branch presidents in the family and the sons as priesthood bearers blessing and passing the sacrament, mother playing the role of Relief Society presidents along with the daughters and everyone together for the eternal goal. There was the family, the first basic unit of the Church in action.”
The Saints remained steadfast and true. The doctrine taught in the homes was pure. It is almost unimaginable that the Church would remain so strong with very little encouragement from outside Ghana. Of the 60 missionaries that were interviewed to return and complete their mission there were no morality infractions. The three that did not continue were for family and professional reasons.
On April 20-21, 1991, the first two stakes in Ghana were created under the direction of Elders Boyd K. Packer, then Elder James E. Faust of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, President Richard P. Lindsay and President Robert E. Sackley of the Africa Area Presidency. It was a time of rapid growth for the Church in Ghana. Baptisms averaged 130-150 per month throughout the mission. The numbers were controlled to allow leadership to develop in the wards, stakes, branches and districts. The retention rate was 89%.
The latter part of August and early September of 1991, special meetings were held with leaders of the stakes and districts under the direction of Elder J. Ballard Washburn of the area presidency. Sister Elaine L. Jack conducted meetings with Relief Society sisters in South Africa, Ivory Coast and Ghana. She was the first General Church auxiliary President to visit Africa. All stake and district Relief Society presidents from Nigeria and Ghana met in the mission home during this occasion. She also visited several homes of Relief Society sisters in these countries.