Divine miracles abound in missionary work. Divine intervention accompanies the great miracle of conversion. The Lord performs miracles as his servants strive to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39)
Joseph “Billy” Johnson — the Great Missionary
Joseph William “Billy” Johnson may be the greatest missionary of this dispensation. He is responsible for the convert baptisms of thousands of saints in Ghana, Africa.
“Without priesthood power and direction, without the authorization of the Church . . . he still felt compelled to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Persecutions didn’t stop him. Disdain only sent him to his knees. The slow grinding of the years when he had ten congregations each bearing the handwritten signs “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” didn’t wear him down. Official letters from Church headquarters telling him that it wasn’t yet time to send missionaries didn’t daunt him. He knew from personal revelation that his “brothers from the West” would come for him, and though he sometimes cried and often prayed all night for courage, when they did come, he had 1,000 people who were ready for baptism.” (Maurine Proctor, “Joseph W.B. Johnson – Ghana’s Face of Light,” Meridian Magazine, Jan. 22, 2004)
In 1962, an English woman mailed LDS books and pamphlets to Reverend Raphael Mensah in Ghana. Reverend Mensah started using the materials in his sermons.
About 1963, Rev. Mensah had a dream-vision that a man named “Johnson” would help to establish the LDS church. The next year, Joseph William “Billy” Johnson and Rev. Mensah met.
Joseph Smith’s Testimony
Upon reading the pamphlet containing Joseph Smith’s testimony Billy was overwhelmed by the Spirit. “I wept when I read the testimony, and I felt the Sprit. I became convinced immediately . . . . I couldn’t sit without sharing. I was convinced. I believed. I felt the spirit when I read the story of Joseph Smith, especially how the father and the son revealed themselves to him. That moved me a great deal.”
Vision of the Book of Mormon
Later, Rev. Mensah and Billy knelt in prayer to ask the Lord to help their LDS mission in Ghana. During the prayer, Johnson saw a vision of a book. It had a dark blue cover with a gold trumpeting angel. When he asked about the book, Rev. Mensah retrieved a copy of the Book of Mormon. Johnson immediately recognized it as the book in his vision. Billy accepted the restored gospel and began preaching throughout Ghana.
Vision of Heaven and the Voice of the Lord
The following morning, Billy had another vision. He “saw the heavens open and angels with trumpets singing songs of praise unto God. I heard my name mentioned thrice: ‘Johnson, Johnson, Johnson. If you will take up my work as I will command you, I will bless you and bless your land.’ Trembling and in tears, I replied, ‘Lord, with they help, I will do whatever you will command me.’”
Organizing Non-Official LDS Wards and Stakes
Brother Johnson succeeded in establishing a non-official LDS Church in Ghana. He organized over 10 “wards” and several “stakes.” The members requested “provisional” temporary baptisms, waiting for the time when they could be properly baptized into the true church by those holding priesthood authority.
Requests for LDS Missionaries
Throughout this time Brother Johnson repeatedly and unsuccessfully requested LDS missionaries. “The Lord knew we had no one to help us, so he helped us through revelation, daily revelation. We were trying to do the little that the Lord taught us to do. We were really depending upon the dictates of the Spirit.”
Vision of His Deceased Brother
During a particularly difficult time, Brother Johnson’s deceased brother appeared to him in a dream-vision. He said: “Don’t worry…you have chosen the only true church on earth…and I am now investigating your church.”
Brother Johnson was surprised. “I never knew that the Church extended to another world. It was my brother who brought that knowledge to me. He said that if I didn’t believe him, he would sing a song from my church, and he sang Come, Come, Ye Saints. That was the first time I had heard that hymn.”
“He said, ‘Don’t leave the church, my brother. …Please see that I am baptized.’ It was my brother who enlightened me about baptism for the dead and brought it to my knowledge…“
Visions of Relatives Requesting Baptism for the Dead
“Most of my relatives appeared to me in dreams [saying] ‘Reverend Johnson, do you know you have a work to do for us? Our great grandsons and daughters will be in your church soon. See that we are baptized.’ I learned these doctrines before the missionaries arrived. Nothing they taught us seemed strange. They simply confirmed what we had heard.”
Vision of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young
During other trying times, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young appeared to Billy to teach and encourage him. Brother Johnson named his newborn son, “Brigham.”
Hearing the Voice of the Lord
Billy was discouraged because no LDS missionaries were being from Salt Lake. “Whilst in anxious prayer one of those days, Johnson heard an unidentifiable voice…saying to him, “I will come and help you. Do not be discouraged. Be patient. The Church in America will help you.” They did come.
The 1978 Revelation on the Priesthood
In 1978, while listening to a BBC radio broadcast during a night when he couldn’t sleep, Johnson learned that all worthy LDS men would be given the priesthood regardless of race. Johnson immediately wrote to President Kimball reporting that he and hundreds of others were waiting for missionaries to baptize them.
Couple Missionaries and Mass Baptisms
A few couple missionaries were sent. The senior Elders interviewed hundreds of people on Friday, baptized them on Saturday, and confirmed them on Sunday. The senior Sisters tried to keep up with the membership records and certificates.
Thus, Brother Johnson and hundreds of his converts were baptized. This became the foundation of the church in Ghana.
Brother Johnson’s Missionary Technique
The Church grew like wildfire. One couple missionary wrote about how Brother Johnson found future church leaders and followers. “He would go into a new village and ferret out a prospective leader of the Church there. That person might be the principal of a school…or the postmaster or other village leader. Johnson would tutor that prospect in gospel principles until he became converted. If the prospect proved difficult to convince Brother Johnson would take him into his abode and spend almost night and day with them. Then he would demonstrate Church leadership by going with the convert to establish branches. President Johnson would then go back to the new member’s village and help him convert his fellow villagers and organize a Church group.”
Branch President, District President, Patriarch, Temple Worker
Brother Johnson was the first Branch President in Ghana. He later served as District President. Stakes were organized in Accra and Cape Coast, where Brother Johnson had established his congregations. Brother Johnson became the first Stake Patriarch in Ghana.
In 2004, the Accra Ghana Temple was completed and Patriarch Johnson and his wife were called to serve as temple ordinance workers. The temple was the ultimate harvest of his labors.
We sometimes think that heavenly manifestations, great miracles, and remarkable missionary successes are things of the past. African “Pioneer” “Billy” Johnson proved otherwise.
(Sources: “Pioneers of Africa,” LDS DVD; E. Dale LeBaron, “African Converts Without Baptism,” BYU Devotional, Nov. 3, 1998; E. Dale LeBaron, “Steadfast African Pioneer,” churchofjesuschrist.org; Elizabeth Maki, “Our Heritage: A People Prepared – Joseph W. “Billy” Johnson,” africawestlds.org; Maurine Proctor, “Joseph W.B. Johnson – Ghana’s Face of Light,” Meridian Magazine.)
(See related article: “World-Famous Alex Boye Visits My Little Sunday School Class,” Aug. 18, 2019)
(Other articles at: http://www.londonedition.net.)