Few foreign resident missionaries of the Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) Church in Ghana have impacted believers as Jesse Clifford did in the 1930s and 1940s. Clifford’s first term in Ghana as an SDA missionary spanned the years 1919 to 1923. A typical Briton, Clifford arrived in Ghana in the heyday of British colonial subjugation of the country and the confused years following the European war that threw the world into chaos and carnage from 1914 to 1918. He was part of the team of British missionaries that took over the leadership of Adventism in Ghana from the American William Lewis who left the country in 1918.
For some four years, 1919 - 1923, Jesse Clifford worked as a young Adventist missionary in Ghana under senior British missionaries like L. F. Langford and Thomas Baker. In 1923, he was transferred to Nigeria to pioneer the establishment of Seventh-Day Adventism in the eastern part of that country. Eight years later in 1931, he was asked to return to Ghana to head the Ghana Mission of the Seventh-Day Adventists. Meanwhile, he had been ordained into the SDA gospel minstry in Nigeria.
Adventism broadened its base and territory in Asante and central Ghana from its old center around Agona thanks largely to the work of Jesse Clifford. He felt southern Asante too had to be evangelized for Christ. That vision eventually made Bekwae, Asante the major center of Adventist education in Ghana for several decades and the institutions established at Bekwae have produced many useful citizens for Ghana as well as many SDA Church workers, particularly teachers and gospel ministers.
Most of the Adventist ministers who developed the SDA work in Ghana from the thirties until quite recently were “Clifford boys.” They include key ministers in Adventist history in Ghana such as C. B. Mensah, J. K. Amoah, D. T. Agboka, D. K. Amponsah, E. B. Akyiano, J. M. Arloo and I. A. Benson. Clifford took deep and personal interest in the Adventist work, workers and believers in general. He personally supervised the details of the work of the church on a daily basis, creating a reputation for himself as a “jack-of-all-trades.” He worked in the spirit of British colonialism, but believed his system was good for the protection and growth of Adventism in Ghana. For almost two decades in Ghana, the name of Jesse Clifford was virtually synonymous with Ghana Seventh-Day Adventism. While his domineering style in SDA church administration was to be criticized, it had the merit of promoting high spirituality among workers and believers alike.
The general picture one gathers from those who worked with or knew Jesse Clifford intimately is that he was a highly spiritual person and this was his greatest contribution to the church’s cause in Ghana. In matters of Christian spirituality, Jesse Clifford is said to be without equal among missionaries in Ghana Adventist history. He did not distinguish himself in areas like education and plans for the church, but he left a legacy of commitment to the church as well as a high focus on eschatology and the second coming of Christ. Jesse Clifford’s legacy as a missionary is remembered and revered by Ghanaian Adventists more than that of any other SDA missionary in the church’s 112 year history in the country. People remember him with nostalgia, particularly in spiritual matters, as one who embodied the real essence of the Christian gospel and message to mankind.
K. Owusu-Mensa, Ghana Seventh-Day Adventism: A History, (Accra: The Advent Press, forthcoming).
——–, Saturday God and Adventism in Ghana (New York: Peter Lang Publishers, 1993).
This article, received in 2001, was researched and written by Dr. Kofi Owusu-Mensa, Professor of History and DACB Liaison Coordinator at Valley View University, Oyibi, a DACB Participating Institution in Accra, Ghana.