When Seventh-Day Adventists (SDA) in Ghana celebrated their church’s hundredth year in the country in 1988, they were looking back to their 1888 origins. In that year, according to official SDA archival records, Francis I. U. Dolphijn of Apam in the Central Region of modern Ghana formally accepted the Seventh-Day Adventist faith at home there in Ghana.
On his own testimony, this came to him in early 1888 after reading an SDA pamphlet he got from a ship captain who stopped over with his vessel at his coastal home of Apam. In other words, Seventh-Day Adventism made its first convert in Ghana through the literature ministry and not through a preacher. From the word go, Francis Dolphijn accepted his newfound faith warmly and wholeheartedly. He determined to help build up the church on a sound and lasting footing in his home country. A convert from Sunday observing Methodism to Sabbath (Saturday) observing Adventism, Dolphijn straightway entered into a four-year correspondence with Adventist headquarters in Battle Creek, Michigan, USA and other SDA centers and mission stations both in the United States and Africa. He asked for more reading materials with which he could work for his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His cause in Ghana, and for the SDA Church to send official resident missionaries to his country. His efforts culminated in the first official visit of an SDA minister to his home, Apam, in 1892 to undertake a feasibility study of Adventist prospects in that country. Upon the recommendation of this visiting official, –Lawrence Chadwick,– the General Conference of SDA headquarters in Battle Creek, Michigan, USA dispatched the church’s first foreign resident missionaries to Ghana in early 1894. These pioneer missionaries, Karl Rudolph and Leroy Sanford, Americans, first landed at Apam on Thursday, February 22, 1894. That marked the opening of the first SDA mission station in Real Africa (referred to some people as “Black Africa”). Francis Dolphijn and his small band of Adventist believers warmly welcomed Rudolph and Sanford to Ghana for Seventh-Day Adventism.
For some two decades or so after his conversion to Adventism in 1888, Francis Dolphijn became one of the pillars upon which the Adventist church was built in Ghana. Seventh-Day Adventism became a Dolphijn family ministry in which Francis, his wife, and their three kids, Isaac, Fred and Joyce, all were involved. In collaboration with foreign missionaries and indigenous believers like J. D. Hayford and George Peter Grant, the Dolphijns worked wholeheartedly for Christ and Seventh-Day Adventism in Ghana during the last years of the 19th century and the opening years of the 20th century.
Francis Dolphijn was one of the first literature evangelists to work for the SDA Church in Ghana. He also served as an itinerant preacher as well as an interpreter for the foreign missionaries of the SDA Church in coastal Ghana. His home, Apam, became the first SDA base and headquarters in Ghana until Cape Coast took over in late 1894.
Pioneer Francis Dolphijn, his two sons Isaac and Fred, and George P. Grant were the first SDA converts to be formally baptized into the church’s fellowship, a ceremony performed by an American SDA ordained minister and missionary in Ghana, Dudley Hale, in March 1897.
The Dolphijn boys later left home for foreign adventures. Fred Dolphijn left for Britain for more studies, with the support of people like J. D. Hayford. It was hoped they would return home and continue in the SDA work and cause. They did return but did not continue for long in either the work or the faith of Seventh-Day Adventism. Much of this new trend in the Dolphijn story could be attributed to the early death of both parents. After Mrs. Francis Dolphijn died, her husband became both father and mother to their three children for about two decades – he apparently never remarried following the early death of his wife. Francis Dolphijn himself died about the mid or late 1910s and the last great Adventist influence on his children died with him.
In spite of this anticlimax of the Dolphijn story, Francis Dolphijn established his indelible mark as a pioneer founding father of Seventh-Day Adventism in Ghana.
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.