John Kwabena Kaipro Garbrah of Shama in the Western Region of modern Ghana was a pioneer for Seventh-Day Adventism in Ghana. Converted by another Ghanaian SDA pioneer, J. D. Hayford, in 1908, Garbrah joined the church’s workforce the same year Christian Ackah hired him as a teacher in his Kikam SDA School located near Axim, Ghana. From the year of his conversion, 1908, to that of his official retirement from the SDA work in about 1935 and his death in 1962, John Garbrah passed through many crises and trials as a child of God and a carrier of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But he successfully weathered the storms through the power of the Holy Spirit and died triumphantly in the Lord after over half a century of labor for his Lord and His cause in Ghana for Seventh-Day Adventism.
Beginning as a teacher for the Adventists at Kikam in 1908, John Garbrah became the first ordained minister of the SDA Church in Ghana. He received those credentials in faraway Sierra Leone in May 1921 during a church conference held there for SDA workers in West Africa.
A concatenation of crises that dogged Garbrah’s path as a Christian, teacher and evangelist in the SDA system could have broken down many a man, but John Garbrah had developed the necessary strength to successfully confront those challenges. Misunderstandings between him and his employers at Kikam, differences in customs and upbringing between Africans and Euro-Americans on marriage issues and practices, tensions between Africans and American workers of the church in Ghana, and the frequent deaths of his children while doing the Lord’s work in Asante, Ghana were among the major crises and trials that almost destroyed Garbrah’s hopes and dreams. At certain points, the devil almost triumphed over him, but he looked to Jesus and was victorious.
Today the area of Asante in central Ghana is the strongest base for Adventism in the country and John Garbrah was one of the SDA workers who helped plant and consolidate Adventist roots there. He belonged to the pioneer group that helped the leader, William Lewis, an American, build Agona, Ntonso, Asaaman, Asokore, Wiamoase, and Kofiase, all in Asante, into abiding citadels of Ghana Seventh-Day Adventism. He worked in several of these towns as an SDA teacher-evangelist during his early days in Asante. His faithful wife, Anna Garbrah, worked side by side with him teaching Adventist women at the various stations where they worked popular Akan lyrics called Abibinnwom (African songs).
Garbrah traveled widely for Adventism in Ghana and elsewhere in West Africa (Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone). Furthermore, he contributed immensely to the growth of the SDA Church in Ghana by counseling and encouraging his younger colleagues in the church and by being a role model for them. Many looked to him for spiritual support because of his long experience in the church and its work.
His ordination into the SDA gospel ministry in 1921 was a great help to both the European missionaries and his younger African colleagues in the SDA workforce. The Europeans came to rely heavily on the only ordained African minister for many odd jobs and major assignments. For instance, immediately after receiving his ordination credentials, John Garbrah was stationed in Kumase to pioneer city evangelism and the planting of the church in that Asante metropolis which Adventists had shunned for years. Garbrah’s Kumase breakthrough laid the foundations that eventually made that city the strongest Adventist base in all Ghana.
Similarly, the younger Adventist workers also took a lot of inspiration from the ordained African pastor. Several of them worked under him as under a shepherd. Later other African workers of the church stayed with him as his “boys” at the many stations where Garbrah labored. Even after his official retirement from the SDA work and ministry, John Garbrah continued to work to build up churches near his home, Shama. That example was later to be followed by many more Adventist ministers during the latter part of the twentieth century.
The big Adventist national funeral that was held for John Kwabena Kaipro Garbrah at Shama, Ghana in August 1962 marked the importance of this man who lived and died for his God and Seventh-Day Adventism in Ghana. One of his sons, Kofi Garbrah, later followed in the footsteps of his illustrious father and became an ordained SDA minister in Ghana as well.
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.