Jesse Gibson, the American missionary dubbed Osiadan (“Constructor of buildings”), came to West Africa in early 1946 with his wife and two daughters. After a few days in Ibadan, Nigeria they moved to Ghana in January 1946. Gibson was asked by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church (SDA) to relocate in Accra, Ghana from Ibadan to open the headquarters of the West African Union Mission of SDA in the Ghanaian capital. The church needed his skills in construction and administration.
On his arrival in Accra, Gibson met David N. Agboka who was then in charge of the Accra work as the resident evangelist. David Agboka, therefore, took Jesse Gibson to see Charles A. Clerk in whose house he was living at Osu in Accra.
Another of Gibson’s early acquaintances was Komla A. Gbedemah who later became a leading politician and Minister of Finance in Kwame Nkrumah’s government. Clerk and Gbedemah became Seventh-Day Adventists through their contact with Gibson. They helped him to obtain land at Osu, Accra from traditional rulers and colonial authorities to begin construction. Clerk and his friend A. B. Hammond became two early colporteurs for the SDA Church. The land Gibson acquired at Osu, Accra became the compound of the Union. He constructed living quarters and an office block for the Union in 1946 and 1947. The official transfer of Union headquarters from Ibadan to Accra took place in 1947, following Gibson’s completion of the buildings in that city. In recognition of his work as a missionary and a builder, Jesse Gibson was formally ordained into the SDA gospel ministry in Accra in 1947. William McClements, a Briton, was Union president at the time.
The following year Jesse Gibson was appointed president of the Ghana Mission of SDA, then headquartered in Bekwae, Asante, following the retirement of Jesse Clifford, a veteran British missionary in Ghana. He formally took full control of the mission when Clifford left for Britain in early 1949. Another American who joined Gibson at Bekwae at that same time was Howard J. Welch who became the principal of the Bekwae SDA Training College, replacing Charles A. Bennett, another Briton.
Gibson believed in a more progressive leadership structure than the one used by Clifford, a jack-of-all-trades whose leadership style centralized everything on himself. He therefore decided to bring about reforms in the SDA work to make it more dynamic and to involve African pastors in more positions of responsibility and in the administration of the church. Gibson was obviously more in tune with the “freedom wind” blowing in Ghana, moving the country towards independence from British authoritarian control.
He not only moved the headquarters of the Ghana Mission from rural Bekwae to metropolitan Kumase, where he again acquired a large piece of land and erected buildings at Kwaadaso, a ward of Kumase, he also decentralized the Clifford style leadership structure of the mission. He parceled out the mission work into seven major districts, putting five ordained Ghanaian pastors, C. B. Mensah, J. K. Amoah, I. A. Benson, J. M. Arloo, and S. B. Essien and two foreigners, H. J. Welch and D. J. Clarke, in charge. This was the first major move of the Gibson Africanization program. He felt this style of work would make African workers accept the SDA mission as their own. He further pursued this African dream by bringing C. B. Mensah to Kumase from Agona in 1953 as a departmental director at the headquarters as well as the associate president of the mission, second to him in the hierarchy.
Also under Jesse Gibson, as Union president in Accra, the first SDA secondary school in Ghana was started in 1953, the Bekwae-Asante SDA Secondary School. In literature evangelism, Gibson brought more dynamism into the work by bringing over two Jamaicans, Levi Davidson and E. L. Brown, from the West Indies to help with the gospel work in Ghana. They arrived in Ghana in 1949 and stayed on until 1954.
In 1950, Jesse Gibson raised a thousand dollars to get the SDA work started in North Ghana, with Emmanuel B. Akyiano as the pioneer worker there. Akyiano consolidated the SDA work in that region for seven years. Others followed him in subsequent decades to keep the work going there.
In late 1951, Jesse Gibson moved from Kumase to Accra to become the president of the West African Union Mission of the SDA, a position he kept until 1957 when he left Ghana to return to the United States permanently.
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.