From 1961 to 1968 Johnny Durant Johnson, an African-American, served as a Seventh-Day Adventist missionary in Ghana. Everyone, young and old, affectionately called him “Johnny.” He was so consumed by the work of God that he determined, before he left the United States of America for missionary work in Africa, to reach as many people as possible in West Africa with the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ. For this reason he served God not just in Ghana but also in Liberia and Nigeria.
After working in Liberia, J. D. Johnson arrived in Ghana in 1961 to teach at the SDA Secondary School at Bekwae, Asante. The American boxer turned missionary teacher soon added the work of evangelism to his original call and for much of his seven years in Ghana, Johnny Johnson was more of a preacher and pastor than an ordinary teacher. He left Ghana for America after seven years to pursue further studies, returning to West Africa with a doctoral degree to serve again in Nigeria for several more years before his permanent return to the United States in the early eighties.
Johnny Johnson and his wife Ida are remembered for two key things in the history of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Ghana. First, Johnny devoted his life to bringing the message of salvation to the people of Ghana through village evangelism in addition to the work of training young people for God’s service. Second, he groomed many of his secondary school students to serve the church. He skillfully divided his time between teaching in the classroom and evangelizing the neighborhoods of Bekwae, Asante.
With the financial support of friends in America, Johnny Johnson, in collaboration with James M. Hammond, a fellow Afro-American teacher at Bekwae, students, other teachers, pastors, and laypersons worked hard to conduct evangelistic campaigns, rehabilitate old church buildings and construct new ones, build a church school, and advance the work of the gospel in the villages surrounding Bekwae, Asante. For his work of erecting churches in the bush, Johnny was dubbed “Osiadan” (A Constructor of Buildings). Many of his buildings in the villages were the best in town.
To maintain Sabbath worship services in these villages, Johnny trained young men, students of the secondary school, as apprentice evangelists. These young people were given special clothes so that they could be easily identified as “Johnny’s disciples.” Some of them were among the brightest in the student body and several later became pastors, teachers and medical personnel in the wider world. The Johnsons, the Hammonds and their colleagues and students earned a reputation in the Bekwae area for their deep interest in both the spiritual and material welfare of their fellow Africans for the villagers not only heard the word of God, they also received education as well as food and clothing.
For his dedication to the work of the SDA Church in Ghana, Johnny Johnson was ordained into the gospel ministry in March 1965 at Agona, Asante. Moreover, after 23 years of childless marriage, the birth of the Johnsons’ only child in Kumase on December 4, 1964, –a daughter they named Afriyie Johnson,– was a special blessing from God.
Today the Johnsons live in retirement in the United States but rejoice always to see that Adventism in West Africa and in Ghana in particular, is growing by leaps and bounds.
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.