Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass… (Alma 37:6)
Little did Diane Balch know the day that she pinned the small slips of paper with a message of love and her address to the quilts she had made for the people in North Korea it would be the first step in bringing hundreds of people the truth of the restored gospel in Africa. During the fall of 1997 the communities of Blanding and Monticello, Utah set a goal to make 1,000 quilts for the LDS Humanitarian Center to send to North Korea, where there had been a severe famine for several years. Diane’s ward enthusiastically joined in the effort and made over 100 quilts to contribute. As she tells it, “As a last minute idea before I turned the quilts over the Church, I decided it might be fun to attach a label with my name and address to see if I would get a response, but [I didn’t really expect one]. My son-in-law served a mission in Korea, so I decided to attach a tag in English and Korean that read, ‘This quilt is made for you with our love.’ I then put my name and address on the paper and attached it with a small safety pin to the corner of each quilt.” After several weeks the Relief Society sisters saw photos of Elder Russell M. Nelson handing out the quilts in Korea.
About a year later, over eleven thousand kilometers away, in the town of Nkawkaw, Ghana, Jonathan Amankwah, age 14, was with his family sorting through some second-hand clothing a neighbor had brought for them to sell. Jonathan came across a piece of paper pinned to a lace scarf. Having had a longtime wish to have a pen pal in a foreign country, he was delighted to see a name and address from someone in the U.S.A. written on one side. On the other side there were some Asian characters and the words ‘This quilt is made for you with love.’ Encouraged by his father, a school headmaster and teacher, Jonathan went home and wrote to Diane Balch, who lived in a faraway place called Blanding, Utah. Thus began a long distance friendship that would change, not only Jonathan’s life, but also the lives of his family, and many, many others.
When Sister Balch received the letter from Jonathan, she couldn’t imagine how one of her quilts had found its way to the town of Nkawkaw, Ghana. She had seen photos of the quilts being delivered in Korea by Elder Nelson – so how had her note ended up in Africa? And how had the note she had pinned to a quilt become attached to a lace scarf? Sister Balch quickly responded to Jonathan’s letter and asked him if he was familiar with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jonathan, who lived with his parents and three of his seven brothers and sisters, had never heard of the Church. They continued corresponding. She told him about her life and sent the family a Book of Mormon.
Letters from Diane Balch
Diane wrote, “Jonathan was very interested in learning about our Church, so I would tell him about our Church and bear my testimony in every letter I sent. I told him how our Church came to be organized, about Joseph Smith, eternal marriage, organizations within our Church, about our latter-day prophet, etc. Occasionally there would be an article in the Ensign or Church News about Ghana, and I would send him a copy of the article.”
She tried everything she could think of to arrange for missionaries to visit the Amankwah family, including contacting the missionary department, but she never received a response. The years went by. The relationship between Diane and Calvin (her husband,) and the Amankwah family grew. Through their correspondence, Brother and Sister Balch came to know and love each member of the Amankwah family and learned much about their life in Ghana. Diane and Calvin occasionally sent small, thoughtful gifts that touched the Amankwahs deeply.
Augustine later related that he was amazed by the Balches’ kindness. “Why is it that these people, who don’t even know us, love us so? I didn’t know that people like this are still on this earth. So, I thought, let’s enquire – which church was it that they attended?”
“Why is it that these people, who don’t even know us, love us so? I didn’t know that people like this are still on this earth. So, I thought, let’s enquire – which church was it that they attended?”
In 2003, the new Accra, Ghana Temple was completed. Diane hoped that attending the open house held in the weeks previous to the dedication would be the perfect opportunity for the Amankwah family to finally make contact with the Church. Unfortunately, they didn’t receive the letter encouraging them to attend until after the open house had ended and the dedication completed.
Then, in 2004, Brother and Sister Balch received a call to serve a mission in the office of the mission president of the Canada Vancouver Mission. As part of her duties there, Sister Balch forwarded the referrals that came into her office to the other missions of the Church. Now was her chance! She knew that the missionaries would need something more than a post office box to find the Amankwah home, so she wrote to Jonathan asking him for the nearest landmark. He replied that they should look for ‘Unity Gardens.’ Sister Balch emailed the referral, along with a little information about Jonathan, to the Ghana Accra Mission, and then waited.
By this time, Jonathan was 20 years old. While the family members were attending various churches in the area, they studied the Book of Mormon and the other literature Diane sent their family over the years. They became convinced of its truthfulness and believed the doctrine they found there - particularly the teachings of baptism, and the significance of the sacrament as an acceptance of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Some time after sending in the referral, Diane received an email from Elder Tanner Ainge, a missionary serving in the Ghana Accra Mission, letting her know that he and his companion, Elder Richard Koomson, had visited with the Amankwah family. He wrote, 'Allow me to tell you our side of the story of how we met your friends over here. One day, I was planning on going out to proselyte with the Elders in our most rural area of the mission - Abomoso. As I was leaving, I remembered the referral you sent that was in Nkawkaw, so I brought it along. We went to Nkawkaw, and asked around and sure enough - found Unity Gardens. Then, sure enough, as we were asking around, a young boy says, 'Yes, I know Jonathan Amankwah, he's my older brother.' So we went to the house, and the whole family was there. We got to know them, had a first discussion and a family prayer. We knew, and they knew, that there was something very special about our meeting. We came back the next day, and had another discussion. Jonathan told us what he had read from the Book of Mormon you sent, and all of them said they want to be baptized. As I went home, I could not stop thinking about how wonderful that family is.”
Meanwhile, the Lord was working with others to bring the gospel to Nkawkaw. Robert C. Gay, President of the Ghana Accra Mission at the time, was travelling from a zone conference in Kumasi back to Accra, which took him through Nkawkaw, when he received a “very deep and very clear impression” that they should open this area. After making inquiries, he learned that members Clement and Doris Owusu and their 3 children had moved into the area, and coincidentally, the mission office received a few phone calls inquiring about the Church in Nkawkaw. After sincere prayer concerning the matter, President Gay received powerful confirmation that Nkawkaw was ready and that Elders Ainge and Koomson should be the ones to establish the Church there. The missionaries eagerly accepted the assignment, even though for Elder Ainge it required him to extend his mission for an additional 2 months. They eagerly set about finding housing for themselves, locating a school in which to meet, and then set about teaching the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Amankwahs, the Owusu children and several investigators.
On Saturday, October 16, 2004, the missionaries held baptismal interviews with seven members of the Amankwah family, Doris Boakye (a relative who was staying with them at the time,) Sandra Koufie, a neighbor, and the three Owusu children - Mercy, Mormon and Jennifer. Then, they all travelled in a hired bus eighteen kilometers to the Pra River where they were baptized by Elder Ainge and Elder Koomson.
The first baptism of Nkawkaw saints - October 16 2004 L-R Samuel, Frederick, Gina Amankwah, Elder Ange, Mormon Owusu, Sandra Koufie, Augustine Amankwah, Jennifer and Mercy Owusu, Doris Boakye, an investigator, Mercy, Grace, and Jonathan Amankwah.
The next day, Sunday the 17th, they were confirmed members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Nkawkaw Branch was organized. Clement Owusu was sustained as Branch President with Augustine Amankwah as first counselor. Sister Amankwah served as Relief Society president. From that day on, the branch has continued to grow.
Six months later, Elder and Sister Paul and Bibi Moncur were assigned to serve as MLS (Member Leader Service) missionaries in Nkawkaw. Jonathan’s sister, Georgina (aka Gina) was called to work with the Moncurs as a branch missionary. She proved to be so effective that President Robert Gay, then Ghana Accra Mission President, later called her to serve full time in Accra.
On Sept. 12 2006, Augustine and Grace were endowed and then sealed to their children Georgina, Mercy, Samuel and Frederick. The Amankwahs were the first people from Nkawkaw to receive their temple endowment. Jonathan was away at school at the time, but later received his endowment and sealed to his family, along with the remaining siblings. He served in the Nigeria, Enugu Mission and was followed four years later by Samuel, who served in the same mission. When it came time, Frederick, the youngest also served a mission, in the Nigeria, Port Harcourt Mission.
The little Nkawkaw Branch, which started out with just those first few members in 2006, has now grown into the Nkawkaw District, with two branches in Nkawkaw, and a third in the neighboring town of Mpraeso. Augustine served, first as a counselor, then as Branch President for five years. He is currently serving as the first counselor in the District Presidency.
After his mission, Jonathan left Nkawkaw to go to school in Tarkwa, another town in Ghana where there were no Church members or missionaries. Determined to have the Church there, he began sharing message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ with everyone he met, and now there are two thriving branches of the Church in Tarkwa.
A woman’s kindness and a small slip of paper pinned on a quilt are such small things, and yet with God they became the means of bring the gospel of Jesus Christ into the lives of so many. The thriving congregations of Nkawkaw, Mpraeso and Tarkwa, are a testament that “by very small means the Lord…bringeth about the salvation of many souls.” Alma 37:7
Story compiled from personal interviews and correspondence with, and photos provided by, Samuel, Jonathan and Augustine Amankwah, Diane Balch, Tanner Ainge, Bibi Moncur and Elder Robert C. Gay.
Frederick is the boy who led the missionaries to the Amankwah home.