TEMA, GHANA — It’s a Monday morning and President Stephen L. Graham and his wife, Sister Vanessa Jane S. Graham, are getting ready for “intake day,” when they will welcome 83 missionaries.
The three-story MTC building houses elders and sisters assigned to serve in a variety of French- and English-speaking countries throughout Africa.
“We get missionaries from all over the world,” Sister Graham said. “England, France, the United States, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and, of course, from many countries in Africa. We even have one from Cambodia and Angola. It’s very diverse.”
Among those in this eclectic group of 83 includes some of the first missionaries from the nation of Burundi, where the Church has been established for only a few years. The Burundi missionaries took two flights to Accra — it was the first time they had been on an airplane. The Ghana MTC has also trained missionaries from Tahiti where the Grahams served a mission in the 1980s. The Ghana MTC saw its first missionary from South Sudan in June 2013.
The center in Ghana is one of 15 MTCs throughout the world, and one of two in Africa, along with the MTC in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The majority of the missionaries stay at the Ghana MTC for only 11 days before departing to their assigned missions; a small number stays for six weeks to learn French.
“Things go smoothly here, for the most part,” Sister Graham said, “then it’s kind of like a tsunami.”
The whirlwind of activity includes picking up groups of missionaries at the airport as they arrive on flights from around the world. The MTC shuttles the new missionaries from the airport to the MTC, which is about 45 minutes away.
“Our drivers are driving into the night,” President Graham said. “Some arrive late in the evening.”
Then there’s the time-consuming process of taking photos of the missionaries, checking on their visas, passports and temple recommends, and ensuring they have an Internet email account for sending emails home, if they don’t have one already.
Sister Graham measures each missionary for temple clothing, teaches them about how to stay healthy and gives them their malaria medication.
She is a nurse and keeps all the medical records that must be submitted to a local doctor.
Missionaries are assigned companions, put into districts or classes, then teachers are assigned to each class.
It’s a process that repeats itself every couple of weeks.
President Graham’s biggest challenge is the high volume of interviews that must be conducted in a short period of time. While he thoroughly enjoys the interview experience, it isn’t easy.
“It’s just the sheer numbers of getting to know that many people in such a short time,” President Graham said. “On intake day, my wife and I will both speak briefly with all 83 of them as they arrive. I then call district leaders, and my counselors and I will formally interview each of them on Sunday. Intake day is a long day. Things have to be organized and ready for Sunday. But it’s a wonderful experience. The Lord is hastening His work.”
Initially, the newly arriving missionaries are a little shell-shocked.
“The first meal is always very quiet,” Sister Graham said, “but by the next day, they’re just chatting with each other. It just warms my heart.”
The Grahams, who are from Provo, Utah, and speak French, serve together with two counselors in the MTC Presidency, and their wives serve in the Relief Society presidency. Together with Brother Mathias Eguko, manager of training and operations at the Ghana MTC, and his group of returned-missionary teachers, they help the MTC run effectively.
Many of the missionaries arrive at the MTC not having been endowed in the temple, so the Grahams prepare them for this experience in the temple in Accra.
“That’s a choice experience,” President Graham said. “Every other week we spend two half-days in the temple. My wife and I are set-apart temple workers, so we can help with that.”
The Grahams are always looking for ways to improve the MTC experience for incoming missionaries, especially with the surge of new missionaries, due to the lowering of the ages when missionaries can serve.
“When I think of the Provo MTC and how beautifully streamlined it is, I’m a little jealous,” Sister Graham said, laughing. “Our numbers are not going to go down. They are only going to go up; I think it’s an area that we need to constantly improve on.”
President Graham has a wealth of experience, having worked at the Provo MTC for 40 years before retiring. Not long after his retirement in 2011, he was called to preside over the Ghana MTC, which he helped open in 2002.
“One of my many assignments over the years was to visit the international MTCs,” President Graham said. “I have always been grateful for the concept of the international MTCs and how they so wonderfully fill the needs of missionaries from outlying areas of the worldwide Church. So many of them come from non-member families and they don’t have a lot of support. When they come to an international MTC, which is generally smaller, they can more easily receive the personal attention they need.”
A large percentage of the African missionaries are relatively new to the Church.
“Fifty percent of some groups are recent converts,” President Graham said. “Being here is a new experience for them. Few of them have had the experience of being in an environment where a majority of their peers are members of the Church. It’s a life-changing experience for them. Here, the president and his wife get involved and acquainted with each of them.”
The MTC in Ghana trains all French-speaking missionaries for Africa and Madagascar, as well as all English-speaking missionaries called to serve in the nations of West Africa. All English-speaking missionaries called to serve in countries in the Africa Southeast Area are trained at the South Africa MTC.
Up until last January, missionaries spent 19 days at the MTC in Ghana. But having missionaries spend a shorter time in the MTC has been a blessing, President Graham said.
“I truly believe that the missionaries going out with this 11-day program are just as ready as they were after 19 days. The Lord in some way compensates.”
President and Sister Graham will complete their two-year assignment at the Ghana MTC in January 2014. Until then, they will welcome a new group of missionaries every other week, and the busy, gratifying process continues as the Lord hastens His work.