November 5, 2009, Accra, Ghana
The first time Faustina Otoo went to church, in Nigeria in 1985, the members’ love made her feel like she was in a “wonderland”. Since that day, Faustina’s journey in the church has taken her back to her native land of Ghana where she now serves as the front office receptionist at the Africa West Area office complex at the Accra Ghana temple. As the single mother of two children, Faustina is especially proud that her daughter is about to graduate from college.
How did you first became acquainted with the church?
I lived in Lagos, Nigeria with my husband and my children and I found the Church there in 1985 through a friend. This friend and I were going to meet part way to the church so he could go with me, but when I got to the meeting place, he wasn’t there. So I asked people around the area and they directed me to the church. This was a small place in Lagos, and when I got there the morning session was over and people were coming out of the meeting. And everybody who came out met me, or shook hands or hugged me or gave me a kiss, a peck on the cheek…. My friend was no where to be found and I was like, “What is going on? I don’t know these people!” I have not seen such love anywhere in my life. I was a bit scared. I said, “Did my friend sell me to these people or are these people crazy?” I was really really in a wonderland.
Then the couple missionaries asked if they could tell me more about the church before the afternoon session was packed. I loved everything they told me. I loved the story of Joseph Smith, even though I was skeptical, something told me it is true, it’s right. So I accepted the Book of Mormon and went home and I fasted and prayed. And I loved the testimony from the Spirit.
I got to a time in my life when I was wondering. I asked myself three questions: Why am I here? What am I doing here? Where will I go after this life? That was when I really started going to church. And I was jumping from one church to another. I remember the very day we were coming to the Latter-day Saints church, my little daughter was about 10 years old, and she said, “Mom, why are we changing churches every day?” And I said, “Well, until we find the church that is right we will never stop going. We will keep going until we find the church of Christ.” And that is when I came to this church.
I was given the triple combination scriptures. I prayed, “Lord, I have read in the scriptures that we should not add or remove anything from the scriptures. Why this Book of Mormon? Why do I have to get another scripture?” And after my prayer, I took the book again and I opened. It went straight to Doctrine & Covenants Section 138 where it talks about the three days of the Lord in the spirit world and how He organized the righteous spirits to bring the Gospel to the unrighteous and it made sense to me. It makes sense. This Section 138 makes First Peter in the New Testament clearer, when Peter wrote, “For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the Spirit.” (1 Peter 4:6) What Peter wrote is more reasonable to me now that I have the Book of Mormon. And so I accepted this book. I got baptized, and my daughter got baptized with me.
You mentioned a husband. Were you married at this time?
Yes I was. It was a difficult time in my marriage because my husband was going out with other women and doing all sorts of things. So he left us on our own. I was a full-time housewife and things were very difficult for me. But that’s when I found the Church. He never came back and we finally got divorced.
When he left us, I told everybody in the Church that I needed a job to sustain myself and my daughter. I stayed in Nigeria for two more years. I met Sandra Rogers, a white lady from Utah. She made me feel that I am also a child of God, and she became my role model.
I finally decided to come back to my country with my daughter. I am from Ghana originally, and my son was already living back in Ghana too.
You now work as the front office receptionist at the temple office complex in Accra. What led you to this position?
When I got home to Ghana I was practicing hair dressing to raise my children. I decided to do some cleaning jobs too and I got to clean the homes of the area presidency here. At that time we did not have this temple complex, so they just had a lot of offices around the city and I was cleaning those church offices too. In addition to cleaning, I was serving as a church welfare missionary in the employment resources center. There, I learned computer and office skills and all those things very well. There I got a job as a part-time secretary to the Church Educational System Coordinator. I worked in the CES Coordinator’s office as a part-time secretary for two years. Now I am at the front office in the Africa West Area office here at the temple complex.
Have you had experiences while you’ve been working there that have helped your testimony grow?
Yes, a lot of them. I remember before we moved into the temple complex here we were in a rented place. We had a visit here in Ghana from Elder Burton of the Presiding Bishopric. I’ve listened to his talks a lot in General Conference. He is a good speaker and I love to listen to or read his talks. When he came here he was going to meet with the area managers and their spouses. I was not an area manager and there was no way I could attend that meeting and hear him talk. So I prayed: “Lord, I know that I don’t belong to this category but I want to sit at the feet of this, your servant, and listen to him talk.” The following day, the Area Temporal Affairs Director came to the front office and said, “Faustina, Elder Burton is going to talk to us tonight and I want you to be there, even though you are not in the area management. What you can do is help my wife get the place ready and then when everybody is settled you can also be there to listen.” It was a wonderful experience for me. I got a chance to listen to Elder Burton.
Another instance was when Elder Holland came to Ghana with his wife, Patricia. Then also, I wanted to be there. The then-Area President’s wife, Sister Jolene Pace, called me and said, “Faustina, Sister Holland is meeting with some sisters. Will you please come and help make my house ready for her?” So I cleaned the whole place and got it ready. I got a chance to sit with Patricia Holland and listen to her and learn from her. She gave me a gift of a book she wrote.
Those kinds of experiences clearly help you feel connected to the core leadership of the Church. What else helps you feel connected to the women of the Church, specifically?
Just a month after my baptism, I was called to be the Relief Society president in the Bariga branch in Lagos, Nigeria. At that time I didn’t even know what the Relief Society was all about. I answered the challenge, and that’s when I started working with the sisters. I asked questions and I learned hard. It was a small branch, so I was the Relief Society president and the teacher, the compassionate service leader, a visiting teacher… and I did all of these things with the help of the couple missionaries. We went and visited everyone, and I encouraged the sisters to come.
I didn’t know if I was doing anything good until about ten years later when I visited the ward in Lagos that I had been baptized into. When I got to the Relief Society room, a woman was standing before the sisters, teaching them. she ran to meet me when I entered, hugged me hard, and she was all in tears and she told the sisters, “I am here because of this woman. She taught me how to come to church, even though I had to change many buses before I got here. She taught me how to take care of my children, how to prepare simple, nutritious food for my family during home making. She taught me how to pray for my children…” and all that!
Since I moved back to Ghana I’ve also been involved in the Relief Society here. Recently, I lost my father, and we held a funeral. All of my Relief Society sisters were there to support me. When I got home, a friend called and said, “There were only four sisters in our Relief Society meeting that Sunday. Everybody else went to your father’s funeral!” It showed me that we are working together to bring our families to Christ. These sisters really make me feel good. We relate to each other very well. Visiting Teaching is good, Enrichment is wonderful: we eat, we learn, we dance! It’s so fun. I love it.
Would you tell me about your children? You have been a single mother for many years now. What have been the greatest challenges raising two children by yourself in the Gospel?
I actually had three but I lost one. When my marriage was over, I prayed to my Father in Heaven. I said, “Father, I did not go to university or college. I have been a housewife all my life. But I put my hand in thine. I want my children to go to university. Whatever it takes. Help me.” I washed, I scrubbed, I cooked, I did all sorts of things. Any job at all I would do, just to send my children to school.
My daughter is graduating from Utah Valley University in April 2010. You can imagine how that makes me feel. Sometimes I have to pinch myself and see if I’m still alive. To see if this is happening in reality. The Lord has dug me out of a pit, a pit even deeper than the pit of Joseph when his brothers threw him out to be eaten. The Lord has brought me out of that pit to a high mountain. I can go into the temple and I can sit in the Celestial Room and I can talk with my great Father. I am so blessed and I am so happy. It’s really good.
I have a lot to improve upon. But from where I am coming from, the Lord has carried me on His shoulders.
Interview by Neylan McBaine. Photos used with permission.