5,000 attend conference in South Africa; example of growth of the Church

Elder M. Russell Ballard encouraged a congregation of nearly 5,000 - the largest LDS gathering ever assembled in South Africa - to declare to all the world that the church to which they belong is indeed the only true Church.

The gathering at the Johannesburg Regional Conference on Sunday, Feb. 18, is another example of phenomenal growth in the Church manifest this month by there being more members outside the United States than within. (See article on page 3.)Held at the National Exhibition Center on the city's outskirts near Soweto, the conference was an indication of the reconciliation that has taken place in this land of contrasts.

Elder Ballard acknowledged during his remarks the presence of members who had traveled hundreds of miles at great sacrifice, all because of their love for the Church, from Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana and Namibia to attend the conference. Some members arrived a few days early to attend the temple, an opportunity which does not come often.

The Church in South Africa has suffered persecution from other religions since the first three missionaries from Salt Lake City landed in Cape Town in 1853. Despite this impediment, the Church has shown steady growth. Today the membership in South Africa has reached 23,500 and serves as a foundation for the 24 other countries of Africa where the Church has organized wards and branches. Membership in all of Africa now exceeds 92,000.

During the priesthood leadership session on Feb. 17, a large number of priesthood leaders met for instruction by Elder Ballard and the area presidency.

Participating with Elder Ballard in addressing the Sunday session were his wife, Barbara Ballard; Elder J. Richard Clarke of the Seventy who is president of the Africa Area and his wife, Barbara Clarke. Elder Christoffel Golden Jr., area authority, and Laurence Bundy Palmer, Johannesburg Temple president, also spoke briefly.

Speaking about the Savior, Elder Ballard reminded the attentive audience: "In a way we cannot fully comprehend He took upon Himself all the sins of the world. He bled from every pore in Gethsemane and was crucified on Golgotha, thereby breaking the bonds of pain and death and providing all mankind with hope of eternal life."

Elder Ballard outlined the steps the Savior took prior to the atonement to establish and organize His Church. He called, ordained and trained the apostles who would lead His Church after His ascension into heaven. Elder Ballard showed how biblical prophecy of a falling away from gospel truths had come to pass. The apostles were cruelly martyred, priesthood authority was lost and inspired teachings about God, the Godhead and priesthood ordinances were changed by councils of men who professed no revelation.

Had there not been a falling away there would have been no need for the Reformation begun by Martin Luther and other courageous "protesters," said Elder Ballard. Because of the great apostasy, authority to act in the name of God had to be restored to the earth. Through Joseph Smith the age of darkness was ended. God's authority was restored and the Church of Jesus Christ is once more fully upon the earth.

At the conclusion of the conference, those attending were visibly touched by the outpouring of the Spirit. Many thronged around Elder and Sister Ballard to shake the hand of an apostle of the Lord, a once-in-a-lifetime and never-to-be-forgotten experience for most of them.

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