First branch formed in Angola after years of strife

The first branch of the Church in Angola was established recently in the capital city of Luanda by Elder J. Richard Clarke of the Seventy.

On a Sunday morning in early June, some 86 members and investigators gathered in a compound operated by a local council of Christian churches. Presiding was Elder Clarke, then president of the Africa Area. He was accompanied by Elder James O. Mason of the Seventy, who, at the time, was first counselor in the area presidency. Elder Mason is now area president.Sherman Lyle Grandy, a major with the U.S. Army Defense Attache at the U.S. Embassy in Luanda, arranged the visits of Elder Clarke and Elder Mason to the area, including a meeting with embassy staff. Brother Grandy was interpreter for the meetings.

Also during the general session, local Angolans bore testimonies of the restored gospel. After the members' testimonies, Elder Clarke and Elder Mason spoke and bore their testimonies. In addition, members previously baptized in Luanda were welcomed by the congregation, which is mainly Portuguese speaking.

Prior to the general session a priesthood session was held that was attended by several local priesthood holders. Elder Clarke spoke on the law of tithing and gave general instruction and information about the Church.

The branch in Luanda is the first in the country, which officially recognized the Church in 1993. Members had lived in the area since 1985. However, many had been baptized while living for a short time in France or Portugal. After returning to Angola, they formed the nucleus of the Church in this part of Africa. Records indicate that some 400 members baptized in Europe during the past 15 years have returned to cities in Angola.

In a Church News telephone interview, Elder Clarke spoke of the faithfulness of the members in keeping the commandments despite the fact that no organized branch had existed.

"I just marvel at their faith and testimony and the love they have for the scriptures and for the Lord," Elder Clarke said. "The conditions under which they've been living during a

two-decade-oldT civil war stretched their faith because of the heavy burdens of war. Many people left Angola and went back to Portugal. But those who remained met together in the homes of the brethren who held the priesthood, and they have been functioning as a group, not as a branch.

"We were just amazed," he continued, speaking of the reaction of the then-area presidency. "No matter what the political circumstances, there's always a handful of people who continue to pray and read the scriptures, and even though they don't have the benefit of a formal ecclesiastical organization, they remain true to the testimonies they have. Whenever we go back into a country, they seem to come from nowhere.

"They're organized now as branch, and the current area presidency is revitalizing training and supervision in preparation for formal proselyting. When the time is right, the Church will have a fruitful field for successful missionary work."

Elder Earl C. Tingey of the Seventy, who served in the Africa Area presidency from 1991 to 1994, related in a telephone interview his experiences while visiting Angola in 1992. Accompanying him was an acquaintance who spoke Portuguese.

"We advertised in a newspaper and went on radio and said on such and such a time on Sunday we'll hold a meeting in a hotel room. We had about 35 or 40 come to the hotel. They had heard of the meeting on the radio.

"I took a suitcase full of Church literature, manuals, family home evening manuals, copies of the Book of Mormon - everything we could find in Portuguese. They were starved for anything on the Church. When we held the sacrament meeting, they just wept," Elder Tingey related.

"You have to be there to experience it," he said. In a second visit to Angola, Elder Tingey presided over another sacrament meeting attended by some 50 people. "We got a lot of phone numbers and addresses. I corresponded with them. It took about three or four months for a letter to get to us."

During Elder Tingey's visits to Angola, he met with various government officials and humanitarian aid organizations, such as the Red Cross. Through these contacts, the Church organized such service projects as providing packets of seeds, and hoes and other tools for servicemen returning from the war so they could plant gardens. Another project was helping establish a hospital for pregnant Angolan women who had lost limbs to land-mines.

However, because of the continuing civil war, Elder Tingey said he never knew of the results of the projects. He spoke of how the war disrupted Angola's industry, which includes such resources as oil and diamonds.

"It was heart-rending to want to help and not be able to. You just had to give them hope," he added.

With the establishment of a branch, there seems to be indeed cause for hope. As Elder Clarke noted: "The blood of Israel is strong there. They are a believing people. I'm sure the Lord will prepare for an abundant harvest."

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