Open houses in Africa show rapid growth

Rarely do stakes in the Church leap international boundaries. And rarer still does a stake hold new-building open houses in two separate countries in the same year.

The Roodepoort South Africa Stake has gone one step beyond - open houses on two successive weekends in January in Gaborone, Botswana, and Soweto, South Africa. The open house in Gaborone - some 4 1/2 hours driving time from the stake center in Roodepoort - marked the first Church meetinghouse built in Botswana. Gaborone West Branch Pres. Edward K.B. Karkari said the meetinghouse is the "expression of the commitment to bring the Church to Botswana."When construction started on the building in October 1995, the Church planned to build only the first phase. But the congregation grew so rapidly that the second phase was added. More than 300 members and others attended the open house.

Botswana, which borders South Africa on the northwest, was dedicated for the preaching of the gospel by Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve in 1992. In that prayer, Elder Scott noted that "all is in place for the rolling forth of thy sacred, holy and vital work to bless thy children around the world."

Among dignitaries attending the "VIP" portion of the open house was Kingsley Sebele, permanent secretary and Minister of Labor and Home Affairs in Botswana. He was previously the ambassador for Botswana to the United States.

Church membership now stands at 365 in three branches in Botswana. Missionaries have noted that when they present the gospel lessons to one or two people, four or five show up for the next lesson.

Roodepoort stake Pres. Robert Eppel said in a Gaborone sacrament meeting that "if we do not move forward we become stagnant" in the growing Church. "We must keep up momentum."

In Gaborone as well as at Protea Glen in South Africa's Soweto, Elder James O. Mason of the Seventy and Africa Area president offered the dedicatory prayers of the two buildings. He dedicated each building as "a house of worship, a house of prayer and a house of refuge."

The Protea Glen meetinghouse is the second to be built in Soweto, a black township near Johannesburg. That open house drew some 350 members and others. Among dignitaries attending were Daniel Kekane, mayor of Sandton, a major suburb of Johannesburg; Jerry Mphuthi, councilor and head of the local police force; and Charles Manaka, chairman for the South Africa Narcotics Control Association (SANCA) for Protea North.

Missionaries in Soweto, which includes an estimated 1.5 million inhabitants, are cautioned to proselyte only in limited areas because of the difficulty of members in traveling to Church - although Church members are scattered throughout the sprawling township. Most must walk from their homes to the meetinghouse. But in Soweto, as in other areas where members undergo great hardships in keeping their Church commitments, the spirit of the Lord is poured out in abundance. Visitors are quick to note that quality in the lives of the members.

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