Church is growing in east Africa

Famous for its vast game reserves teeming with bird and animal life, Kenya has become a foothold for the Church in eastern Africa.

In an land where some of the world's finest habitats flourish, including those of the great beasts - elephants, lions and hippos - and other exotic forms of life, the Church has grown to nearly 3,000 members, and from here has branched into three other countries.Much of Kenya's animal life is found in its Great Rift Valley, home to millions of birds and animals, that gouges western Kenya with escarpments in some places that rise thousands of feet high. It was formed by an ancient crack in the earth's crust and is the only earth feature that is visible from the moon. Paradoxically, the rift also has spawned a series of lakes and volcanoes such as Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain at 19,340 feet. Located near the equator, Kilimanjaro is perpetually covered with snow.

In this area where the first missionaries arrived in 1980, members live in two districts - Nairobi and Chulu - and 14 branches. These are under the leadership of the Kenya Nairobi Mission, which also has senior couples and/or proselyting elders working in Uganda, with 1,487 members; Tanzania, 328; and Ethiopia, 197.

"Four different governments, four money systems and approximately 50 languages and dialects" is the way Pres. David Boucher describes his unique mission.

"Several of our missionaries speak five or six languages. We have our own Missionary Training Center. Our new missionaries attend for eight days, from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily."

Kenya works an exotic spell on those who serve here.

"When missionaries from other countries leave Kenya, they're weeping because they'll never come here again," said Pres. Boucher. "They leave a piece of their hearts here. This place has a nostalgic attachment."

Leadership in Kenya is strong. The Nairobi District president, Joseph Sitati, is an executive in Total Oil Company. He and his wife, Gladys, joined the Church in 1985 and with their five children were the first Kenyans to go through the temple to be sealed.

Of that experience Pres. Sitati has said: "As we went to the temple and met the temple president and the workers we could feel that there is something about this Church that you don't find anywhere else. I feel it is the spirit of service and the spirit of love." And, he added, "I would say that our family will never be the same again."

Chulu District Pres. David Maluti is an elected government official - comparable to a county commissioner - in a district with 480,000 people. And Gideon Matwale, former district president and now a Public Affairs director, is curator at a Nairobi museum.

The Church recently drilled three wells for drinking water in the Chulu District, frequently hit by drought, and distributed the water to everyone - a humanitarian act that has made many friends.

Another member who works closely with Pres. Maluti in making friends for the Church is Elder Gunn McKay, who acts as a government liaison for the Church in Nairobi. He and Pres. Maluti make a distinctive pair on their frequent visits to the halls of government: Elder McKay, white-maned, over 6 feet tall, and the diminutive Brother Maluti just over 5 feet.

Elder McKay and his wife, Sister Donna McKay, wear many hats - proselyting couple, Public Affairs workers, and helpers in the Buru Buru Branch. A five-term member of the U.S. Congress, Elder McKay has previously served as a mission president in Scotland - with his own Scottish dialect.

Among those he has baptized in Kenya is a Somali refugee who left the city of Mogadishu four years ago. At the time, boat owners were charging US $200 for adults, $100 for children and $50 for infants who wished to flee the prospect of starvation. With his sister, he was loaded with some 300 others on one boat, with about 200 on another boat.

"The smaller boat was so overloaded it sank with a high loss of life," he told Elder McKay. "My boat was better, but its engine soon quit and the boat drifted for 11 days. We were finally rescued and taken to Mombasa (Kenya). My sister and I were put into a refugee camp," he said. He broke down in sobs when describing how he has lost track of nearly all his family.

Later he and his sister made their way to Mombasa where he worked for six months. The two finally made their way to Nairobi.

Walking the street one day, he saw Elder Craig Crittendon of Heber City, Utah, and stopped to talk to him. Elder Crittendon sent him to mission headquarters, where Elder McKay began teaching him. "Every time he was unable to get to Church he called to check with us," Elder McKay said. "Whenever there were riots planned he would call or see us at Church to warn us. He is always referring anyone to us who will listen and learn about the gospel."

The refugee has now been a member for seven months and tries to live every commandment, said Elder McKay, even though he is often ridiculed and harassed because of his refugee status.

"His dream is finally to take the gospel back to his people in Somalia, where he was driven out at gunpoint."

Restrictions on work permits for young elders coming into the country have slowed the flow of North American missionaries. But African missionaries are appearing in greater numbers. And the strength of the Church is growing.

Currently there are nine additional senior missionary couples working in the Kenya Nairobi Mission. Elder and Sister Jay and Joy Mortensen are on their third mission, having served previously in the West Indies and Nauvoo. Elder Doyle Packer was serving in South Africa in 1995 when his wife, Roma R. Packer, died after 10 months there. He returned home, and after he later married Fawn Lorraine Phelps, they came to Uganda for his second Africa mission.

Other couples serving are Elder and Sister Bill and Jean McAvoy in Ethiopia; Elder and Sister Ted and Beth Pearce in Tanzania; and Elder and Sister Robert and Jeraldean Christensen in Uganda. Other couples in the Nairobi Mission are Elder and Sister William and Marlene Jenks, the office couple; and Elder and Sister Gary and Catherine Huxford, and Elder and Sister Donald and Marjorie Johnson.

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