`Nigeria needs gospel in hearts of its people'

A magnificent moment in the unfolding drama of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This aptly describes the arrival of the first Church president ever to set foot in west Africa.

President Gordon B. Hinckley arrived in Nigeria Saturday, Feb. 14, the first stop on a five-country African tour. He spoke at a priesthood leadership session that evening, and on Sunday, Feb. 15, he addressed the Port Harcourt Regional Conference. He then traveled to Ghana Monday, Feb. 16, where he met with Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings and addressed a member meeting, announcing that a temple would be built in Ghana. (See related article on this page about President Hinckley's trip to Ghana.)President Hinckley's African tour continued with visits to Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa. He was accompanied on the tour by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve and Elder James O. Mason of the Seventy, president of the Africa Area.

En route to Africa, President Hinckley stopped in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he addressed 2,000 members from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in the Halifax World Trade and Convention Center. He then traveled to Cape Verde, off the coast of Africa. There, he addressed a meeting attended by 775 people and met with the local governor. The people were extremely excited about having the president of the Church stop on their tiny island.

Soon after he arrived in Nigeria, President Hinckley said, "The great nation of Nigeria needs the gospel of Jesus Christ in the hearts of its people." Members here said that his visit to this city exceeded their high expectations. They were in awe to see with their own eyes the face behind the familiar picture they've seen so many times.

As President Hinckley arrived at the priesthood leadership meeting, held at the Port Harcourt Civic Center, a group of Primary children sang for him. One youngster, almost overcome to be in the presence of the Church leader, shyly presented him with a bouquet of flowers. Women with bright silken headdresses stood outside the center to catch a glimpse of President Hinckley as he arrived.

At the meeting, attended by 1,150 priesthood leaders, President Hinckley encouraged them to stay abreast of new developments in Church policy and curriculum. "You can't stay in the past and be a good leader of the Church," he said.

Leaders also should build on the strength of their associates, he continued. They should "starve the problems and feed the opportunities. Deal with problems and get them behind you."

Further, he said, "Think of the great opportunity we have in building the kingdom of God in this part of the world. Help the kingdom grow and shine in this land of Nigeria."

He also suggested that leaders find a quiet place and meditate about their responsibilities. "And there will come into your lives a great sense of satisfaction. The Church will grow as you grow. If you don't do anything, nothing very much will happen with the Church. But if you are anxiously engaged in assisting those for whom you are responsible, the Church will grow and blossom in strength.

"Bless your people," he counseled. He noted that all blessings are not formal and that loving leaders who are kind to the people will help the Church grow and progress. "You must be out in front in the cause of righteousness."

President Hinckley charged the leaders to give every new convert a responsibility, and to be kind and bless the converts with love. "Are you kind to your wives? Are you kind to your children?" he asked. "Go home and tell your wives you love them."

At the regional conference session on Feb. 15, a total of 12,417 members from throughout the nation gathered hours before the appointed time of the meeting. Some spent two days aboard buses traveling through villages and tropical forests to attend. Many of the women dressed for the special occasion in traditional bright colored dresses with turban-like head ties.

The reverent congregation stilled as President Hinckley stood, and hardly a sound was heard from the members until he concluded his address.

In his address, President Hinckley noted the anniversary of the priesthood revelation of 1978. "I express deep appreciation for the revelation which came to President Spencer W. Kimball 20 years ago in which all the opportunities and blessings of the priesthood would be made available to every worthy male," President Hinckley said. "What a marvelous thing that was! I was present when it happened. I am an eyewitness that it happened . . . . How grateful we are - how thankful we are."

He quoted from 2 Ne. 26:33: " . . . He inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile."

"They are all alike for our Father in heaven," President Hinckley explained. "There is no discrimination in His sight - we are all His sons and daughters."

The Church leader encouraged members to attain perfection in areas where possible, such as in paying tithing, keeping the Word of Wisdom and saying prayers morning and night. In areas more difficult, members should continually strive for perfection, he said.

He asked husbands to love and respect their wives, and parents to rear their children with kindness in the love and nurture of the Lord. His words were not lost on the congregation.

"I hope you will remember this day when we came among you to give you our love and our blessing," President Hinckley declared. "May you have food on your tables, clothing on your backs and a roof over your head. May you love the Lord with all your heart, might, mind and strength."

As President Hinckley concluded speaking, a quick but heavy rain crackled on the roof, prompting him to say, "Be thankful for the rain - the moisture of the earth. The heavens have smiled upon us."

Elder Holland, who noted that he has been in Nigeria before, underscored the significance of President Hinckley's visit.

"Sometimes we are so close to history we don't know we are making it," he said. "You are making it in a profound way," he told the conference-goers.

He asked members to record and pass on to future generations their account of "when a prophet of God was in Port Harcourt for the first time in the history of this dispensation - the first time, I suppose, in the work of the Lord through all the world from the beginning."

Elder Holland paid tribute to Nigerian members "for the numbers you represent, the faithfulness with which you serve, the loyalty to which you have arrived, and the circumstances that many of you faced just traveling to be here, and what it must mean personally for you to be here.

"We declare the beauty and wonder of this moment."

At the end of the meeting, as President Hinckley and the other Church leaders left the podium area, members surged forward in hopes of adding touch, through a handshake or other contact, to the sights and sounds of being in the presence of the Church president. Outside, people converged at his car.

"Everybody was praying President Hinckley would come," said Ndvka B. Ojaide, president of the Port Harcourt Nigeria Stake and a member of the regional conference planning committee. "When I read the letter saying President Gordon B. Hinckley and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland were coming, I was so excited. As I drove through a junction on the way home, I almost crashed because of my happiness. When I broke the news to the children, everybody was happy and jumping around. We felt the Lord had answered our prayers."

Bishop Kalu I. Kalu of the Rumueme Ward, Port Harcourt Stake, commented, "I never thought in my lifetime I would ever see the face of the prophet. This is historic - something we never dreamed of."

During a drive to the nearby city of Aba on Sunday, Feb. 15, members, their neighbors and friends waving Nigerian flags lined the road in President Hinckley's honor.

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