Durban, South Africa

The Church was small and obscure in 1952 when Theodora Bailey was baptized with her sister in a river because there were no meetinghouses nor fonts.

The Church has come a long way since then in this industrial city of some 2.3 million, the largest seaport in Africa, facing the balmy Indian Ocean some 400 miles southeast of Johannesburg.A stake center that serves two stakes stands prominently within the city where an unnoticed branch once met in a small home. A third stake is expected to be created within a year.

"I am so proud of the Church, and what it has done throughout the world," said Sister Bailey. "The Church has distinctly blossomed, and it's no wonder."

When missionaries found Sister Bailey in 1952, they asked her to play the piano for the tiny branch. "Sometimes there were only two or three people there," she recalled.

Through the years since then, she has filled many other positions in other branches and then wards that always seemed short of people but long on callings.

Now, though, "I live in a stake where there are more than enough people to fill the callings," she said. "There is nothing small about the Church; it is a wonderful way of life with wonderful friends and wonderful spiritual experiences."

The Durban stake, to which she referred, is a stake that is growing rapidly despite its challenges, said Pres. Garith C. Hill.

A rich variety of origins supply the stake's membership. Some, such as Pres. Hill, emigrated from what was then Rhodesia and now is Zimbabwe. Others are local converts, such as Sister Bailey, who have lived in South Africa all their lives.

The most rapidly growing areas are in the townships where black Africans are joining the Church in promising numbers. In another area live the Tamils, members of a community originally from India whose growth is slowed primarily by the difficulty of finding property for a meetinghouse in their suburbs that have been hemmed in by other communities.

When Pres. Hill's parents, Robert and Wendy Hill, were baptized in 1958, there were only a handful of members meeting in homes.

"We were wondering if we would ever amount to anything," he said. Although the Church grew, it also "suffered from the migration of many people." The migration of members to other countries stems from concerns of increasing violent crime and from economic problems. Pres. Hill meets these challenges directly.

"Since I have been stake president, I have encouraged the people to stay and build Zion here," he emphasized.

Pres. Hill urges members to try to be an influence for good in the communities where they live, "to align themselves with other moral-thinking people, to build up our homes, our places of work in the community and to involve ourselves in building up the nation."

He said that the increased conversions have brought new strength to the Church.

"It has been wonderful to see the interaction of our people in our units. There has been an appreciation for each others' strengths, and some of the distance of the past has melted away, thanks to gospel interaction."

He said that with the new growth, leadership training is important.

"We have 2,800 members in the stake," he said. "We had 450 converts last year, and we expect another 1,000 this year."

He said that within the Church, "We are constantly telling people to adopt the culture of Christ. If there is any conflict between their traditions and the culture of Christ, they should relinquish all conflicting traditions."

Leaders, he said, strive to instill within the members that there is a work to do in South Africa, "that this is where the action is, where they can make a difference. This is why they were born in South Africa."

One of the well-trained leaders who is involved "where the action is" is Pres. Eric Gebo Zulu of the Kwa Mashu Branch, in a township of the same name outside Durban.

Pres. Zulu, as an investigator in the early 1980s, said he felt like he was a good man but thought religion "was for old people, not me." When his wife was baptized, he was persuaded to attend Church services then held in a school.

"The branch president greeted me and said how happy he was to see me," he recalled. "I stayed the whole time; I felt so good that day. We attended all the meetings again the next week, and we were baptized in 1982."

He was called as a teacher, and later as branch president, a calling he held for seven years. He was called to the high council and now he is again branch president.

The branch has an attendance of 175, with a membership of about 300.

Pres. Zulu has been assertive in helping to solve problems facing the branch. "We still have difficulty as far as safety is concerned," he said. "It is not easy to hold meetings during the week nights because of safety."

He said that the young men in the community don't have wholesome activities, and subsequently turn to crime and violence.

In the past, he noted, the branch organized a community talent show so the young men could develop their talents. "We approached companies to donate products to give as prizes. It went well. We had 300-plus people there. We should do something like that again."

He said that when rumors spread through the township that the Church had occult connections, he and other leaders arranged to speak about the Church on a widely heard African radio station. The comments were heard across South Africa. `We had a lot of response from people telling us how well we did," he said.

Pres. Zulu also reaches out to the community by making the branch meetinghouse available for funerals. "And if they haven't got a minister, we help them."

Helping to establish the branch in the township were Des and Vera Bell of the Durban stake's Bluff Ward. The Bells were baptized in the Salisbury Branch in what was then Rhodesia in 1963.

He served as branch president in Kwa Mashu when there were about 40 members. To help with the perennial problem of transportation, the Bells used to give people rides to meetings in their van. Their van was so well-known that once it was mistaken for a taxi by an old couple who got a free ride, they recalled with a chuckle. The couple waved down the van, rode for a while, and then asked to be let out. The Bells declined payment.

"We spent a lot of time teaching the basics, and health principles," he said.

Another branch in the stake finds that transportation is not the only problem: they can't find property available for a meetinghouse.

Dan Pillay, counselor in the Chatsworth Branch presidency, and his wife, Selva, have been members since 1980. He explained that the branch has an attendance of about 80, but more would come if a meetinghouse could be built locally, or if bus service were available. Those who do attend walk a considerable distance. The Church has not been able to purchase a site in the area because of a shortage of property.

"We have a very large Tamil population in this area," he said. "Most of the people in the area speak English, but some speak Tamil. Some are Christian, some are members of Eastern religions."

The lack of a meetinghouse is a serious impediment, he believes. "Probably the branch would become a stake if we could get our meetinghouse."

When missionaries first came to the Pillay home "It was one of the best things that ever happened to our family. We read the Book of Mormon and believed it to be true. We still read it all the time."

He said the members often become outcasts in the community when they join the Church. "But we do service projects and help out in what ever way we can."

Despite the difficult challenges faced by the members in Durban, they are doing their best to make progress, and are optimistic about what the future holds for the Church in this city.

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