ABA, Nigeria — Throughout Nigeria there are several rivers and streams considered almost sacred by Latter-day Saints. They take visitors on what feel like pilgrimages to these sites with names like Owerri and Ikot-Eyo. Here many of the early pioneers of the Church in this nation were baptized by the first missionaries sent to West Africa some 26 years ago.
There is another site now much more sacred to members — the newly dedicated Aba Nigeria Temple.
On a warm, humid day during the rainy season, 7,415 gathered Aug. 7 from throughout Nigeria in jubilation as President Gordon B. Hinckley dedicated the 121st operating temple of the Church and the second temple in West Africa. The Accra Ghana Temple was dedicated in January 2004, also by President Hinckley.
At times during a weekend of activities related to the dedication, which carried the theme, "A Day of Rejoicing," members seemed hardly able to contain their joy. In the early morning hours, members began gathering long before the first dedicatory session set for 9 a.m. They came from not only Aba, but also places such as Lagos, Port Harcourt, Uyo, Benin City, Ibadan, Ondo, Abuja and Warri.
"I have confidence that the presence of this temple will become a great blessing to the people of Nigeria," President Hinckley said during a news conference in Aba the day before the dedication. "I think that the temple in Ghana has proven to be a blessing to the people in Ghana and I'm confident that the temple here will likewise be a blessing to the people of Nigeria.
"This thing of beauty, it's such a beautiful place," the Church president declared to reporters including members of two national Nigerian news organizations. "It speaks of heavenly things, it speaks of goodness and virtue and truth and lifts the eyes of people toward God. I think that they cannot have that kind of experience without becoming better. A whole nation will be strengthened."
For Elder Adesina Olukanni, Area Seventy, the temple brings a healing to the nation he loves. "The temple means today, in addition to family, it means healing to Nigeria. The temple will build the land. It will bring blessings of spiritual rejuvenation, and blessings of righteousness will sweep across the nation.
"I have no doubt that the Lord has moved upon Nigeria to bless the land," added Elder Olukanni, who also serves as second counselor in the Africa West Area presidency.
From the original 19 members baptized in 1978 in Nigeria has come tremendous growth, with membership nearing 70,000. That's more than half of the 120,000 membership figure for all of West Africa. The new temple will serve members in
Nigeria, as well as several thousand in Cameroon.
David Eka, who served as Aba Nigeria Stake president — the first stake president of the first stake in West Africa, created in 1988 — puts it in somewhat poetic terms. "Sometimes I think the Lord comes nearer to Africa, to touch His feet down in Africa so He can comfort the people."
Reflecting back on his baptism in September 1979, Elder Eka, who later became an Area Seventy, said having a temple in his homeland "would have been a wild dream. I never thought about it. I never thought about even the kind of chapels we have today, so to think of a temple at that time would have been asking for too much."
Not so for Cecelia Kanu-Chukwuma of the Umugasi Ward, Aba Nigeria Stake. In 1992, with the oldest of her five children 14 years old, she was told her husband had unexpectedly died while she was away.
"It's OK," she quickly adds. "The Church is here for me."
In December, after her son returns from attending university, she will take her family to the new Aba Nigeria Temple to be sealed — something she has dreamed for 13 years. When asked what she thinks about when she looks at the temple, the two-time ward Relief Society president says, "Seeing myself living together with my family in the celestial kingdom. That's what I've been praying for."
Prayer is a main part of Nigerian Latter-day Saints' life. Whenever someone is traveling a long distance, they tell one another, "Safe Journey." Angus and Felicia Arigbe Amiolemeh of the Ikeja Ward, Lagos Nigeria Stake, traveled 12 hours the day before the dedication with four of their children.
At the time of their baptism in 1989, there were five branches in Lagos. They remember attending Church in a rented building with some 50 people attending. Today, there are two stakes and 5,000 members in Lagos.
They were scheduled to be sealed as a family the first day the temple was open. "We are very happy. We know that we're going to live for eternity, together as a family," Sister Amiolemeh told the Church News while standing in line to attend a dedicatory session in the stake center adjacent to the temple.
The stories are endless. There's the family who arrived the night before they were to be sealed as a family, and stayed overnight at a nearby school. The next afternoon, this family was hungry. They had been waiting to enter the temple all morning. A temple worker asked visitors standing nearby if they had some snacks they could share. They did, and when the food was given to this family, the father and mother gave it all to their children as they were ushered into the new edifice.
Some 120 living endowments were performed that first day, along with many sealings. Bishop Fred Akimbo and his wife, Marian, of the Uwelu Ward, Benin Nigeria Stake, stood outside with the first group waiting to enter that morning. With them were their two girls, 8-year-old Yetunede and 4-year-old Tolu. The family was going to be sealed.
"When we leave this earth, we will be together again as a family with Heavenly Father," Sister Akimbo said.
Elder Eka put the joy of the saints here in perspective: "I feel fulfilled and like Simeon of old I can say 'Oh, Lord, let thy servant depart in peace for I have seen a temple in Nigeria."
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