Five nations of Africa will never be the same following President Gordon B. Hinckley's visit, according to members whose lives he touched here.
In his longest trip to date as president of the Church, President Hinckley traveled the African continent from west to east, and from the north to its southern-most tip Feb. 14-21. In meetings in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa, he encouraged members to live the lofty standards of the gospel, he blessed the members and he often tenderly expressed his love.He traveled a cumulative 53.5 hours in 10 days, covering 24,700 miles, the near equivalent of circling the earth, and spoke to a total of 34,914 people.
President Hinckley was accompanied by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve and Elder James O. Mason of the Seventy and president of the Africa Area.
The Church president arrived in Nigeria on the west coast of Africa Feb. 14 where he spoke to 1,150 priesthood leaders and to 12,417 members at a regional conference. He traveled to Ghana Feb. 16 where he met the president of Ghana, spoke at a meeting of 6,500 people, and announced the first temple for West Africa to be built in Ghana. (See Feb. 21 Church News.)
He then traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, in eastern Africa Feb. 17 where he spoke to a gathering of 878 members. The next morning on the way to the airport, he stopped briefly at Nairobi National Park. Leaving Kenya, he traveled south to Zimbabwe, where he spoke at a meeting of 1,497 in Harare on Feb. 18. Arriving in South Africa Feb. 19, he addressed temple workers at the Johannesburg South Africa Temple and to 5,500 members in the Johannesburg area that evening. On Feb. 20, he spoke in Durban to 1,800 members of the Durban South Africa Stake in the morning and to 1,552 members in the Cape Town South Africa Stake in the evening.
He left the continent Feb. 21 and stopped at Cape Verde, off the northwest coast of Africa, on the way home, where he spoke to 780 people at a member meeting Sunday, Feb. 22. En route to Africa, he spoke to 2,000 people in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Feb. 12, and to 775 members Feb. 13 in Las Palmas, Canary Islands, located off the coast of Spain. In the Canary Islands, he met with Jose Macias Santana, president of the governing body of the Canary Islands.
Members responded to President Hinckley's visit in deep gratitude on behalf of their families and their nations, both of which they said would be changed by his visit.
With the completion of the Africa trip, President Hinckley has visited every continent and clime, except Antarctica, literally traveling to the ends of the earth since he became president of the Church three years ago, in March 1995.
As much as he travels, President Hinckley would like to do more, he said. In Nairobi, Feb. 17, he noted, "I wish I could go to every group in every nation in this vast continent of Africa to give encouragement and hope and blessings to the people."
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve, who accompanied President Hinckley to Africa, observed while in Durban, South Africa, on Feb. 20:
"President Hinckley has given his life literally to the outreach of the Saints. . . . He has committed
hisT life and calling to going as far as he can, over all the world. He has traveled more than any president of the Church in this or any other dispensation in the history of the world. It is the grand, glorious nature of our time."
In most locations across the globe in the past three years, record or near record numbers of members have flocked to see and hear President Hinckley. Obviously, for most in the outlying areas it was their first-ever glimpse of the president of the Church, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to feel his presence.
On this latest whirlwind trip, the visit assumed epic dimensions to members in Africa.
Members came with high expectations. In Nigeria, for example, Pres. Nduka B. Ojaide of the Port Harcourt Stake explained that, before the visit, when members taught their children of the living prophet on the earth, it was almost as remote to the children's experience as telling them of Old Testament prophets.
"Now," he said, "They will see his face with their own eyes."
Some members who saw and heard the Church leader also longed to satisfy a third sense: touch.
One woman said, "In the Bible, a woman was healed just for touching the hem of the Savior's garment. I would be satisfied just to have his shadow fall across me."
In Nigeria, after the president left the civic center, a crowd of members - including a few of the ushers who were to keep the crowd back - pressed forward and surrounded the cars carrying President Hinckley and his group. Their arms reached out, their hands stretching to feel the metal brush across their fingertips.
In other locations, the thousands who missed that tactile experience, however, did no feel diminished.
President Hinckley's expression of love and the spiritual experience of the meetings provided amply for the members, they said. In Nairobi, Kenya, for example, President Hinckley noted:
"You look wonderful. This room couldn't be filled with better people than it is today. I am so deeply grateful that you are here. I am happy to bre in Kenya among a people whom I love.
"There is a tremendous bond of love that grows among the Saints of God wherever they may be found. It is a marvelous and wonderful thing. As I look into your faces, I can see the same bond of affection as I do when I look into the faces of people in the Salt Lake Tabernacle. We are all part of this great family - this Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now 10 million strong, scattered through 160 nations of the earth."
As they meditated about the experience after President Hinckley's departure, some members were asked if the experience was all they had hoped for.
Generally, they paused in revlection and answered in simple, subdued tones"
"It was better."
President Hinckley left the shores of Africa Feb. 21, the airplane he was on swiftly rising above the Cape of Good hope at the confluence of the Indian and Atlantic oceans - returning from one of the ends of the earth.
Thoush he was gone, the gifts of spirit and love he brought lingered among an uplifted mambership, a membership who will remember the prophet who cared enough for them to travel to the ends of the earth.