Adesina Olukanni is optimistic about the future of the Church in his Nigerian homeland. He looks at the missionaries and young mothers some of whom he taught as a Sunday School teacher 14 years ago and he sees the second generation of Church members in his country and, for that matter, in all of Africa.
"The Lord is raising generations from these young people who are more pliable and who are teachable," said Elder Olukanni, who was sustained as an Area Authority Seventy in April general conference, during a Church News telephone interview. "I'm seeing better missionaries from those who have grown up in the Church, who have learned and lived from their youth the gospel standards, who have not made wrong turns at all in their lives. I see them teaching with power."
Many of those young people "teaching with power" are the children of African pioneers who faithfully waited and then cried with joy when the news came in June 1978 that all worthy male members of the Church could receive the priesthood men like Petrus Lekgwati, now a high councilor in the Soweto South Africa Stake. "How wonderful it was when the bar was dropped by the priesthood revelation announced in 1978 by President Spencer W. Kimball that all worthy male members could be given the priesthood," Brother Lekgwati recently told missionaries in Johannesburg. "We were so happy that we could be accepted into the Church, the only true Church, and that our father could baptize us and ordain us to the Aaronic Priesthood.
"The question was, 'Now that we have the priesthood, what are we going to do with it?' Because God loves us, He gave us the priesthood, so we learned to appreciate that wonderful blessing."
And they have taught that appreciation to their children, who will pass it on to their children. Elder Robert C. Oaks of the Seventy and president of the Africa Southeast Area described the rolling forth of the gospel in Africa to the "stone cut without hands, rolling forth to fill the earth," referring to Daniel 2:34-35. "It really is rolling here," he added during a telephone conversation.
Indeed, in the 25 years since the priesthood revelation, Church membership in the Africa Southeast Area has grown to some 80,000 members, with black membership at about 95 percent, except for South Africa, where more than 50 percent of the some 35,000 members are black. Church membership is even greater in the Africa West Area at approximately 100,000.
Elder Sheldon F. Child of the Seventy and president of the Africa West Area told the Church News, "Without the priesthood, the Church would not have growth [in West Africa]. We would be like we were 25 years ago."
Recently in Cape Coast, Ghana, Elder Child visited with one of the early Church pioneers there. In 1964, Joseph William Billy Johnson, a preacher, obtained a copy of the Book of Mormon and began establishing congregations. "They called it The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but they had no authority," Elder Child said.
The day Brother Johnson and others heard about the revelation granting the priesthood to all worthy male members was the "happiest day of their lives," said Elder Child. He said he asked Brother Johnson during their recent visit, "Has the Church been a great blessing?" The African pioneer replied, "It is my life."
There are countless others like Brother Johnson, and many even before him. As early as the 1950s, letters were arriving at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City from Ghana and Nigeria requesting literature and membership. In fact, by the 1960s, there were more such letters from those two African nations than from all the world combined. In 1978, five months after the revelation, the first missionaries arrived in Nigeria. They were Rendell and Rachel Mabey and Ted and Janath Cannon.
One man who had waited 13 years was Anthony Ozodimma Obinna, the first to be baptized in Nigeria. Long before the missionaries' arrival, Brother Obinna had organized a congregation in Nigeria. He later became the first black African branch president. He is reported to have said soon after his baptism, "The seed of the gospel will grow into a giant tree. The Church in Nigeria will surprise the world in its growth." Brother Obinna died in 1995.
His words have proven right. Within one year after the revelation, there were more than 1,700 members in 35 branches in West Africa. On July 1, 1980, the Africa West Mission was created, and on May 15, 1988, Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve organized the Aba Nigeria Stake, with David William Eka as stake president.
Similar accounts come from members in Southeast Africa, such as that of Moses Mahlangu, who quietly gathered followers and waited patiently. Days after the announcement of the revelation, he embraced South African Mission President E. Dale LeBaron, who asked him if he would like to be baptized. "I have waited for 14 years," Brother Mahlangu said, in tears.
There are endless such tender stories. And they continue today as the Church grows and as members in West Africa await the dedication of two temples, the Acra Ghana and the Aba Nigeria Temples, which are under construction. And it's what the people are talking about.
It's what Elder Olukanni is quick to discuss. "The advent of the temple will bring the light of Christ upon the land and the people and the land will be healed, and as the work of the Melchizedek Priesthood progresses in these temples our ancestors will receive the saving ordinances of the gospel and blessings from heaven will descend upon the people what more can we ask for?"
Some historical facts in this article were taken from a BYU Devotional address given by E. Dale LeBaron on Nov. 3, 1998.
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