Elder Russell M. Nelson conducted a ministry in Africa from Oct. 21-30 that could be described as the fulfillment of scripture.
In the company of Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Presidency of the Seventy and Bishop Richard C. Edgley of the Presiding Bishopric, Elder Nelson dedicated Malawi and visited several other countries in which he presided over area reviews, addressed priesthood leadership conferences and spoke to members in various meetings.
"During the trip, a scripture kept coming to mind," said Elder Rasband. "That scripture is found in Doctrine and Covenants 107:35: 'The Twelve being sent out, holding the keys, to open the door by the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. ...'
"We were literally able to witness this verse in action as Elder Nelson dedicated the country of Malawi and as we visited the various nations," Elder Rasband said.
Elder Nelson, Elder Rasband and Bishop Edgley were together for various meetings held in Johannesburg, South Africa; Antananarivo, Madagascar; and Blantyre, Malawi. While Elder Nelson was presiding over stake conferences in Nairobi, Kenya, Elder Rasband was in Kampala, Uganda, and Bishop Edgley was in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Also with the Brethren in various places were members of the Africa Southeast Area Presidency: Elders Dale G. Renlund, Ulisses Soares and Carl B. Cook, all of the Seventy.
Traveling with their husbands were Sisters Wendy Nelson, Melanie Rasband, Pauline Edgley, Ruth Lybbert Renlund, Rosana Soares and Lynette Cook. While the General Authorities conducted priesthood leadership conferences, their wives met with and taught leaders of the Primary, Young Women and Relief Society organizations.
"We were trying to bless the lives of as many people in as many countries as possible," Elder Nelson said after his return to Salt Lake City.
While Elder Nelson had been to many countries in Africa, his visit Oct. 21-24 was his first to Madagascar, which is located in the Indian Ocean east of Mozambique. It is the world's fourth largest island. The first branch of the Church was established in Madagascar in 1990, nearly a year before missionaries were assigned to serve there full-time. The Church received legal status in 1993.
"They told me I was the first apostle to visit Madagascar since Elder Richard G. Scott was there to dedicate the country [on Oct. 27, 1999]," Elder Nelson said. "For them to know about prophets and apostles is an abstraction; to see one gives them a connection to the leadership of the Church, which they really appreciate. I wish we could get around more often. However, they're blessed to have an area presidency, members of the Seventy. They are so good, so competent. We fulfill our scriptural responsibility through these men."
While the first branch of the Church in Malawi was organized in 1999 and there are now about 1,000 members in four branches, the land had not been formally dedicated. Elder Nelson and others met as a small group for that purpose on Oct. 25.
"We have a chapel in Blantyre," he said. "That is where we chose to dedicate the land, thinking that this was probably the most sacred spot in the country. After we dedicated the country, we held a meeting for the members and missionaries."
Of his visit to Kenya Oct. 29-30, Elder Nelson said, "We were there for a priesthood leadership conference. We taught men from five countries: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Rwanda.
"I dedicated Ethiopia and Tanzania on earlier trips there, so for me to meet priesthood leaders from those countries was personally a real thrill."
Asked what impressions he brought home of the members in Africa, Elder Nelson paused a moment to collect his thoughts. "I would say reverence and competence would be at the top of the list."
In most places he visited, the Church is seeing its first generation of members; in other areas there are second-generation members. (In South Africa, where the Church has been long established, there are multi-generation members.)
Young men and young women are being called to serve as missionaries, not only to their own countries but also to other nations.
Bishop Edgley said, "Everywhere I went I found wonderful saints who were eager to learn and to do things right. I found great faith and great levels of activity among the people. There is a maturing leadership.
"In certain areas of Africa, especially in Congo and DR Congo, the Church is growing rapidly with a high level of faith. Everywhere we went, they were excited about the temple [to be built in Kinshasa, DR Congo; a temple is to be built also in Durban, South Africa], even if it will be inconvenient to get to. It is a symbol to them that the Church is growing in Africa and that at some time there will be a temple closer to them."
Elder Nelson said, "We also see the fruits of the humanitarian efforts of the Church. You and I contribute dollars to the humanitarian fund. We see women who used to walk three hours a day from their village to where the water is and then walk back, day after day. Now the humanitarian efforts of the Church have brought clean water to their communities. When Elder Rasband went to a community without any Latter-day Saints, the women danced around him with thanks for clean water."
Of their meetings during their visit to Africa, Elder Rasband said, "The leaders and members were very receptive to the teachings and messages given by all in our group."
Asked what he foresaw for those African nations where the Church has been established for only two decades or less, Elder Nelson used one word: "Hope."
Then he said, "After centuries of cycles of poverty, with no relief in sight and every generation doing what the previous generation did in poverty and squalor, there is now a way up and out; there's light and education, the promise of prosperity — both spiritual and economic — as they learn the commandments of God and learn to keep them. So it is hope that the Church can provide for this new generation."