After thousands of miles and days spent traveling, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve relayed a message of love and hope to the members in three West African nations in mid-February.
Less than 48 hours after he walked off the plane home, Elder Holland told the Church News that it is amazing to see the incredible work going on in a relatively young area of the Church.
For most, the visit from an apostle was their first such experience, one they will remember for a lifetime.
According to Elder Holland, he felt the same way, saying the trip was "spiritually moving," an unforgettable experience with the faithful members of the Church in the Africa West Area of the world.
"I came home so moved by them and their faith," said Elder Holland. "Africans have such a remarkable quality and depth of faith and spirituality. They are believing, instinctively spiritual people. They believe in miracles. They have them, and they had them while we were there."
After an almost two-week long visit to countries where the Church is in its infancy — only having an official presence for about 30 years — Elder Holland said that although the Church may be young, the members are filled with faith and very capable of doing the work of the Lord.
"It has been not much more than 30 years that we have even had a presence anywhere in Africa that wasn't Anglo-oriented," he said. "To see that growth come and continue to come day after day, week after week, year after year — where branches are becoming wards and districts are becoming stakes — is truly inspiring. Through it all, these people know how to run the Church, know how to observe Church protocol. ... I was so impressed at how mature they are in their study of the gospel, their knowledge of procedures and principles, and their religious focus in every aspect of their lives."
Accompanied by his wife, Sister Patricia Holland, and other General Authorities including Elder Steven E. Snow of the Presidency of the Seventy and his wife, Sister Phyllis Snow, and the Africa West Area presidency, Elder John B. Dickson, president; Elder Joseph W. Sitati, first counselor; and Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., second counselor; Elder Holland visited three countries — Liberia, Ghana and Sierra Leone — over 11 days.
The highlight of the trip, Elder Holland said, was meeting and being with the strong members, missionaries and leaders of the Church in this developing part of the Church.
"I spent half of the trip in tears just observing everyone's faith, everyone's willingness to serve, everyone's desire to do the right thing and grow the Church," Elder Holland said. "They want the gospel; they want the Spirit of the Lord in their lives. They want it for their children. And all of this has happened in a matter of just a few short years. That's the Church we are seeing in West Africa."
Elder Snow has a deep affection for the peoples of Africa. He and Sister Snow lived in South Africa for four years (2001-2005) while he served in the presidency of the Africa Southeast Area. Until he was recently called as Church Historian, he assisted Elder Holland in supervising Africa for the five years he served in the Presidency of the Seventy. During that time he made a number of return trips to both areas of Africa.
"In Liberia and Sierra Leone, and even in Ghana, many of the Saints are first-generation members of the Church," he said. "Most have never had the privilege to meet an apostle. In Sierra Leone, the last visit [by a member of the Quorum of the Twelve] was by Elder Richard G. Scott in 1989. In the interim, the progress of the Church was hampered by a ten-year civil war which finally ended in 2001. It was gratifying to observe the love and appreciation on the faces of the members as Elder Holland addressed them and ultimately left an apostolic blessing on the members, their families, the government and their wonderful country."
Elder Snow added, "One does not need to be in Africa long to learn material things do not bring happiness. Many of our members there are blessed with little in terms of wealth, but they feel richly blessed to have the truths of the gospel. The Church has a great future in Africa. Each time we visit we observe greater strength even in places that are remote and difficult to reach. Members there study, pray and seek to obey the commandments. They desire to learn and follow the policies of the Church. Many of our young men and women serve faithful missions and return to their branches to become leaders. It is an amazing thing to watch unfold."
Following are highlights pertaining to the visits:
Liberia — Feb. 11-13
Records in the Church archives indicate that a small group of foreign Latter-day Saints were meeting in Monrovia in the mid 1970s, but it wasn't until the early 1980s that two small branches were formed, mostly for foreign Church members working in the country. It wasn't until 1987 that Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve visited the members and blessed the land. Since then, the Church has grown into two districts, with about 5,500 members.
During his visit, Elder Holland met with members and priesthood leaders in the area where he instructed them and answered their questions, telling them that they are known, remembered and loved by the Lord and by the Church's leaders in Salt Lake City.
In addition to meeting with the members, Elder Holland visited with Sierra Leone's vice president, Mr. Samuel Sam-Sumana. "The president was traveling, so we met with the vice president. It was a very pleasant meeting," Elder Holland said. "The vice president knew a great deal about the Church and its work."
While there, Elder Holland spent about an hour and a half answering questions about the Church from the local media.
Ghana — Feb. 13-15
With more than 45,000 members of the Church living in Ghana today, the Western African nation is home to seven stakes, a missionary training center and the Accra Ghana Temple. While in that area, Elder Holland met with the missionaries, area office employees, members of the Church, and conducted a review of the area.
"The members in Africa love the temple. They really love the temple," Elder Holland said. "In the midst of civil chaos and great trouble in some of the countries in the temple district, the members put their faith ahead of virtually anything else that is happening politically or economically in order to go to the temple."
The stake center on the temple grounds was packed Feb. 15 as members eagerly listened to Elder Holland and his colleagues.
"I loved the message from [an apostle] who filled us with faith and hope," Peter Oqusu from Mataheko said after the meeting.
Joanna Sagoe Sam from Takaradi, Ghana, said, "The apostle comforted us, each one. He counseled the youth not to leave the Church and the parents to protect their children. He told the sick to have hope and the desolate to have Christ as their light and the penitent to have hope and joy. Elder Holland told us to visit the temple regularly. He gave us an example, a humble example of Christ and told us we should be near to Him."
Sierra Leone — Feb. 16-19
One of the most tender moments during the entire trip, Elder Holland said, was when he spoke at a final combined conference for the Freetown districts in Sierra Leone on Feb. 19. The first baptism in the country took place in the late 1980s, and today the country has more than 8,000 members.
"As I concluded the last session of the last conference to a standing-room only congregation, I had the impression to invite two children — a brother and sister — to come up," he said. "He had on a white shirt and tie. She wore a beautiful, colorful dress." He said that as he stood there with his arms around the children, he saw a future of hope for the children, and the entire Church in Africa.
"Their future — and the future of the Church — is bright, filled with possibility," he said. "I don't know what their lives might have promised 200 years ago, or 500 years ago, or 2,000 years ago, but in this day, with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church established in this land, I can promise and see in great detail what their future will be. What hope, and faith and possibility they have.
"Against the sometimes dark tapestry of African history, it is dramatic what light the gospel has brought — the hope it gives to the people," he said. "In addition to blessing the members ... I was to able to pray for and bless the land, the people at large, government officials and for peace among warring factions that might put an end to such horrific history.
"The Church is growing rapidly and dramatically. They are doing that the right way. It is growing properly with priesthood strength and according to eternal principles. The members and Church leaders are being very careful and are open to counsel. The future in Africa is bright because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the hope of the world. It is thrilling to see that hope shine in the eyes of a new generation in the Church."