The small baptistery is crowded and stuffy on a warm Sunday afternoon. Half of the seats in the room are filled with men, women and children dressed all in white. Four families, 17 people total, were baptized into the Beira 1st Branch, Beira District in Mozambique on June 9. The four couples were married the day before — and this is not an unusual event for the Mozambique Maputo Mission.
In the April 2013 general conference, Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve talked about the challenges the Mozambique mission faced because many couples don't get married. An African tradition called lobolo requires couples to pay an expensive dowry before they can marry. Because of this tradition, many couples will live together for many years without being legally married.
"Members and missionaries thought and prayed about how to help," Elder Andersen said. "The answer to their prayers was that they would emphasize the law of chastity and the importance of marriage and eternal families."
Elder Andersen showed some of the results of these efforts in photos of nine couples and their families married and baptized on Nov. 30, 2012 in Maputo, the country's capital, and seven in the city of Beira on March 1. This is just a small part of the growth that has been happening in recent years in this southeastern African country.
Mozambique was dedicated by Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve in 1999 and today the country has just over six thousand members and two districts. From a humble start, the Church is beginning to blossom and grow.
In the 1990s, Maria Dique and her late husband, Chico Casse Morgan, were introduced to the gospel through Sister Dique's brother-in-law, who had been converted to the Church by German members. Sister Dique said it was easy for her and her family to accept the gospel because they had already been living most of its teachings, including reading the scriptures together as a family.
Sister Dique and her husband started inviting all their family, friends and neighbors to hear about the gospel in their home. So many people came to these unofficial meetings that soon the house was too small and they had to hold their meetings outside in the yard. A senior missionary couple from the Zimbabwe mission came and visited them and started to teach them the missionary lessons. After taking the lessons for a year, Sister Dique and her husband were baptized on March 30, 1997. The rest soon followed and a branch was organized.
Sister Dique attends the Manga 3rd Branch in one of two Church-built chapels in Mozambique. Many branch members can trace their gospel roots back to her, including Louisa Samson, one of the first members who attended meetings at Sister Dique's house. Sister Samson's son, Jorge Chene Maunga, the first missionary called from Mozambique, serves as president of the Manga 2nd Branch.
Mozambique has come a long way, but helping to bring four families to baptism was still no easy task for Elder Ethan Croft of Lovell, Wyo., who found and taught these families over a period of three months.
Elder Croft said marriage is often a considerable barrier to baptism for families in Mozambique. It's hard for couples to reject the traditions of their families, as getting married without paying lobolo is considered a very serious taboo.
"People that go until the end understand that it's a commandment of God [to live the law of chastity], and they're willing to do anything they can to keep that commandment," Elder Croft said.
The faith of these families is often tested with the sacrifices they have to make. Even without paying the lobolo, legal marriage in Mozambique costs at least 300 metacais, or about $17-18 in U.S. currency. A price that might seem small to most Americans is often very difficult for many Mozambicans to pay.
One family baptized on June 9 was Joao and Amelia Muloi, along with seven of their eight children. Brother Muloi earns a living selling T-shirts along the road. Elder Croft said there were several times he and his companion came to visit Brother Muloi, and he told them he didn't think he would be able to pay the fee to get married. But in the end, he decided to make the necessary financial sacrifice and his family always had enough to eat.
Francisco da Conceicao was unemployed and needed surgery besides needing money so that he and his wife, Matilde, could get married and be baptized along with their son, Rui. Brother Conceicao and many of the other families were able to pay the fee with the help of friends and family as they pressed forward in faith with their desire to keep the commandments.
Another family, Vidal and Feliciana Pascoal and their son, Andre, struggled at first because Brother Pascoal worked on Sundays. His boss was upset when Brother Pascoal first asked to take Sundays off, but Brother Pascoal decided to go to Church anyway; he was blessed to keep his job.
The Pascoals also struggled to break with the traditions of their family, Elder Croft said, and it helped them to bring recent converts to visit them and talk about their own experiences. When the Pascoals were able to talk with people from their own tradition who had passed through the same experiences to get married and baptized into the Church, they found the strength and courage to continue forward.
In the end, all four families made it to baptism, crowding the baptistery that day.
"I never imagined something like this would happen," Elder Croft said of the event. "It's definitely a miracle."