Nearly 9,000 members in South Africa gathered in three cities to hear the president of the Church as he encouraged them to remain in their homeland to build the Church here.
On Feb. 19, President Gordon B. Hinckley addressed about 5,500 members from five Johannesburg stakes. On Feb. 20, he spoke to 1,800 from the Durban stake and to 1,552 from the Cape Town stake. The three South African stops on President Hinckley's African tour followed visits in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Zimbabwe.Elder Jeffrey R. Holland summed up the entire trip as "history in the making" for the Church, saying at the conference in Johannesburg that the effects of President Hinckley's visits were broader than their effect on Church members.
"It is not just the Latter-day Saints who will be blessed," he said. "I believe so profoundly with all my heart this whole continent will be blessed.
"There is something grand and glorious happening in this land," Elder Holland continued. "The greatest thing that can happen to Africa is for a prophet of God to walk on its soil."
The Johannesburg venue was a sprawling exhibition hall, large enough that President Hinckley asked for more of the house lights to be turned up so he could better see the congregation.
Some faces surrounding President Hinckley were familiar – former Utah Gov. Norman Bangerter, now president of the Johannesburg mission, and his wife, Colleen, were seated on the stand; Donald Ripplinger, retired assistant conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir who is serving a mission in Johannesburg with his wife, Myra, was leading a stake choir providing music for the conference.
In his address, President Hinckley said the meeting there was the largest gathering of Saints ever in South Africa.
"I think we have far more here than we get in the tabernacle for General Conference."
He commented about the pioneering effort of the Saints in Johannesburg, and then observed:
"People say they would like to have lived in the time of the pioneers. This is the greatest age in the history of the Church. I'd rather live now."
In Durban, members left school and work to assemble in the Durban Convention Center. Many gathered hours before the 10:30 a.m. starting time.
Arriving at the meeting invigorated, President Hinckley assured members that "the Church is here to stay."
"Many of you are concerned about conditions here," he said. "Some of you worry whether you should emigrate and go elsewhere. I'd just like to say that there is trouble everywhere; all of it isn't in South Africa.
"The Church is spreading forth over the earth, to build Zion wherever it goes for the people who live there. I want to give you an assurance that the Church is here to stay in South Africa. We have been here a very long time, and we are going to be here for a long time. We have that beautiful temple in Johannesburg. We have meetinghouses up and down the land.
"We'll build buildings. The membership of the Church will increase. We now have five stakes in Johannesburg, but the time will come when we will have five stakes here.
"This is the work of the Lord and it is going to go on and grow and grow and grow in a mighty and powerful and wonderful way. This is a time of prophecy fulfilled."
President Hinckley thanked the members for taking time away from work and school to attend the meeting. "Thank you for your great effort to be here on this Friday morning," he said. "Thank you for your kindness and love, for the great courtesies you've shown us. I want to tell you that we love you – you are valued just as much by the General Authorities as the members in Salt Lake City or any other place in the world. Durban means something to us as it means something to you."
He thanked them for their faithfulness. "Come stormy weather or good weather, you have endured through the years. May the Lord smile upon you with love and appreciation for the great efforts you have made. May you go forward and be as a group of pioneers upon which the Church will be built in strength and power and capacity in this great nation of South Africa."
He counseled the youth to gain an education.
"The glory of God is intelligence, in other words, light and truth. That comes from our scriptures. We are a people who believe in teaching one another, in training the mind, in becoming acquainted with matters of geography and science with all such things that we might make a contribution to the society of which we are part. To you young men and women, strive for an education – get all you can and that will become an asset as you move about in society concerning this, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
He counseled members to maintain moral cleanliness, to stay away from drugs and pornography and to obey the Word of Wisdom. He counseled parents to rear their children in light and truth, and in love.
"What a precious thing is a child – a child of God."
Elder Holland spoke about the Prophet Joseph Smith, who was in his 15th year when he went to the grove of trees to pray in his search for the true Church.
To illustrate the youthfulness of the Prophet, Elder Holland invited a 14-year-old young man to the stand, Ross Helder of the Bluff Ward, Durban stake.
Joseph Smith at age 14 was a bright, inquiring, thoughtful young man, said Elder Holland, but few people would follow a 14-year-old in matters of religion.
"The point is it wasn't Joseph Smith's church, and it didn't really matter whether he was 14 or 45, this work is and has been since the beginning the work of Almighty God," said Elder Holland. "There is no other way that you would have joined, or our families and our ancestors, to say nothing of our generations and children yet unborn, who commit what they have committed and do what they do for the truthfulness of the gospel if it were only a story of some well-meaning young man, a fine New England lad who had some Christian virtues and seemed to be prudent to his parents. Joseph Smith was more than that. He was a prophet of God. He did see the Father and the Son."
Cape Town Saints knew when they were preparing for President Hinckley's and Elder Holland's arrival that the leaders would have virtually no time to interact with individual members. So a week before President Hinckley's arrival, all of the youth in the Cape Town stake were invited to write a note to the prophet. A collection of the notes were bound into a book, said Cape Town Stake Pres. William G. Morrissey.
Anna Botha, 15, and Dylan Giddey, 17, presented the collection and a book about Cape Town to President Hinckley when he arrived at the DF Malan stadium in Stellenbosch, the Cape Town suburb where the conference was held.
"I wish I had the opportunity of shaking the hand of everyone here," President Hinckley said from the pulpit to the Cape Town congregation of 1,552. "You mean as much to me as do the Saints in my own home ward."
Once called on to gather to Salt Lake, South African members were encouraged by President Hinckley to strengthen the Church in their homeland, admonishing the youth to prepare to be future Church leaders by gaining all the education they could, shunning pornography and drugs and following the Word of Wisdom.
"If the account of the First Vision is true, then all else in the gospel is true," he told the members. He added, "Almost everything we do makes history."
The last rendition of "We Thank Thee, O God, For a Prophet" President Hinckley heard before leaving the African continent came from a chorus of Primary children from the Cape Town stake. They gathered on the front steps of President Hinckley's hotel and greeted him as he left for the airport Feb. 21.