Growing strength among members in Africa

Elders Nelson and Bateman visit six countries during 15-day tour of continent

On more than one occasion, Elder Russell M. Nelson and Elder Merrill J. Bateman stepped off an all-night flight in Africa with just enough time to run a comb through their hair and brush a wrinkle from their suits before entering a meetinghouse to address members or missionaries.

While others slept, Elder Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder Bateman of the Presidency of the Seventy boarded transcontinental flights, only to arrive the next morning in time to go back to work.

"The suits actually looked pretty good," Elder Nelson mused in a interview with Church News the day following their 15-day tour of stakes and countries in the African continent.

From Nov. 8-23, Elder Nelson and Elder Bateman, with the assistance of two area presidencies, presided over stake and district conferences, taught mission presidents in two seminars and addressed members and missionaries in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

"There is something about the beauty of these African people that doesn't leave you when you leave the country," Elder Nelson said. "It is a real privilege to serve them."

En route to their first stop in their African tour, with their flight path deflected over Sudan, Elder Nelson marveled at the size of the Red Sea. "Even from the air," he said, "the Red Sea is huge. Parting the Red Sea in Moses' time was no small feat. It was an incredible miracle."

The morning after arriving in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, Elder Nelson toured the Megenagna meetinghouse, the first in Ethiopia, prior to being taken to an adjacent grove of trees known to local members as the Sacred Grove. Here, as authorized by the First Presidency and the Twelve, Elder Nelson dedicated the land for the preaching of the gospel.

Such events, said Elder Nelson, "are always historic, because it really is a significant step in the Lord's plan for the establishment of His Church in each nation."

After addressing about 200 Ethiopian members and their friends in a devotional meeting that afternoon, Elder Nelson traveled to Lagos, Nigeria, where he presided over the Port Harcourt Nigeria Stake conference, one of 22 stakes in Nigeria, while Elder Bateman traveled to Ghana where he presided over the Swedru District conference.

Both countries are part of the Africa West Area where more than 100,000 members reside.

Joining with Elder Bateman in Accra Sunday evening, Elder Nelson returned to visit the Ghana temple where he was earlier this year during its dedication.

"This is one of the jewels of the Church," Elder Nelson said. "It is simply glorious."

Beyond the grandeur of the building, Elder Nelson told the 1,600 members assembled in the Accra Christiansborg Stake Center on Nov. 16, what a spiritual thrill it had been the day before when he and Elder Bateman with the Africa West Area presidency and eight mission presidents and their wives attended an endowment session in the Ghana temple.

"The thrilling part of that service," he said, "was to see the entire service conducted by Ghanian temple workers from start to finish.

"And were they handsome," he said.

He said he felt President Spencer W. Kimball was aware of the temple proceedings and recounted his association with the 12th president of the Church, which centered on a critical heart operation.

He told how President Kimball, then Elder Kimball of the Quorum of the Twelve, was meeting with the First Presidency to whom he explained his serious heart problems and how he was not expected to live long. Surgery could be performed, he said, but was not recommended by the doctors.

President Harold B. Lee said that Elder Kimball should do all he could to stay alive because the Lord had more work for him to do.

Elder Nelson, then Dr. Nelson, received a blessing from the First Presidency, saying that he had been prepared by the Lord to perform this special operation. Elder Nelson successfully performed the operation.

President Kimball lived another 13 years, during which time he received heavenly direction allowing all worthy males to receive the priesthood which opened the door for the gospel to bless the lives of the people of Africa.

In his comments, Elder Bateman told of his long association with Africa which began in 1963 when he and his wife, Marilyn, and their two young sons lived in Ghana while he lectured at the University of Ghana.

They were the only members of the Church in the country and conducted their meetings in their home. There they taught their young sons about the truths in the Book of Mormon and Bible. During this time in Ghana, Elder Bateman told how they learned to love the people.

Since that early time 41 years ago, Elder Bateman has returned to West Africa many times where he helped establish the Church in Nigeria and Ghana. President James E. Faust, then Elder Faust of the Presidency of the Seventy, assigned Elder Bateman to locate a few individuals in West Africa who were extremely interested in the Church.

Elder Bateman told of miraculous experiences meeting Joseph William Billy Johnson in Ghana, and Anthony Obinna's nephew in Nigeria, as well as many others. Anthony Obinna was baptized Nov. 21, 1978, the first person baptized in Nigeria following the priesthood revelation.

Joseph William Billy Johnson, who is now a patriarch in the Cape Coast Ghana Stake and serves in the Accra Ghana Temple, had established seven congregations of 1,400 followers who wanted to become members of the Church by the time he heard the announcement on the priesthood revelation on the radio.

Looking back on that recent evening in the Christiansborg stake center, which is located adjacent to the Ghana temple, Elder Nelson marveled at the worshipful spirit of the 1,600 who attended.

"Those reverent people," he said, "on a warm evening sat most reverently and receptively as they heard from five General Authorities, including Elder Sheldon F. Child, Elder H. Ross Workman and Elder R. Conrad Schultz of the Africa West Area presidency."

The choir sang beautifully, singing an opening hymn written by President Gordon B. Hinckley, and a closing hymn written by Elder Russell M. Nelson. "They had practiced and perfected those numbers to the delight of all who listened."

After their time in Ghana, Elder Nelson and Elder Bateman continued to Johannesburg, South Africa, to participate in another mission presidents seminar. Also participating were members of the Africa Southeast Area presidency, including Elders Steven E. Snow, Christoffel Golden Jr., and William W. Parmley.

Later, Elder Bateman journeyed to Maputo, Mozambique, where he presided over a district conference.

Elder Nelson continued his journey to Harare, Zimbabwe, where he had visited 30 years earlier as general president of the Sunday School. During the priesthood leadership meeting of the Harare Zimbabwe Stake Conference on Nov. 20, he commended the 258 leaders who attended.

Following the adult meeting that evening, Elder Nelson said, "One cannot describe the feelings of worship that emanate from that congregation. There, it's a reverent, deeply moving, worshipful experience. They speak very well as educated people. They keep the doctrine pure, with much more quoting from the scriptures than is seen in other places in the world."

During the general session of stake conference the next day in the Harare International Center where 2,369 members attended, Elder Nelson thought it interesting that President Edward Dube of the Harare stake apologized that only 74 percent of his stake attended.

In his comments, Elder Nelson invited two missionaries from the Zimbabwe Harare Mission, Elder Landon Munk from Amalga, Utah, and Elder Martin Basalirwa from Uganda, to join him at the lectern.

He asked Elder Munk what he would tell his younger brother at home, who is 14 years old, about missionary work.

Elder Munk said he would tell his brother that missionary work is 10 times more difficult than milking cows, and that everyone in Zimbabwe has a big heart, and that serving a mission was the best thing he has done in his life.

Elder Basalirwa bore his testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel and told how he had been beaten and left for dead in October while serving his mission. But now he was standing in front of the congregation as a missionary because he has work to do.

During his time in Zimbabwe, Elder Nelson visited the "Prophet's Garden." Instead of lush landscaping that surrounds most Church meetinghouses, land around meetinghouses in Zimbabwe is organized into garden plots where members plant, cultivate and harvest their own food.

Elder Nelson said he watched as a young mother with a child strapped to her back, with another toddler walking beside her, gathered carrots, cabbage, and corn in her apron.

"I have enough food to feed my family this weekend," she gratefully told Elder Nelson.

In a country with explosive inflation and governmental challenges and economic pressures, Elder Nelson told how members are able to meet their needs.

"It's absolutely thrilling to see the welfare program at work," he said, "where nobody is hungry, where nobody receives a dole. They work for what they have."

Elder Nelson said he felt deep gratitude for the area presidencies and mission presidents and their wives who serve the African people with such devotion, competence and love. "We cannot praise them too highly," he said.

He spoke of his love for the African people and said that all Church members who contribute fast offerings or humanitarian aid should know that their contributions "make a real difference."

"The Church is making a great difference in the lives of people," he said. "It's giving light and hope in a world where it's urgently needed. African members," he continued, "understand the gospel very well."

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Elder Vern Whisenant and Sister Donna Whisenant, Africa West public affairs missionaries; and Elder Karl Jenson and Sister Dixie Lee Jenson, Africa Southeast Area public affairs missionaries, contributed to this report.