Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles recently spent 10 days with Latter-day Saints in West Africa, observing incredible growth and activity in a relatively young area of the Church.
“Truly the Lord is hastening His work throughout the world,” Elder Bednar commented. “We saw evidence of that hastening in every country and city we visited in Africa. The devoted and faithful members of the Church on that continent are anxiously engaged in following the example of the Savior and establishing His gospel and Church. I am especially impressed by their diligent preparation to enter the house of the Lord worthily and receive the blessings to be had therein.”
Accompanied by his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, and other General Authorities including Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy and his wife, Sister Kathy Clayton, and the Africa West Area presidency, Elder LeGrand R. Curtis, Jr., Elder Terence M. Vinson, Elder Edward Dube, and their wives, Elder Bednar presided over multiple meetings in Nigeria and Ghana. At one point, in order to interact with more members in the area, Elder Clayton traveled to conduct meetings in Togo and Elder Bednar met with leaders of five stakes in Cote d’Ivoire.
Elder Bednar and Elder Clayton touched the lives of thousands during their 10-day visit. Meeting with faithful members, missionaries and leaders in this part of the world was spiritually moving and an unforgettable experience for all.
Throughout West Africa the Church has experienced rapid growth in many areas. The number of baptisms, confirmations and ordinations performed shows only the beginning of what is to come in the land of these humble and obedient pioneers of the Church.
“The Church has been operating in the countries and cities we visited for just over three decades,” said Elder Clayton. “With only a handful of exceptions the members, leaders and African missionaries we met are converts. They weren’t ‘born in the Church.’ They came into the Church as converts because someone else invited them to listen to the missionaries, they responded to the message and they chose to be baptized. The growth that has occurred as thousands upon thousands of wonderful people have gained testimonies, developed faith, grown in conversion and accepted the ordinances of salvation is truly miraculous.”
In addition to holding special Sunday meetings on two consecutive weekends, Elder Bednar and Elder Clayton directed priesthood leadership conferences, met with priesthood leaders and their wives, held young single adult devotionals, gave instruction at missionary zone conferences, led a member devotional, met with mission presidents and their wives and conducted a review of the Africa West Area.
Under the direction of Sister Bednar and Sister Clayton, the wives of priesthood leaders met to receive instruction and participate in stimulating discussions based on several articles they were asked to read in preparation for the meeting.
Sister Lucy Oraegbu, a member of the Nigeria Lagos Stake, explained she almost did not get to the session for the wives. “But, thankfully, Heavenly Father prepared a way,” she said. “As the sisters shared their testimonies and experiences that day, I was greatly touched. I could feel the presence of the Holy Ghost.”
Many Nigerians came from great distances to see an apostle. The number of members and investigators attending the Sunday meeting with Elder Bednar in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, was impressive with 2,700 people filling the convention center and spilling out to the back of the building where extra chairs were placed under shade tents. Large projection screens were situated for participants to view the meeting. An additional 1,400 members and investigators met with Elder Clayton in Abuja, Nigeria, that same day.
“The feeling of being at the feet of a prophet, seer, and revelator was a marvelous opportunity,” commented Brother Ikechukwu Ake, a member of Omoku Ward, Port Harcourt West Stake. “I came a long distance with my family to be here. I have no regrets. This Church is my life.”
The visit of a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was a first for many members of the Church in West Africa, one they will never forget.
“What a great privilege to have an apostle in Nigeria,” said Patience Ekpo of the Lagos Nigeria Stake. “It is an exciting moment to be among the Saints this wonderful Sunday and hear an apostle of the Lord speak. I feel so humbled to listen to his counsel, which is the Lord’s message to me and my family.”
Three Lagos stakes met in two separate buildings in order to guarantee enough space for those attending the Sunday meeting. Elder Bednar met more than 1,500 members in the Lagos Nigeria Stake Center, while Elder Clayton simultaneously directed a session with around 1,300 at the Lagos Nigeria West Stake Center. Large tents were — once again — available for those who could not fit inside the crowded buildings. Many who came that day left their homes by 6 a.m. to reach stake centers in plenty of time to get good seats. “It was an amazing experience to see the Saints gather in numbers to listen to an apostle of the Lord speaking to us directly,” said Okechukwu Imo, a former stake president in Lagos. “There was this warm feeling of calm and confidence that I noticed within the people who attended the meetings.”
Brother Imo referred to the scripture in Ephesians 2:19 that says “ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints,” emphasizing that the Church in Nigeria has grown from a little congregation to thousands of members.
Young single adults in both Port Harcourt and Lagos enjoyed uplifting two-hour question-and-answer sessions with the visiting authorities. Time passed quickly as thoughtful questions were addressed and sincere concerns were clarified.
“As a young single adult, this meeting has encouraged me to keep the commandments and be virtuous at all times, anywhere I find myself,” said Nkechi Ayama, Rumueme 1st Ward, Port Harcourt West Stake. “That is the sure way to a happy life.”
After concluding their travels, both Elder Bednar and Elder Clayton reflected on the faithful members and their bright future. “These faithful Saints are living the principles of the gospel and prospering spiritually under the blessings of heaven,” Elder Clayton said. “This is a great day for the Church and for Africa.”
“The Lord is mindful of His children in West Africa,” Elder Bednar remarked. “It is marvelous to witness the blessings of the Lord in their lives as they embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ and honor sacred covenants. We anticipate continued spiritual growth and maturity as they press forward with steadfastness in Christ.”