Two months after the World Health Organization declared Liberia to be free of the Ebola virus, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, traveled to the West African nation.
The trip followed the return to Liberia of Latter-day Saint missionaries — who were moved in August 2014 following the outbreak of Ebola.
“The World Health Organization declared Liberia Ebola free, so, we are here,” said Elder Bednar of his Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 visit to the country. “The leaders of the Church are very aware of the circumstances in nations all over the earth,” he commented. “The decision would not have been made for missionaries to return if we thought there was any concern.”
Sister Bednar said mothers worry about their sons and daughters serving missions — wherever they go in the world. “So for us to be here is an important statement to let people know that this is a great place, that there is wonderful work to be done here, and that a missionary can be happy and healthy and successful here,” she said.
Young full-time missionaries began returning to serve in Liberia in early September, after the Sept. 3 declaration from the World Health Organization that the country was Ebola free. There are currently 53 young missionaries and four senior missionaries serving in Liberia. About half of those missionaries are from Africa, and the other half are from outside the continent.
The Church Missionary Department hopes up to 100 young missionaries will soon be serving in Liberia, in addition to 12 senior missionaries, according to Church Public Affairs. Prior to the Ebola outbreak, there were 80 young missionaries serving in that country, along with six seniors.
Elder Bednar said this is an exciting time in Africa for the missionaries, who are “anxiously engaged.”
Elder and Sister Bednar visited Liberia as part of a 13-day assignment to the Church’s Africa Southeast and Africa West areas, Oct. 19 through Nov. 2. They also held meetings in Madagascar, Reunion, Johannesburg and Ghana. As part of his assignments, Elder Bednar conducted a review of the Church’s Africa areas, presided at a Mission Presidents Seminar, and held youth and member meetings, district conferences and priesthood leadership conferences.
Elder Bednar and Sister Bednar were accompanied on the trip by Elder Donald L. Hallstrom of the Presidency of the Seventy and his wife, Diane C. Hallstrom. They were joined in Africa by members of the Church’s Africa Southeast Area Presidency — Elder Carl B. Cook, Elder Stanley G. Ellis, and Elder Kevin S. Hamilton — and members of the Church’s Africa West Area Presidency — Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., Elder Terence M. Vinson, and Elder Vern P. Stanfill.
Elder Curtis, who lives in Accra, Ghana, said Latter-day Saints in Africa are blessed through the organization of the Church to have priesthood leaders and Relief Society presidents to look after them.
Throughout the Ebola crisis, local Church leaders in Liberia teamed with international organizations to provide medical care, he said. The Church continues to work through recognized relief organizations and on-the-ground partners to help communities in need. Many members have also volunteered their own time to help spread awareness of proper sanitation practices.
The Church provided short-term emergency resources purchased locally such as rice and oil for food and bleach and containers for cleaning. Elder Curtis said members in Ghana had a special fast and donated money to help those in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Latter-day Saints in the region also continued missionary work in the absence of full-time missionaries.
“The faith of these people strengthens my faith,” said Elder Bednar. “And the devotion of these Liberian Saints makes me want to be more devoted.”
Elder Curtis said there was great excitement among Church members to be taught by Elder Bednar. “It’s a rare privilege for all of us to serve among our wonderful African brothers and sisters,” Elder Curtis said. “The Church will continue to grow and flourish here,” he said.
A missionary in Liberia, Elder Jesse Thomas Earley from Clearfield, Utah, said having an Apostle in the country was an amazing experience for many Latter-day Saints.
Elder Earley said he feels safe in the country. “I feel very secure. I know that the Lord will provide a way for everything.”
To the missionaries that will follow him into Liberia, he added: “Prepare yourself to come with a loving heart. The people are very willing to listen to you.”
Elder Alex Gleah Tarbah, from Liberia, said when missionaries left his country because of Ebola it impacted the work.
He said Latter-day Saints in Liberia, who felt sorrow because the “work of our Heavenly Father was not going forth,” are rejoicing at the return of missionaries to the African nation.
“Coming back to Liberia to start in the work again, I feel very, very happy and the people are very receptive,” he said. “After the outbreak of the Ebola, people are very receptive to listen to the gospel.”
The Church has almost 9,000 members, 24 Church units and one mission in Liberia. This is an important part of the work in Africa, where there are 460,000 members, 29 missions, 1,445 Church units and three temples.
Sister Bednar said it was a wonderful time to be in Liberia and feel the resiliency, hope and faith of the Liberian Latter-day Saints.
“We love this continent, we love this people, and we are so excited to be with the people of Liberia, to get to know them better, to feel of their strength and to be taught the lessons they have learned by facing difficult circumstances for many, many years,” she said.
Elder Bednar said the role of an Apostle is to travel the earth bearing testimony of Jesus Christ. “The gospel of Jesus Christ brings hope when many people would experience despair. It brings joy when many people are sad. Through the Atonement of Christ there are blessings of cleansing and strengthening and purifying,” he said. “So regardless of the circumstances, the gospel of Jesus Christ can reassure the heart in the most difficult of times. Given what’s happened here with Ebola and other things that have been just as devastating, the solution to the heartache is always the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
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