Just before dawn at the base of the “Phare des Mamelles” lighthouse on a hill overlooking Senegal, Elder David A. Bednar offered a dedicatory prayer on May 22 on the people and land of the West African nation.
Elder Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and other leaders began the prayer in the dark, “with only the lighthouse still lit and showing the way,” said Elder Terence M. Vinson, Africa West Area president.
But as he completed the prayer, “the ocean, shoreline and city were bathed in the clear, morning light of the risen sun,” said Elder Marcus B. Nash of the Africa West Area presidency.
The experience, said Elder Vinson, reflected the “symbolism of the gospel bringing Senegal out of darkness into the dawning of a new day.”
The visit was a new beginning for the nation, said Elder Gary M. Parke, who serves in Senegal as a missionary with his wife, Sister Helen Parke.
When Elder Bednar opened his eyes following the prayer and saw light — not darkness — he thought, “The morning breaks, the shadows flee; Lo, Zion’s standard is unfurled!”
Elder Bednar and his wife, Sister Susan Bednar, traveled to West Africa May 19-28, visiting Latter-day Saints in Senegal, Guinea and Mali — nations not previously visited by an Apostle of the Lord — as well as Nigeria and Ghana. Elder Bednar, accompanied by Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Presidency of the Seventy and his wife, Sister Jan Robbins, also conducted a review of the Church’s Africa West Area.
Elder Bednar said the trip was an opportunity to see the gospel “in its ultimate simplicity.”
“They don’t have much of what the world offers, therefore the gospel is everything to them,” Elder Bednar said of members in West Africa. “They have the gift of the Holy Ghost, which helps them learn — enlightens their minds. … I am always grateful for the things I learn from the faithful Saints in Africa. Their faith strengthens me.”
Growth is the area’s great blessing and great challenge. Elder Robbins said during the trip he could see how the Lord had prepared both the land and the people for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Because of the significant and rapid growth of the Church in West Africa, there is a constant need to train leaders and to teach doctrine,” said Elder Vinson. “But the marvelous thing is that there is a hunger on behalf of leaders and members alike to learn.”
The members in West Africa are a people of faith and who have many spiritual experiences, added Elder Vinson. “They love God and are a Church-going people. They recognize the truth and many are led to the gospel by the examples and faith of relatives and friends. Their prayers and testimonies are pure and centered on God and His great love and the many blessings they acknowledge. They are not distracted by the things of the world, as are many in western countries. They are family-centered and generous, even when they have very little.”
The members in West Africa are full of faith, added Elder Nash. “They are intelligent people of faith. They hunger for doctrine and their souls resonate to the truth and doctrine of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said.
The average sacrament meeting attendance of the Church in West Africa may be the highest percentage of any area of the Church, he said. “Our people love the Lord. They face misunderstanding, ignorance about the Church and outright persecution in some places — and yet remain faithful to the Lord and His Church. A testimony meeting in West Africa is an hour of spiritual feasting: testimony is borne of divine truths, of the strength of doctrine and gospel principles applied in daily living. The testimonies are usually brief, simple, direct, focused on the basic, core doctrine of the Church and rich with the Spirit.”
Elder Nash said Latter-day Saints in Africa have a strong “belief in family.” In Senegal, for example, Church leaders could see a huge monument depicting a family from where they stood on May 22 at the base of the lighthouse — constructed in 1864.
“It was a sacred experience to listen to an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ pray for the people of Senegal, to turn the keys and open the door to the kingdom of God,” said Elder Nash. “The light that bathed the city and land upon the conclusion of the prayer is symbolic of what is to come spiritually to the people of Senegal.”
The experience was “one of anticipation, peace, joy, faith, light, the hope and expectation of good things to come, confidence in the future, gratitude for the faith of the pioneering saints currently in Senegal.”
Elder and Sister Bednar met with the members of the branch in the city.
Elder Parke said Elder Bednar’s kindness and love toward the branch in Senegal was so very evident, as he walked and talked to everyone that beautiful morning. “It was manifest to me once again of his divine calling and the sacred responsibility that rests upon his shoulders as he ministers to the children of men throughout the world. He truly ministered to each one as he personally greeted and spoke with each of them, including us.”
In addition to meeting with members in Senegal, Elder and Sister Bednar met with members in Guinea and Mali — also countries not previously visited by the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“This journey was a most generous gift from an apostle of God,” said Elder Vinson. “For Elder and Sister Bednar to visit the faithful members and earnest seekers of truth in these distant lands, not previously visited by an apostle in modern times, was a manifestation of the Savior’s love for these wonderful people.”
In Conakry, Guinea, Sister Bednar gathered the children after the meeting and sang “I am a Child of God” with them, said Elder Vinson.
In Bamako, Mali, hundreds of children lined both sides of the streets to greet Elder and Sister Bednar and welcome them to their land. They chanted “Mali! Mali!”
Elder Robbins, who was visiting West Africa for the first time, looked at the scene of the children in Mali and thought of the growth of the Church in the area during the last four decades.
“This is a land of miracles, a place where the Lord’s hand in preparing the way hasn’t been subtle,” said Elder Robbins. “This is a place where the hand of the Lord has clearly been manifest.”
In near 100 degree weather, the leaders gathered in an unused chicken coop with a congregation of approximately 260, only 13 of which were members of the Church, and Elder Bednar invited the Holy Ghost to be appointed as the teacher, Elder Nash recalled.
“Their reverence is overwhelming for the priesthood keys that have been restored to the earth in these latter days,” said Elder Bednar. It is an honor “to spend time in these small congregations, to visit and get to know their circumstances and challenges. These are the real pioneers in these nations.”
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