When helping to identify images for a last-minute piece of artwork for the new Kinshasa Democratic Republic of the Congo Temple, Elder Dale G. Renlund and his wife, Sister Ruth L. Renlund, recommended something representing the Congo River — second only to the Nile as the longest river on the continent, second only to the Amazon as the world’s largest in discharge volume, and tops as the world’s deepest and the only river to cross the equator twice.
Salt Lake artist, David Meikle created a large painting titled “Congo Falls” that portrays the might and majesty of the Congo River. The painting has been placed prominently inside the temple. “While painted primarily from photos of Kiubo Falls on a tributary of the Congo River in eastern Congo, the painting reminds us of an act of devotion that was common among early Christians in Congo” said Elder Renlund to the Church News before leaving for Kinshasa. “Early converts to Christianity would take their fetishes — inanimate objects that they believed were magical, that had spirits and that they would worship — and throw their fetishes into rivers or waterfalls as a token of their commitment.”
“When early Christian missionaries came, their converts to Christianity would take their fetishes — these inanimate objects that they believed were magical, that had spirits and that they would worship — and do a pilgrimage to these falls and throw those festishes into the falls as a token of their commitment,” said Elder Renlund to the Church News before leaving for Kinshasa for the weekend dedication events.
Those going to the Kinshasa temple will pass by the painting — having made their own modern-day commitments — as they enter to do ordinance work for themselves or their ancestors.
And the flow and power of the Congo River — which runs just two kilometers from the temple site and separates Kinshasa and the DR Congo from its northern counterparts Brazzaville and the Republic of Congo — is symbolic of the flow and power of inspiration, spiritual strength and promised blessings now coming from the 163rd operating temple worldwide of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“God has blessed us with the temple among us,” said Elder W. Jean-Pierre Lono, an Area Seventy for the Africa Southeast Area who resides in Kinshasa. “We will make the covenants in our temple in French and fulfill all the ordinances necessary to save our ancestors, strengthen our family bonds and receive the instructions of the Lord in His holy house and promise to go there as often as possible.”
Sister Mamie Ilunga, wife of Elder Eustache Ilunga, also an Area Seventy from Kinshasa, said: “What has excited me most is to have the blessing to witness for the very first time the dedication of a temple in our city and country. It is a witness of a dream becoming real.”
The history of the Congolese people is one of difficulty and hardship, said Elder Renlund, mindful of nearly a century and a half of challenges ranging from colonial rule under Belgium to independence to civil strife in recent years.
“And yet, you meet the people and you’re just amazed by how spiritual they are, how strong, how stoic and how absolutely devoted they are to the Savior and to the restored Church,” he said.
The Kinshasa DR Congo Temple comes just 32 years after the Church received official recognition in the country then known as Zaire, began meetings and witnessed the first of many baptisms.
Today, Church membership in DR Congo exceeds 62,000, with the country counting 21 stakes, 153 congregations and three missions; a fourth mission will open later this summer. DR Congo membership accounts for 10 percent of all Latter-day Saints in Africa and is the world’s largest group of French-speaking members.
Elder and Sister Renlund and many of the participating leaders gave their remarks in French, one of DR Congo’s official languages. With Elder Renlund having visited the country nearly 40 times, the Renlunds refined their French-speaking skills during the five years he served in the Africa Southeast Area presidency, including president from 2011 to 2014.
In fact, he offered the dedicatory prayer in French. It is believed it is only the second time such a temple dedicatory prayer has been offered in a language other than English, the first being when then-President Dieter F. Uchtdorf rededicated the Freiberg Germany Temple in September 2016.
DR Congo is the second-largest country in Africa, approximately the size of the United States east of the Mississippi River, and has a population of more than 80 million, making it the fourth most populous country on the continent, behind Nigeria, Ethiopia and Egypt.
The new temple will not only bless the DR Congo but also six other countries in the surrounding area assigned to the temple district — Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Gabon, Republic of the Congo and Rwanda.
Until now, members in the DR Congo and the rest of central Africa wanting to go to the temple had to make costly trips — in both time and money — to travel to the Johannesburg South Africa Temple. By air from Kinshasa, the distance is 1,720 miles (2,780 kilometers) and requires a flight of nearly four hours; by car, the journey takes at 48 hours.
In his dedicatory prayer, as reported by the Church’s Newsroom, Elder Renlund offered a blessing upon the Congolese people, that they may be provided for their needs and that there may be peace in the country. He also blessed the members to be made strong despite their challenges.
The first dedication service included the cornerstone ceremony, where Elder Renlund, visiting leaders and local members placed mortar around the temple’s cornerstone, symbolic of the completion and readiness of the sacred edifice.
Sunday’s dedication came on what is observed as Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter marking the Savior’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the start of the final week of his mortal life. A large crowd greeted the Savior, covering His path with palm leaves, flowering branches and cloth and shouting “Hosanna” and “Blessed be the King.”
The dedication’s “Hosanna Shout” and “Hosanna Anthem” would be a fitting tie to the event two millenia earlier.
Joining the Renlunds for the dedication-related events over the weekend were Elder Kevin S. Hamilton, a General Authority Seventy; and his wife, Sister Claudia K. Hamilton; and Elder Larry Y. Wilson, a General Authority Seventy and executive director of the Temple Department.
Elder Renlund spoke at a youth devotional prior to the Congo temple dedication. Learn more about it here.
Also participating were the members of the Africa Southeast Area presidency and their wives: Elder S. Mark Palmer and Sister Jacqueline A. Palmer; Elder Joseph W. Sitati and Sister Gladys N. Sitati; and Elder Joni L. Koch and Sister Liliane M Koch.
The Kinshasa DR Congo Temple was announced by President Thomas S. Monson in October 2011 general conference, with Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles presiding over the Feb. 12, 2016, groundbreaking service at the temple site. The groundbreaking drew 800 attendees.
Sitting on nearly five acres located in the Quartier Basoko, Ngaliema, area of Kinshasa, the exterior of the temple is constructed of white plaster with a zinc roof, and the surrounding temple grounds feature a variety of local plants and flowers. The more than 12,000 square feet of interior flooring is constructed of stone from Egypt and tile from South Africa, which accompanies the geometric and diamond motifs featured in the interior design.
- Location: 51 Avenue OUA, Quartier Bosoko, Ngaliema, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Plans announced: October 1, 2011, by President Thomas S. Monson
- Groundbreaking: February 12, 2016, by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
- Construction start: April 4, 2016
- Public open house: March 12-30, 2019
- Dedication: April 14, 2019, by Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
- Property size: 5.34 acres
- Building size: 12,090 feet
- Architect: Naylor Wentworth and Lund Architects with V’Arconn
- General contractor: Westland Construction
A previous version of this article said the Meikle painting depicted the Zongo Falls. The piece was painted primarily from photos of the Kiubo Falls on a tributary of the Congo River.