As converts who discovered the Church in their African homeland while raising a young family, Elder Joseph W. Sitati and his wife, Sister Gladys Sitati, learned early an essential gospel truth: It’s the simple things that matter most.
The Church was in its infancy in the Sitatis’ native Kenya when the couple was baptized in 1986. Still, the full joy of the gospel, said Elder Sitati, could be realized, then and now, “from family prayer, family scripture study, family home evening, going to Church together and having family counsel.”
And, added Sister Sitati, “by having the children sing their Primary songs; knowing that Jesus Christ is their friend.”
Elder Sitati, 56, was called to the First Quorum of the Seventy during the Church’s recent general conference. He is the first east African to serve as a General Authority.
Despite Christian upbringings, the Sitatis were not really religious people before finding the Church. They occasionally attended one local congregation or another, but felt no urge to continue. “We were disillusioned at the time with many churches [in Kenya],” said Elder Sitati. “Many had political overtones. We never felt spiritual nourishment.”
They came to know of the restored gospel “quite accidentally.” In 1985, the Sitatis were introduced to an American senior missionary couple serving in Nairobi. The Church had yet to receive legal recognition in the country and proselyting was not allowed. Striking up an acquaintance with the couple, the Sitatis went one day to their small Sabbath-day services consisting of a few LDS expatriates and a handful of native Kenyans.
The Sitatis and their children felt immediately at home.
“We just felt good being there,” remembered Elder Sitati with a smile. “The members invited us to come back the following Sunday, and we did. Since then, we have had an unbroken attendance record at Church.”
Some six months after that first meeting, the couple accepted an invitation to join the Church. They were baptized in a small outdoor swimming pool. With his new Church membership in hand, Elder Sitati commenced dedicated service to his new faith that continues today. Sister Sitati was thrilled that her husband had become so devoted to the Lord.
“I was happy because now my husband could come to Church with me,” she said. “Previously, he had not liked the other churches. He would take me and the children to wherever I wanted to go to church — then he would go to work or go play golf.”
The family’s decision to join the tiny LDS congregation was met with skepticism from their respective families. Some were vocal in their opposition. But the Sitatis opt not to dwell on the memories of such reactions. “I had made up my mind,” Elder Sitati told the Church News. “I felt that the Church was true. I felt that the doctrines were good for me and my family. The experience we were having was a good one.”
Although few of his professional associates claimed any belief in the divine, they respected Joseph Sitati for his efforts to serve in his faith and remain a loyal, hard-working employee.
He was put to work in the Church in Kenya immediately after his baptism, serving in priesthood callings ranging from branch and stake president to Area Seventy. When he was called to be a General Authority he was presiding over the Nigeria Calabar Mission.
“The Lord said that a city set upon a hill cannot be hid,” he said. “I was always conscious of the fact that I was visible to the people. My actions were visible. Therefore, I had to step up and try to be someone better, someone that others could look at and believe in the things that I taught them.”
Elder Sitati said his leadership opportunities in Kenya also afforded an opportunity to learn from several of the Brethren who visited his country. “As I saw these men, I saw the kind of people they were. They strengthened my faith. They built in me a desire to be like them.”
As Africans, the Sitatis can speak authoritatively on the many challenges facing members living on their massive continent. Cultural practices sometimes run counter to Church principles. Becoming an observant Church member in many African nations, they said, can put a man or woman at odds with their own community. Still, the Church in Kenya, Nigeria and other African countries is growing and maturing. The sacred work of sharing the gospel is essential to the future of the Church in Africa.
“I believe that missionary work is the most important work in the Church,” said Elder Sitati.
Sister Sitati said many in Africa who have spent a lifetime searching for the truth are responding to the missionaries and their happy message. When investigators are taught the gospel “they accept it — it is like they have been waiting.”
The recent dedication of temples in nations such as Nigeria and Ghana is further evidence of Africa’s place in the Church. Lives in the region are being blessed as never before. As parents of five children, the Sitatis are grateful for the blessings such temples offer families.
“The temple brings into a person’s life an influence that they cannot get anywhere else,” said Elder Sitati. “This influence calls and challenges each person to the highest state of holiness in their lives. I believe that people are more committed to the gospel as they go to the temple.”