In Santiago, Cape Verde, a small island off the west coast of Africa, is a school for young children.
Inside the school on the orangey-pink walls are art projects — obviously done by students. A fish tank rests on a shelf on one side of the room, with buckets of paintbrushes sitting next to it. Books are neatly stacked on the shelf below. Small tables and chairs fill the room. The space is bright, and a group of children, dressed in blue-and-white checked uniforms, watch as their teacher shakes hands with a man in a white shirt and tie.
The man, Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and his wife, Sister Melanie T. Rasband, look around the room as an educator explains to the children who he is — a representative of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the people who are providing financial resources to care for them.
“The head lady asked the little children, ‘would you like to shake their hands?’ ” Elder Rasband told the Church News.
Although young, the children understood. They quickly said “yes” and began lining up.
“They all got in a line and shook my hand, except for this one little girl who wanted to give me a kiss,” said Elder Rasband.
The little girl then kissed him on the cheek.
“It was a really, really special moment,” he said. “I have 27 grandchildren and when she asked to give me a kiss, I just melted. They are children of God. They have been in very difficult circumstances. Their mothers have either abandoned them or are caring for them and need help. And that is why it was such a special humanitarian visit, to see the impact of what our members are contributing to our humanitarian needs around the world.”
In an area of the world where the Church is relatively young — first being introduced in Cape Verde in 1989 — the gospel is taking root and now has a mission, three stakes, two districts and more than 14,000 members.
“In terms of whole country population in proportion to the population of the Church, the area has become the highest percentage of members of the Church in any African country,” said Elder Rasband. “They are the pioneers in their country and the generations after them will bless these pioneer members for taking what persecution had come from their families and friends to join the Church.”
The nation includes a group of 10 volcanic islands in the central Atlantic Ocean, just off the west coast of Africa. Although the islands are close to Africa, their Portuguese origins make it a part of the Europe Area of the Church.
“There have been very few visits to Cape Verde by members of the First Presidency or the Quorum of the Twelve,” said Elder Paul V. Johnson, Europe Area president and General Authority Seventy. “In fact, on two of the islands Elder Rasband visited, it was the first time in history that an Apostle had been there. The members flocked to the meetings which filled to overflowing the meetinghouses so that many stood outside in the dark near open windows straining to hear Elder Rasband speak.”
But that was just one of the stops of Elder Rasband’s 11-day visit to the Europe Area of the Church from April 11-22. Accompanied by his wife, Sister Rasband, Elder Johnson and his wife, Sister Jill W. Johnson, the group also visited the islands of Fogo and São Vincente.
While in Praia, he also met with the president of Cape Verde, Jorge Carlos Fonseca, where the two talked about shared values.
His visits to the islands included stops at humanitarian projects in which the Church is involved.
“I went to a pig farm,” Elder Rasband said. “We are trying to teach members to raise pigs and other animals to help with self-sufficiency.”
Although the humanitarian projects were important for the Apostle to see, meeting with the members and missionaries is always a highlight.
“Most of my visit included meetings with large congregations of members and missionaries,” he said. “But the missionary meeting in Cape Verde reminded me of being a mission president — just being there with a zone of missionaries — and it made for a more intimate, tender feeling and environment for a gospel meeting. They were happy.”
The Apostle’s message to the members in Cape Verde — “God loves you, the Savior loves you,” and “the temple.” Recognizing he was traveling the same time President Russell M. Nelson was on his world tour, Elder Rasband said he would read about what the prophet was sharing with members and try to echo his inspired words.
“I tried to create for them the image of a multi-generational, temple-sealed family that spans generations,” he said. “They loved that. They loved getting the feeling that they are not just living their lives for them, they are living their lives for their posterity.”
Because of difficulty getting in different countries in Europe, most members have to travel to Recife, Brazil, to attend the temple. Access to the temple is limited, but Elder Rasband encouraged Church members to always “be recommended” to go to the temple, and to have a “vision of the future.”
“Where there is no vision the people perish,” he said. “They need to know that Cape Verde is important to the Lord, and it is going to continue to grow and prosper and the Church will help [elevate] their own country.”
Elder Rasband spoke of the great difficulties his own ancestors faced in the early days of the Church.
For Elder Rasband, returning to the Europe Area — where he served in the area presidency for three years — was a “thrill.”
Other stops in his travels included meetings in Berlin and Dusseldorf, Germany, as well as in Zwolle, the Netherlands.
“They were on fire with what had happened at general conference,” he said of the European saints. “There was a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of energy about the quorum combinations and the ministering approach and so it was exciting to see how these more established members were re-energized, re-enthused, with the prophet’s new direction and vision about people seeking revelation in a holier approach to ministering to our people.”
Elder Rasband said it was exciting to have the two bookends of his trip — Germany and the Netherlands — be in places where the Church has been since the mid-1800s.
The Church was first introduced in Germany in 1843, and has more than 40,000 Church members. In the Netherlands, the first congregation of members was organized in 1862, and today the country has more than 9,000 members.
“It was a remarkable experience to have Elder Rasband in the Europe Area,” said Elder Johnson. “This visit came on the heels of the historic general conference and his visit extended the powerful spirit of the conference and helped members better grasp the importance of the announcements made at conference and increased their desire to follow the teaching we heard at the conference.”
For Elder Rasband, it is always a highlight to visit with faithful Church members around the world.
“I was happy to be out doing my small part,” Elder Rasband said of the trip. “It was a thrill for Sister Rasband and me to go to these different places and see the Church just really in the trenches in action, helping to relieve human suffering and to see the faithfulness of members.”
For the members in the Europe Area, Elder Rasband’s visit was one they will “never forget.”
“In today’s world with so much going on it is an absolute blessing to have an Apostle visit,” said Elder Hans Boom, an Area Seventy in the Netherlands. “I do not know exactly how to put this in words but we have a saying in Dutch that when you find yourself in good company, it rubs off. And so it is when you have an opportunity to be with the Brethren, it helps you to become a better person and to have a clearer vision.”