In a quiet location at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Gisozi, Rwanda, Elder Gary E. Stevenson and Sister Lesa Stevenson were contemplating what had occurred in this country a quarter of a century ago.
During a 90-day period from April to July in 1994, 1 million people in Rwanda died in civil war genocide.
In this somber moment, Elder Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stopped and wrote in the memorial guest book of the sorrow he felt as he learned of the heroes and victims of the genocide. An IGIHE reporter recorded his words:
“It has been a deeply touching experience for my wife and I to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial and witness the record of the terrible consequences of human conflict promoted by hatred based on perceived differences,” he wrote.
Elder Stevenson said everyone in Rwanda lost someone in the genocide.
They don’t talk about it much, but if asked they will acknowledge the loss, he said. “It is just striking how horrific it is and how deeply it has affected everyone and how forgiving they are today.”
A spirit of forgiveness permeates Rwanda — one of five countries the Stevensons visited in the Church’s Africa Southeast Area Feb. 14 through Feb. 25.
Elder and Sister Stevenson traveled to Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Madagascar — conducting priesthood leadership conferences, speaking to members and missionaries, participating in a youth and young single adult devotional, visiting government officials, and answering media questions.
The Stevensons were accompanied by the Africa Southeast Area presidency — Elder Mark S. Palmer, Elder Joseph W. Sitati, and Elder Joni L. Koch, all General Authority Seventies. Sister Jacqueline W. Palmer, Sister Michele Koch, and Sister Gladys Sitati also participated in the visit.
“Rather than hopelessness, they are filled with hope,” Elder Stevenson said of his experience in these countries.
Many live in destitute conditions in the area, “but they are a hopeful, happy people,” said Elder Stevenson. “They have a spirituality about them that is palpable.”
He also saw this bright hope and spiritual depth in the missionaries serving in this area. In Rwanda, as part of the Uganda Kampala Mission, there is a zone which includes 22 missionaries who represent 14 countries in total.
“Isn’t that amazing?” said Elder Stevenson. “It is striking to see that kind of geographic diversity in just this one zone in the Church.”
Before leaving Rwanda, Elder Stevenson presented a donation from the Church to the genocide memorial, which stands as a reminder to all of the profound love of Jesus Christ, which should never be taken for granted, he said.
Among the Rwandan people there is “a kindness, gentleness, reconciliation, and forgiveness” that is an example of the best of humanity, he said. “Humanity caused the genocide,” he said, noting that 25 years later, humanity is “reconciling, forgiving, and coming back together now as a united society.”
In Tanzania, Elder Stevenson participated in a press conference with 25 news organizations. Reporters asked him how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is different from other churches and what the Church was doing to help its members in Tanzania.
Elder Stevenson said government leaders and reporters in each of the countries had noticed hope and goodness in the Latter-day Saints.
In Madagascar, for example, the Church has two stakes and five districts and is growing dramatically. “Missionaries are teaching 40 lessons a week,” said Elder Stevenson. “They are very receptive to our message of hope which comes through our unique message of the Restoration and the great plan of happiness. So it fits with their outlook.”
In the member meeting in Madagascar, 1,200 members gathered in the meeting hall and another 1,300 in the overflow. Elder Stevenson also greeted members in the overflow area after the meeting.
In Tanzania, the Stevensons participated in a member meeting with 200 people. Many present had memories of a member meeting in 2003 when a member of the Quorum of the Twelve last visited the country– with then Elder Russell M. Nelson who dedicated the country for the preaching of the gospel.
In Ethiopia, a country of 110 million, Elder and Sister Stevenson participated in a mission meeting with 12 missionaries, part of the Church’s mission in Uganda. In all, Elder Stevenson participated in 21 meetings in 10 days in five countries. “The members are so faithful,” he said. “They come with their families. They look so good.”
As Elder and Sister Stevenson looked at the congregations of members and missionaries — large and small —they were particularly touched by the bright eyes and smiles of the youth and children.
“These youth and children were all aware of President Nelson’s message to the youth titled ‘Hope of Israel’ from last year,” he said. “They recognize that they are the future hope of the Church.”