Hundreds of Church members poured into the Gallagher Convention Center about 16 miles north of Johannesburg, South Africa, as the doors opened at 7 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 10.
By the time a multi-stake conference began three hours later, every seat in the large conference center was filled. More than 7,500 people were in attendance — about 2,000 more than expected — to listen to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
It was perhaps the largest gathering of Saints ever in South Africa, said Elder Robert C. Gay of the Presidency of the Seventy.
As Elder Holland addressed the large group of diverse Saints of different languages, backgrounds and cultures, he testified of the Savior and of His teachings regarding avoiding contention and being united.
“Whatever our other loyalties might be, we must first and foremost be disciples of Jesus Christ,” Elder Holland declared. “Whatever the problem is in the world, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer.”
The historic conference in Johannesburg was just one stop on Elder Holland’s journey throughout Southeast Africa from Nov. 9-16 with his wife, Sister Patricia Holland. They participated in stake conferences, member devotionals, missionary meetings and public affairs outreach opportunities primarily in South Africa, Angola and Mozambique.
Elder Gay and his wife, Sister Lynette Gay, and Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé, and his wife, Sister Valerie Caussé, also traveled throughout Southeast Africa with stops in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
An area of growth
Elder S. Mark Palmer, a General Authority Seventy and president of the Africa Southeast Area, described the visit from Elder Holland, Elder Gay and Bishop Caussé as a “tender mercy … especially in such a pivotal time where a new area is about to be created and four new missions are being formed.”
The Church in the Africa Southeast Area is experiencing “a remarkable time of growth,” Elder Palmer said.
On Nov. 21, the Church announced the opening of eight new missions in July 2020 — four of which are in the Africa Southeast Area. The Cameroon Yaoundé Mission, Ethiopia Addis Ababa Mission and Tanzania Dar es Salaam Mission will be the first in their respective countries. The Mozambique Beira Mission will be the second in that country.
The Church announced in June that the Africa Southeast Area will be divided into two areas: the Africa Central Area and the Africa South Area. The new areas will begin operating in August 2020. Headquarters for the Africa Central Area will be located in Nairobi, Kenya.
The Africa Southeast Area currently has temples in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Durban South Africa Temple will be dedicated on Feb. 16, 2020. Temples have also been announced in Harare, Zimbabwe, and Nairobi, Kenya.
“Elder Holland loves the people of Africa,” Elder Gay said. Elder Holland brought an invaluable perspective during his visit as he had previously supervised the Africa Southeast and Africa West Areas for about 12 years as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.
Economic stress, race relations, traditions relative to marriage and much needed education and literacy training are among the challenges members face in Africa, Elder Gay explained. “We witnessed great faith and love among the Church members we visited.”
“This visit with Elder Holland was a blessing for me,” he continued. “Time and time again I felt an Apostle of the Lord declare His witness of the Savior and do everything in his power and strength to lift and get into the hearts of people in Africa the hope, deliverance and healing which is the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
A witness of the Spirit
Judith Mahlangu, who recently returned from the Uganda Kampala Mission, spoke during the multi-stake conference in Johannesburg about the challenges she faced on her mission. She reflected on a quote she had heard and recorded in her journal: “I did not come this far only to come this far.”
During Elder Holland’s address, he invited Mahlangu to join him at the pulpit. “Judith is the message we have all come to see and hear today,” he said to the congregation. “That message is one of hope and faith in the future influence the gospel will have on this continent. What she symbolizes here today is the future of the Church in Africa.”
Elder Gay said of Sister Mahlangu’s message, “I can’t think of a more powerful lesson for members everywhere — we must all persevere through whatever we face and continue in faith until we are back home with our Father in Heaven.”
Elder Holland encouraged all to come unto Christ and be grateful for the gift of His grace, His Atonement, and His direction in our lives. “If we refuse the gift, we refuse the giver,” he said, quoting Doctrine and Covenants 88:33.
Sitting in the congregation that morning was a man who is a former Sunday School teacher in his Baptist church. He had been looking into the Church for the past several months.
This man told Elder Palmer he felt Elder Holland speak directly to him as he said: “If any of you are visiting this morning and have not been baptized, you must do it immediately.”
“This good friend has received his witness of the Spirit and now plans on being baptized,” Elder Palmer said.
Words cannot describe the spiritual legacy of that multi-stake conference, Elder Palmer said. “We know the rising generation will never forget his clarion call that every worthy young man serve a mission and that many more young women go also.”
Sister Holland expressed her love for the African Saints and told them not to be fearful. “God is the Good Shepherd and He will help us ‘fear no evil.’” She told the story of her young son watching a shepherd in England lead a fearful lamb through a small body of water. Once the shepherd took the lead and led one lamb safely through, all the rest followed.
“We need not fear when we follow the Lord who is our protector and guide,” she said.
The following day, Elder Holland spoke to a large group of missionaries from the Johannesburg and Botswana missions and the Johannesburg MTC.
He offered three principles for finding success in missionary work: first, be obedient and have the Spirit; second, “work your head off”; and third, “teach the gospel from the unique revelations of the Church. The Book of Mormon is crucial and was given for just that purpose,” he said.
Of all the messages the missionaries might have taken away from their time with Elder Holland, Elder Palmer said, perhaps the most meaningful was this: “To be able to find an eternal companion who can be loved and adored and appreciated in the way we witnessed Elder Holland speak of and treat Sister Holland.”
Evidence of the truthfulness of the gospel
More than 12,000 Saints reside in the country of Mozambique, where the Church was legally recognized in 1996. The first branch was organized in the capital city of Maputo.
During a special stake conference in Maputo held at the Joaquim Chissano International Conference Center on Sunday, Nov. 17, Elder Holland called two 14-year-old young men to the stage.
Elder Holland asked the congregation of more than 1,000 Saints what their reaction would be if they met such a boy and he declared, as did the Prophet Joseph Smith, that he had seen Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ.
“Would you believe him?” Elder Holland asked. “Because of a 14-year-old, the gospel has been restored in its fullness. … You cannot argue with the evidence of what has come from that First Vision.”
Elder Palmer said the people of Southeast Africa are forever grateful for Elder Holland’s visit. “It was truly extraordinary to witness how Elder Holland personified Christlike love for everyone he met. Whether in front of a large gathering or in a one-on-one meeting, there was this remarkable, immediate connection of souls.”