ANTANANARIVO, MADAGASCAR — Elder Quentin L. Cook testified over two days in Madagascar that the Savior should be the focus of the home to help bring personal peace.
“Be valiant in your testimony of Jesus. If you do that, you’ll accomplish what the Lord wants you to,” he said.
Joined by his wife, Sister Mary Cook, the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles visited with members of the Church with the president of the Africa South Area, Elder Edward Dube, who is a General Authority Seventy. Elder Dube and his wife, Sister Naume Dube, are both from Zimbabwe and have served all across the African continent.
In a series of meetings Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 18 and 19, Elder Cook bore a strong witness of the Savior Jesus Christ as he invited the Saints in Madagascar, Mauritius and Réunion Island — all three island nations in the western Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa — to focus on the Savior personally and in their families.
The Church will mark 30 years of legal recognition in Madagascar this July. The nearly 14,000 members who call the island nation home showed excitement to learn from Elder Cook as they prepare to break ground on a temple that was announced in the October 2021 general conference by President Russell M. Nelson.
Home-centered gospel learning
Sunday morning brought with it sunshine between storms in Madagascar’s rainy season. Many of the more than 3,300 who attended the special multi-stake conference walked to the basketball arena where the conference was held.
The many youth and children in attendance were invited to take on a special role in their homes by Sister Cook.
“You can help choose and lead the music in home evenings,” she said.
Then continuing to speak to the parents, Sister Cook continued.
“As you teach about Christ, as you sing about Christ, you will deepen testimonies of Christ and have peace in Christ.”
Elder Cook shared a similar principle in his message to the audience.
By following Christ, “you will have personal peace even though there will not be world peace,” he said.
Elder Cook said he was thankful to see so many families in attendance.
“We are grateful you are having children and bringing them up in the gospel. We need to have the gospel in our homes. Our homes are very precious.”
To help create gospel-centered homes, Elder Cook gave some suggestions to married couples and those looking forward to marriage.
“We need love in our marriages,” he said. “… As far as the gospel is concerned, you are equal partners.”
He said he understands that a husband and wife don’t always feel the same inspiration at the same time. But he encouraged them to work together to come to an agreement instead of one or the other determining what is right.
“Make decisions together and go to the Lord for ratification,” he said. “That’s how we build love at home. Let’s build unity and love.”
Speaking to Church leaders on Saturday, Elder Dube talked about traditions, which can be another potential challenge in the home.
“We need to go beyond traditions,” Elder Dube said.
He talked about some traditions common to some African cultures and said all families and individuals have a responsibility to maintain focus in the home on Jesus Christ.
“We have many good traditions, and we take those good traditions with us but leave behind traditions that don’t bring us closer to the Lord,” he said.
Cristophe Chion-Hock, a counselor in the district presidency on Réunion, attended the conference in person while his family watched from home — a 90-minute flight east over the Indian Ocean.
“I can’t wait to teach my children what I’ve felt and to take action,” he said. “I have the feeling that we need to teach the youth more about the temple.”
Chion-Hock’s family were among the many thousands who had the chance to participate in the weekend’s meetings through internet broadcasts in Madagascar, Réunion and Mauritius.
For Rawaka Rakotovao from the Antananarivo Madagascar Manakambahiny Stake, she felt a shift in her understanding of Zion.
“I have always thought about Zion being within the Church or stake or ward. But having Zion in our home is a work to do as a family,” she said.
Faith in Jesus Christ
“President Nelson is very decisive,” Elder Cook said. Part of this comes because of his training as a heart surgeon where surgeries could not be paused once they were started, he said.
“Capable, decisive and humble,” Elder Cook said, are three traits that describe President Nelson. “He tries to listen and include everybody.”
“Because he is humble and decisive, when the Lord directs him or the Holy Ghost inspires him, he will act very decisively.”
One example of President Nelson’s responsiveness to the Lord’s guidance is illustrated by the adjustments made to focus on the home as the center of gospel learning.
“Think what a blessing it has been to have home-centered, Church-supported materials through the COVID-19 period,” Elder Cook said.
The purpose of home-centered gospel learning, Sunday worship and personal scripture study is to build faith in Jesus Christ, Elder Cook explained.
“When we speak of ‘faith,’ we speak of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And when you have faith in the Savior, the tough questions are already answered. The questions that are really significant are answered by having faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Sister Cook said that progress along the path doesn’t look the same for each individual.
“We all have a different journey, but as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you have eternal perspective,” she said.
Elder Dube talked about building faith in the Savior in the way President Nelson has taught members of the Church to “let God prevail.”
“Allowing God to prevail means we trust Him,” Elder Dube said. Trusting Him is one part of conversion, he continued. And repentance is another.
“Repentance is conversion. A repentant soul is a converted soul,” he said.
Sister Dube talked about the connection created with the Lord through covenants and obedience. She said being faithful keeps one from straying off the path.
“Let’s stay connected to the Lord. Let’s stay connected,” she said.
Elder Cook concluded three of the weekend’s meetings by bearing strong testimony of the Savior.
“I want you to remember the moment you heard an Apostle bear witness of the Savior,” he said.
That testimony hit home for many members as they left to return home.
Jean Michel Sorg, the district president on the island of Réunion, was quick to say that moment stood out to him in the leadership meeting.
“I was very touched by the testimony he gave,” Sorg said.
“I know he’s a prophet of the Lord and a revelator, and I was very touched by this testimony.”
Lovasoa Hanitriniaina from the Ampitatafika Ward of the Manakambahiny stake said she felt the same way after Sunday’s meeting.
“I’m very touched with the testimony of Elder Cook,” she said.
Tim Hajarijaona of the Ambohimena Branch in the Antsirabe Madagascar District said he felt strongly about Elder Cook’s calling as an Apostle after hearing his testimony.
“I felt the Spirit. I learned so much from an Apostle — especially his testimony about Jesus Christ. … This really amazed me, and it will help me to become more Christlike.”
Tina Andrianasolo from the Talatamaty Branch of the Antananarivo Madagascar Ivandry Stake said the whole experience of listening to an Apostle was humbling.
“I felt like he was directly talking to me because everything that he said, I was concerned by before this meeting,” Andrianasolo said. In the end he had one simple takeaway.
“Jesus Christ is the center of everything.”
Importance of missionary service
Many of the missionaries serving in Madagascar are from the country. Elder Cook said he sees the opportunity for many more missionaries to serve from here in the future.
“It is the special responsibility of the bishops to help young people prepare to go on missions. There is nothing more important you will do,” he said to the bishops on Saturday.
“There is nothing more important we can do than help the rising generation serve missions,” he said, repeating the same call to local adult leaders.
The purpose of a missionary, the purpose of the Church and the purpose of the Atonement of Jesus Christ have not and will not change, Elder Cook said.
“This is not a corporation with some new idea to sell. The doctrine is always the same.”
Lessons learned in a mission can last a lifetime. Elder Dube shared one lesson that has stuck with him since an experience he had with his first companion in the mission field.
Elder Dube said that after he and his companion completed their prayer upon returning each night, his companion would stay kneeling silently. After this happened for a few nights, Elder Dube finally asked his companion what he was doing.
He said his companion explained to him that he was offering “prayers of stewardship” to give an accounting to the Lord for the specific things he was trying to stop doing or do better.
Throughout the meetings, many examples were given of the different forms ministering can take.
Elder Cook invited members to be a light on the hill to those around them who do not know what they believe.
“Be a light on the hill. Be an example to the world around you,” he said. “Be a beacon of light.”
That ministry is not limited to sharing a good example or learning the gospel in the home. It also includes service to those in need.
“God always expects His saints to care for the poor and the needy.”
Elder Cook encouraged local Church leaders to use all the resources they have available to them to support those with varying needs.
Elder Dube said members can’t turn away from the challenges others face.
“The weak? The feeble? We need to lift them up,” he said.
President Sorg said this was a principle he felt impressed to take back to his district’s leaders.
“Who is doing what for whom?” he asked. “We need to be able to answer that question. The leaders are here to serve, not just talk.”
Regardless of the challenges individuals, families or communities face, Elder Cook said the Savior’s Atonement overcomes all unfairness caused by others’ misuse of agency.
“Jesus Christ’s Atonement overcame death for all, sin for those who would repent, and all that is unfair about life,” he said.
For Sister Hanitriniaina, this was a message she felt compelled to share with her family.
“I have a sister who could not make it here today,” she said. “… I will tell her the Lord is fair. He cares for His children no matter where they are. He loves us, and that is one of the reasons He sent His Son Jesus Christ, because He loves us so much.”
Elder Cook said it can be easy to generically talk about the Savior’s Atonement but said, “Let us never forget Gethsemane and the cross.” He reiterated that the Atonement was not easy for the Savior. He was the only One who could perform such an act.
“We need to love Him, we need to serve Him, we need to worship Him,” Elder Cook said.
Sambara Rakotomalala of the Ampitatafika Ward of the Manakambahiny stake said listening to an Apostle teach about the Savior was meaningful to her.
“It was a precious experience for me,” she said. “I know … I can pray for my future. I can pray for guidance with my choices. … I can give things to God, and He can help me with my life.”
Pascale Miaretiome from the Ambohibao Ward of the Ivandry stake said she found comfort in the breadth of the gospel’s influence.
“The most important thing I took from this meeting is that the gospel is the answer for everything,” she said.