The first leaders of this mission, President Robert Dudfield and Sister Darice Dudfield, join this episode of the Church News podcast to talk about missionary work in Ethiopia and all that has impacted it — including the pandemic and the recent civil unrest that has caused President and Sister Dudfield, along with their missionaries, to temporarily relocate to the neighboring country of Kenya. They are examples of serving the Lord faithfully and flexibly, as well as the blessings that come from serving in the Church and testifying of Jesus Christ.
President Robert Dudfield: I will bring it back to my experience in the hospital, with COVID, pleading about why had the Lord called me here to Ethiopia. Why has he taken my wife to serve in Ethiopia and leave me to lie in a hospital bed and potentially die? But I think about, well, for me, knowing that there was a purpose for us to be in Ethiopia, to be able to push through some of the challenges as early as it was in the mission field, and to be able to embrace every opportunity as a learning opportunity and to submit cheerfully, and taking that approach has just unfolded miracle after miracle, experience after experience, lesson after lesson that has helped to refine us and help us to become closer to the Savior as a representative in Ethiopia in His great work here.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News and welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Ethiopia’s national capital and largest city, Addis Ababa, hosts the new Ethiopia Addis Ababa Mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was announced in November 2019 and opened in July 2020. President Robert Dudfield and Sister Darice Dudfield, the first mission leaders in the new mission, join this episode of the Church News podcast to talk about missionary work in Ethiopia and all that has impacted it in recent months: The pandemic and now civil unrest. With their missionaries, President and Sister Dudfield were temporarily moved to Kenya from Ethiopia in November. The couple from Melbourne, Australia, are familiar with Church service. President Dudfield is a former Area Seventy and served as the Australian national communications director for the Church. They are connecting with us despite a 10-hour time difference, for more than 9,000 miles away, to share their unique experiences via technology from Kenya. They are each a living testimony that the Lord’s work moves forward despite obstacles and setbacks, and because of great faith and optimism. Welcome, President and Sister Dudfield, to the Church News podcast. It is so great to have you with us today.
President Robert Dudfield: It’s great to be with you. Thanks, Sarah.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, President Dudfield, why don’t we just jump right in and have you tell us a little bit about your mission and your current assignment?
President Robert Dudfield: Sure, I’d love to. So, why don’t I start with: We say we got a mission call, but that was quite a unique experience for us. What happened was we received, first of all, an interview with Elder [Quentin L.] Cook just to see what our circumstances were, and it was a call to serve as mission leaders that would suit our current circumstances. And then following that interview, we then had an interview with President [Dallin H.] Oaks a couple of weeks later. President Oaks extended the call for us to serve as mission leaders. He indicated that it would be an English-speaking country, and we would find out our assignments towards the end of December, early January, and this was at the end of 2019. So, I thought I would try to be a little bit smart and make a list of all of the missions that were being replaced, with mission leaders that were coming up to the end of their three-year service in 2020. I was narrowing them down and tried to use some level of intelligence to determine which mission it was and that’s not how it works, as you and I know, and it just wasn’t coming at all.
Well, before the end of December, President Nelson announced eight new missions, and one of those was the Ethiopia Addis Ababa Mission. And I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t that just be a remarkable experience?” There are 130 new mission leaders being called. So, we had a chance of 1 in 130 being called to Ethiopia. It didn’t take too much more than that, just that it was quite a remarkable experience.
But one night, I had a dream, and I dreamed that we had received our mission call, and the setting in my dream was in our lounge room in our home in Melbourne, Australia. My wife, Darice, had the iPad in her hand and we had our children surrounding us. And in the dream, my wife read the mission call and read that we’re being called to serve as mission leaders in the Ethiopia Addis Ababa Mission. And I remember in my dream, I was just absolutely thrilled. I couldn’t believe that the Lord would trust us to serve in Ethiopia and open up the first mission in Ethiopia. And in my dream, I looked across to my wife and she was crying as though she was upset, and that’s as much as I remember of that dream.
The next morning, I woke her and I spoke to her, I recounted the dream to her, and then I said to her, “If it was Ethiopia — every likelihood it won’t be Ethiopia — but if it was, you could be upset.” And her response, she said that she’d be delighted to be serving in Ethiopia, it’d be a wonderful experience. Well, that was the dream.
A few weeks later, we received the email that comes at six o’clock in the morning, Melbourne time, and it says, “Your mission call has arrived.” And so I had to go through the whole day staring at this unanswered email: “Your mission call has arrived.” And I thought to myself during the day, “Maybe I could sneak a look, and maybe I don’t. Maybe I have a look and don’t tell anyone.” But my conscience got the better of me, and I decided not to. And because I’ve served as a young missionary many moons ago, my wife had not served as a young missionary, and so she’s not had the experience of really opening a mission call. And so I thought it was only appropriate that she actually read it as we gathered our children around.
And sure enough, we gathered the children around that evening, and had the opportunity for her to read the call out. And as she read through the call, she said the words, “You are hereby called to serve as mission leaders in the new Ethiopia Addis Ababa Mission.” And I remember I was just screaming with elation, I couldn’t believe it. But then I thought, “Well hold on a sec, my wife can sometimes try to trick me,” and maybe she was making this up. So I had to have a look across to confirm for myself that that’s exactly where we’ve been called, and so that was my first introduction to the notion of being called as mission leaders together in Ethiopia.
I’m going to get Sister Dudfield to just share a little bit about the circumstances when we arrived in Ethiopia, and our missionaries, etc. Because it really is quite a unique experience thinking that we are opening up a brand-new mission.
Sister Darice Dudfield: So because of COVID, we weren’t able to get out on our due date and we didn’t arrive in Ethiopia until August. When we got there, we were met by some of the members, and we had no missionaries because of COVID. Those that they were going to send from the Uganda mission to help us start the mission were sent home, and so we didn’t have any experience.
President Robert Dudfield: I should interject here: For the first time, I think in Church history, that I can think of, we had the most obedient mission in the world, because we had zero missionaries.
Sister Darice Dudfield: Sorry. At first, a lot of the missionaries started the MTC not long after we arrived there at the chapel. And so, although they’re under the care of the district presidency, we still had a hand in getting to meet them and looking at some of the problems and issues that they had. Once they came out of MTC, they barely knew the language because they were only in there for a couple of weeks. And then they began with us, and so we had two days a week of full-day training with them, because we became the trainers for these new missionaries. One had served in another mission for six months prior, but at the same time through the COVID, so she had a tiny bit of experience, but everybody else was brand new. Some of our missionaries were pretty new to the Church. Some were orphans, some had only been members for a couple of years, and some had been members just during the COVID months, and we had eight missionaries to start with.
President Robert Dudfield: I mean, they turned up in their Sunday best, and bless their hearts, their Sunday best for some was a pair of ripped jeans and one shirt, and that’s all they had, and your heart goes out to them. And so we were able to help get them set up so that they looked and felt and matched the missionary message. And so we had them in — the sisters in nice dresses and the elders in white shirts and ties, and we started our training.
I kept thinking back to President Oaks’ comments that we’re going to be serving in an English-speaking country. So the objective is to teach a principle or a particular lesson out of “Preach My Gospel” in English, rather, Australian English — that’s probably hard to understand, compared to natural English, I guess, or American English — but we have our broad Australian accent, trying to teach a principle to eight missionaries who, English was their second or their third or their fourth or no language. And so we would teach it. We would then get translated from English into Amharic, which was the language of their mission. There were some missionaries who were from the Oromo regions, and so their primary language was Oromiffa. And so then the message would be translated from English to Amharic to Oromo, and then their response would be Oromo back into Amharic and back to English. And so that was the thing that we found ourselves, for the next few weeks, helping to train our missionaries and prepare for missionary service. So there’s something to be said for the power that is the gift of tongues, not just to be able to communicate in a language that’s foreign to the person that’s receiving that gift; but more importantly, that the power of the messages carried by the Holy Ghost into the hearts of those who you are teaching, and that includes with our missionaries, as we would teach them and help them to understand the doctrines of the gospel, and to help them to establish their testimony as they got ready to head out and help to build the Church in Ethiopia with the mission. So there’s a brief summary of our very early start there.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And you know, from the very first days of your mission, you’re so heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. It delays your start, certainly, it delayed your missionary start, and then you both got sick with COVID. Tell us about that experience and how that defined the missionary service for you that came after that.
President Robert Dudfield: You know, all of these experiences, they, for good or for more challenging, they helped to refine us. I think it was Elder [Neil L.] Andersen in one of the general conferences who said our greatest trials are often our greatest teachers. And so, it was at the very start of October — we’ve arrived early August, and so we’ve been on the ground for a little under two months, trying to get things established. We’ve now got the missionaries in companionships, and assigned to branches, and I remember feeling quite ill one day, kind of like a flu bug, and I won’t go into all the details, but I certainly wasn’t well. And I had the doctor who happened to be a member of the Church, from Russia, actually — and it’s a story in and of itself — he came to the mission home. And he checked me out, and he said, “Look, I don’t think it’s COVID. But let’s get you down to the hospital to get it checked out.” So we went to get checked out, and sure enough, he went in the next day, “You’ve got COVID. Yours is quite severe, and your wife is asymptomatic. And so come down, let’s get an X-ray, chest X-ray, and see what sort of damage is sitting there.” And so I went and had the X-rays, and it turned out that my lungs were riddled with pneumonia, both viral pneumonia and bacterial pneumonia. And I was hospitalized, essentially, straightaway. And I was in hospital for essentially the full month of October. Most of the time I was on oxygen, it was very difficult to talk. And so, Darice was actually running the mission and dealing with different matters that came up and she told me to see them. And I’ll talk a little bit more about a couple of my COVID experiences in a moment. But perhaps, Darice, if you could just share a little bit about the very young missionaries while I’m in hospital.
Sister Darice Dudfield: And one of the things that the missionaries were asking is, are they allowed to go out and teach? And that was just so amazing. It was like, “Of course you can go out and teach, just do it.” And so they went full on finding people and teaching in the process. We were still trying to work out how to do Area Book Planner and use smartphones, because most of them didn’t know how to use that. And so here I am, quarantined at the mission home, trying to communicate over Zoom and teach these people how to use these programs, which we had no idea what they were and so forth. So it was very challenging, but very rewarding as well. We also hadn’t started Church yet. We were about to start the church coming back to meeting together, but with COVID coming in, we weren’t allowed to do that.
President Robert Dudfield: And that eventually got delayed until essentially the very last week of December, I think it was the 20th, actually, is when we’re able to start holding Church meetings back in Ethiopia, which have been out for about 18 months or thereabouts.
I remember lying in hospital feeling pretty sorry for myself at one point in time. I had an issue where my veins would continue to collapse, and so I’d have to have a catheter put in several different places up through the arms and through the feet to try to get the both the fluids and the antibiotics and the medicine needed to try to help through that recovery, whilst, at the same time, being quite high on high doses of oxygen. I remember looking down, it was one Sunday morning, I’d been listening to the bells outside and the chanting outside from the Orthodox church who prayed night and day, and I was listening to that one Sunday morning, and I looked down at myself in this room, feeling pretty sorry for myself. My arms were deep blue and purple with bruises everywhere, my feet were struggling to cope from the catheters that had been put in, and I was drawn to section 122 of the Doctrine and Covenants, and remember that’s where Joseph was in Liberty Jail and was talking about some of the challenges that they were facing. And you may recall that section 122, verses five through to verse nine, the Lord gives some great counsel there. But at the end verse seven, it says: “Know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?”
I reflected on that and felt very humbled and very — I was corrected in my thinking that for a small moment, I’m going through somewhat of a trial and a challenge. If I looked at my arm, they were bruised and broken and bleeding, and this was nothing compared to what the Savior has gone through, and it gave me such a deeper appreciation of what the atoning sacrifice might have been for me personally. And that was a, I guess, a turning point, a very sacred experience that I probably won’t share too much more on, the very sacred experience of gratitude for the atoning sacrifice of the Savior and how, what I was going through, in some ways, has helped me to become more understanding of what He’s actually done for me personally.
Fortunately, I was able to make a full recovery, and with some slow residual impact that nowadays, a year and a bit on, no evidence of at all of the experiences having COVID. As challenging that experience was, I wouldn’t change this experience because there are lessons, valuable lessons and experiences were there that I don’t think I’d be able to learn in any other way. As far as the doctor goes: We had a call, I better say Elder Andersen, who had the supervisory responsibility for Ethiopia and for parts of Africa at the time, he and Elder Terence M. Vinson from the Seventy, the Presidency of the Seventy, made a call to us just before I was hospitalized. And they talked to us about the experience that we were going through, they reached out and ministered to our family, and I’m so grateful for just their love and their concern to help us through. So they asked on the phone, is there anyone that could give me a blessing because I was about to go into the hospital in quarantine. Darice couldn’t go see me at all for those four or five weeks that I was in hospital. And I said to them, “Look, I’m aware that the doctor that treated me is a member of the Church. He’s from Russia, but he’s really in Ethiopia with his wife, I honestly don’t know any more than that. I don’t know whether he holds the Melchizedek priesthood to give a blessing at all.” And so I gave Elder Vinson the details, and he came back on the call and said, “Well, it’s interesting. This brother that you mentioned, he was actually the first stake president called in St. Petersburg, and he was called by an Apostle by the name of Russell M. Nelson, who set him apart as the stake president.” And so I thought, “Well, that’s pretty good. That’s good enough for me.” And so the earliest opportunity, whilst I was in hospital, I had Dr. Klimash, Brother Klimash, come to give me a blessing as he, each day came to minister to me while I was there in my hospital rounds. Now this is just a very tender mercy of being able to have him by my side and to help guide me through both medically but also to assist with emotionally and spiritually and overseeing my healing process.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, now President Dudfield, we met long before your mission, because before serving as a mission president, you served as Australia’s national communications director for the Church, and coordinated area efforts for President Nelson’s Pacific ministry tour. And that was such a sweet opportunity for some of us from the media team here to get to know you then, certainly we were so worried about you when you were in the hospital. We prayed for you, but so much of what we knew about you, we learned as we watched you work during that Pacific ministry tour. Talk for a minute about what it was like to get to observe and watch President Nelson minister, which included multiple stops throughout the Pacific Islands.
President Robert Dudfield: It was a great association, both for the Church media team and to be associated with you and Boyd [Matheson] and Sheri Dew and the great team that traveled with us. We literally got to follow the prophet, didn’t we? And when we see the prime example of the prophet, this was such a unique experience then to follow him from Sydney to Wellington, New Zealand, to Auckland, New Zealand, to Tonga, to Fiji, and to Tahiti. That was such a unique and sacred experience. And as you mentioned, Sarah, one of the things that stood out to me the most was — we all know and have become familiar with President Nelson from a public perspective and hearing his talks and the guidance and counsel and direction. As we got to listen in each of those countries he visited to connect with the Saints there, and essentially minister to the group that he spoke to these groups in a gathering, it was such a sacred experience to be a part of, but I remember Elder K. Brett Nattress who was in the Pacific area presidency at the moment. You know, I ran the conferences on of the Seventies at one point, and he taught the principle that, often, the most powerful sermons are caught, not taught. And if I think about the experience of following President Nelson around, whilst I had the opportunity to listen to his counsel, it was those observations of watching a prophet of God, they just reaffirmed to me over and over again that we are led by revelation by a living prophet on the earth today.
Let me just share a couple of personal experiences. The first one that comes to mind for me was, when Sheri Dew was organizing in Tahiti to do an interview with Sister [Wendy W.] Nelson, in the afternoon, before one of the meetings. And I remember vividly, Sister Dew had said to Sister Nelson, “Tell us how President Nelson feels about you coming up to meet with the Church media and to do an interview.” She says, As I left President Nelson was on his knees praying for me. And I just picture the prophet of God praying for his sweet companion that she was about to share experiences with the media?
Another one that stands out to me: In each of the cities in the country that we traveled, President Nelson was very much about ministering to the one. And even with a tight schedule that he had, he would take time out to meet them, with the brothers to provide them counsel and to just embrace them. Some of them, in really challenging times, but for me, as I watched him, I saw the Savior actually ministering to the one.
I love watching President Nelson’s optimism. Regardless of the circumstances, there was tremendous optimism for the future, that the future is bright. I remember in Tahiti, he was asking the congregation to beware because there are troubling times ahead. And he gave some fabulous, optimistic counsel about how to move forward and prepare for challenges that are ahead. Now, I had no idea what challenges would be lying ahead, but now we fast forward to the start of 2022, and his counsel was given in 2019, and we’ve seen some of the challenges that the countries have had, and the world has had, but also the great counsel and optimism that continues to come through from the prophet of God. And watching him with Sister Nelson — He walked by her side, he wouldn’t walk in front of her, behind her but walk by his side and they’d be arm and arm together. Just as, you know, a good picture of what it means to be a helpmeet to each other, to be equal companions together. And I felt, as I’ve learned that Sister Nelson was very much President Nelson’s equal as they ministered together on this assignment.
And the other thing that I noted was Elder [Gerrit W. Gong] and Sister [Susan] Gong, who were traveling with him on this assignment. For me, it is very clear to watch Elder and Sister Gong, regardless of their accomplishments and his sacred calling, Elder Gong is one of the Twelve, but he does anything he can to elevate the role of the Prophet, that he is the prophet of God, and to be able to provide that support rather than any agenda or any feelings or any counselor who might choose to do the will of his own. And so that was just a great learning experience to watch and to catch the great sermons from these great leaders…. So that was just a very sacred experience that I’ll forever cherish, having the privilege of being able to be a part of it in some small way.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, you know, when I think of President Nelson’s ministry tours, I think of the temple. He often talks about the covenant path, he talks about temples, he often visits temple cities and speaks to members about attending the temple and connecting with the temple. In many stops, he announces temples for cities. Now, the two of you had a sweet experience, which Scott Taylor of the Church News reminded me about earlier today, and it was you had the opportunity to take some of your new missionaries from Ethiopia to the temple. I’d love if you could talk about that, and how that happened, and why that was so important to all of you.
Sister Darice Dudfield: So unfortunately, they wouldn’t let us actually go to the temple, but we did all the groundwork with that. So our Ethiopian missionary, because of COVID, had to do MTC from home, and Ethiopia doesn’t have a temple. So they weren’t able to go to the temple before they actually began their mission. So once we got going, and we were able to start preparations for them to go to the Ghana temple, we had a couple of our missionaries who had been to the temple prior with their family, and so they were able to do temple prep classes with them and prepare them to go. We had one of the district presidency members escort and also one of the sisters of one of the missionaries who was a returned missionary, go with them to the Ghana temple.
Now, because of the language issues, we were quite concerned that they weren’t going to understand a lot of what goes on in the temple, but because it was at the Ghana temple, the MTC teachers were able to come through and read the endowment session for them so that they could actually hear the endowment in their own language, in their heart. So it was a great lesson. And through that trip as well, they were able to get a patriarchal blessing. When you’re in a stake, if you take it for granted that you have a patriarch. When you’re in a country that does not have a stake, you don’t get a patriarch, and so many of the Ethiopian people don’t have patriarchal blessings, and so this was a great blessing for them to actually receive those blessings.
Further down the track, we were able to organize another temple trip for more missionaries that came through that hadn’t been to the temple yet as well, and that was a great blessing that they headed to the temple and were able to experience the joy of walking the covenant path and making new covenants and taking out ordinances as they attended the temple.
President Robert Dudfield: I remember, Sarah, there was a group of sisters that we sent over there, with our second group, some were Ethiopian and some were from other parts of Africa, and as Sister Dudfield had mentioned that the temple preparation process is taking place. And we had met with them prior to taking them to the airport the next day to receive their endowments and patriarchal blessing, and then we had the opportunity to be able to meet with them, get them from the airport when they returned, and then had them at the mission home for the night and had a devotional together. For both groups, as they returned, you just couldn’t picture the smiles that were on their faces, from ear to ear, there was such a pride and excitement, they were just so thrilled to be able to go to the house of the Lord, to make sacred covenants and to experience the love that the Savior had for them by participating. And some of these experiences that we had with these missionaries that had gone to the temple for the first time will be some of the richest experiences I don’t think we will ever forget.
Sarah Jane Weaver: One of my favorite stories in Church history is of early Latter-day Saints going through the temple and Nauvoo before they would head west and experience, often, a difficult trek. And I think that is something that’s sort of symbolic of your experience. You know, you have all of these missionaries who are endowed, and then things really haven’t been as easy as you might have hoped. Currently, you’ve temporarily moved the missionaries and yourself out of Ethiopia. Can you give us a little background on that?
President Robert Dudfield: Yes, you’re right. It’s an interesting time the first 13 months we’ve had, not what we’d anticipated, but they’re actually were much more than we could ever have had thought, and it’s just been a tremendous learning experience. And so, in the start of November, some civil unrest that continues to escalate in Ethiopia where we’ve got — we had 67 missionaries, I think it was, around that number. But the perception, I guess, from someone who’s not of the Latter-day Saint faith, not members of the Church, would say that the Church recruits all these missionaries, they have the financial responsibility for them, they pay their way, the missionaries are paid to do a job. As we know, it’s clearly very different to that. What we have is 67 volunteers who’ve been saving up their money and have family and support that is provided for them to serve as volunteers in the mission field, and in this case, in Ethiopia. As civil unrest continues to escalate, you can imagine the concerns both with some of the missionaries, but also the families that are putting the volunteers into environments, and they want to make sure that the missionaries are safe. And so, things escalated.
The decision to relocate the missionaries out of the Ethiopia mission to Kenya for a period of time, it’s not something that was taken lightly, and so we actually went to the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, and President Nelson sought for a vote from all of the First Presidency and the Twelve, as to whether it was appropriate to relocate the missionaries — which we weren’t aware of that that was the case when we received the call — but to know that the prophet of God and the First Presidency and the Twelve, all prophets, seers and revelators, had unanimously felt that it was time to relocate the missionaries for a season that we certainly supported that and put things into action.
Just think about the logistics for a moment. I know that, Sarah, your daughter is in the mission field and I can imagine, late night before, you’re packing bags with her, trying to make sure that they’re the correct weight. Now, escalate that number to 67 missionaries of making sure they’ve got the bags of the right weight, they’re taking the things that they need, they’ve got all of the COVID tests done, they’ve got all of the visas in place, all of the passports are found, logistics of getting them to the airport and checked in and then through immigration, and etc, etc. It was just a miracle after miracle of things unfolding. In the current environment, to have 67 also with negative COVID tests — that was a miracle in and of itself — to get us all on the same plane together was another miracle. We couldn’t find one of the passports and all day, we hunted for a passport for one of our elders. And it wasn’t until after we gathered together and prayed and then looked again, that someone actually found the passport in a location that we had looked several times, but couldn’t locate it. And so, we’ve relocated to Kenya for a season, and we don’t know how long that period is, but we’re having some remarkable experiences here in Kenya, as we continue to operate as the Ethiopia Addis Ababa Mission, just located in a different location for a period of time.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, Sister Dudfield, tell me how your missionaries are doing. That had to be stressful for them.
Sister Darice Dudfield: Yes, it can be stressful, keeping them occupied and keeping them motivated to continue to fulfill their purpose as a missionary. But we’re finding that there are a number of them that are stepping up, that they will come away and say, “I had four lessons today,” which is just absolutely amazing. Sometimes the challenges are that when they try to reach out to people in Ethiopia, people don’t answer the phone all the time, and not many have smartphones, and they certainly don’t have the money to have the usage of a lot of internet. So it does make it challenging, but our missionaries are putting in the extra work, and we’re trying to keep them motivated so that they stay focused on that task.
The ones that struggle a little bit are the ones that are not putting their purpose first, and sometimes it does get hard when they want to wallow in self-pity for a little bit, but then when they realize that they can succeed, they actually make the target. One day, we had a goal to get 50 lessons, and some of them did not believe that that could be possible. At the end of the day, then 79 lessons achieved, so they can do it and they’re overcoming the challenges that they face.
President Robert Dudfield: You know, Sarah, we often hear about the miracle that comes after the trauma. And so there’s so many valuable lessons that our missionaries are learning here and just responding beautifully to it. Because they are actually seeing the miracles occur. They’ve been reaching out to those who haven’t been active for a period of time, now connecting again, people are attending Church that hadn’t been for years, they’re getting referrals that they now need to teach. And we’re announcing baptisms occurring when our missionaries are not there. And that’s an absolute credit to our local leaders, and our local members in Ethiopia that continue to carry the work of the Lord forward, even in the absence of face-to-face presence of our missionaries. In fact, there are remarkable experiences that we’re having here that we never would have had, had we not relocated for this period of time. And I know that even through some of the more challenging time, that if missionaries look back in the years to come, now we’ll see some tremendous growth and tremendous learning and tremendous experiences that they will treasure for the rest of their lives.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, it’s certainly true that you cannot stop the work of the Lord from moving forward. Tell us about the members in Ethiopia. You mentioned that when you started your mission, there was not a stake. What does the Church look like right now in Ethiopia?
President Robert Dudfield: So, there’s around 2,000 members of the Church in Ethiopia. When we just arrived there, our first sacrament meeting on the 20th of December 2020, we had 85 people in total, around four branches of the Church, there were four branches. And so just before we were relocated for a season, we had the sacrament meeting attendance of just shy of 400 that were attending. The focus of the local leaders there, and you’ve got people of tremendous faith and testimony and commitment, who are strengthening the Church through reactivation, through continuing to help people progress on the covenant path, and new converts as well. The goal is always to be able to help the country become temple-ready, and so the next step is to be able to strengthen family through ordinances, because it helps to strengthen communities and it strengthens the nation. And so as we’re strengthening families, we’re actually being able to expand the Church so that we’ve got more branches being created and groups being created as we work towards creating the first stake. And so that’s what my short-term goal is, to be able to strengthen the Church so that we can have a stake in Ethiopia.
And once there’s a stake established, the Church will continue to grow from there, as we get ready for a temple in Ethiopia. And we’ve no doubt that at some point in time, the prophet of God will announce a temple for Ethiopia. And for now, what we’re doing is we’re laying the foundation as the scriptures say, laying the foundation of the great work. And the local leaders, the local members are responding beautifully.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I think when most of us here in the United States think about Ethiopia, our thoughts return to the ‘80s when they were in the news so much, and have continued to be throughout the decades that have followed because of drought. Tell us what it is like to live in Ethiopia today.
President Robert Dudfield: I want to touch on the rich cultural history, the religious history of Ethiopia. There are very, very religious people. Two thirds of the country are Christian, one third are Muslim, and there is deep faith in God, or a higher supreme being, that is unique, I think, to this country, compared to how I can reflect it to Australia, our experience in Australia. Our badges say The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and people will come up to us regularly, they’ll see our badges, and they’ll thank us for coming to the country to be able to help to teach about Jesus Christ. And that would never happen in Melbourne, Australia, but certainly in Ethiopia, it happens all the time. And so you’ve got such a beautiful foundation of people of faith, and courage, and commitment, and it’s just a beautiful foundation to build upon those who we bring lots of great things they learned in the past, and bring the additional doctrines that the Church teaches that helps them to understand the purpose of life and the Plan of Salvation and Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness and how families can be together forever. And so those messages resonate so beautifully with the people of Ethiopia, who are very family-oriented, and very tight-focused.
As far as living in Ethiopia — well, it’s a little different from Melbourne, Australia, or from Provo, Utah, but I’ll let Sister Dudfield tell you about the reality of living on the ground.
Sister Darice Dudfield: So when we arrived in Ethiopia, we were very surprised to see high-rise buildings springing up, the industrious work of the people, that many people were eager to work. COVD put a little bit of a stop to that. Now Ethiopia is one of the fastest growing countries in Africa, and cars make it sort of might go backwards a bit, and now the war has brought down the standard. But the roads in the city area, they’re not too bad, as you go out to the country areas, it’s full of potholes and so forth.
And you certainly see a difference between rural and city as well. There are a lot of unemployed, and you do see beggars on the streets. Ethiopia has a lot of refugees coming in from Sudan, from Somalia, from many areas around, and also it’s a transient area where people are coming into Africa through Ethiopia. So you have a lot of motion coming and going through there.
Going to shop is a very interesting thing, because you cannot always find what you want to find. And things that you’re used to getting, you just can’t get in Ethiopia. They have a lot of smaller shops, and that’s where the missionaries would buy their local things to cook with in one place.
President Robert Dudfield: We went to one place, again, I’ll get Sister Dudfield to share a bit about the experience … We went to a place that was about an hour outside of the capital Addis Ababa, where there was actually a rock church that was built from the ground down. And so we had an opportunity to walk through those, and it was fascinating to be able to experience being in one of the Rock Church, has been there for centuries, but particularly about the framework of how they set it up with different rooms.
Sister Darice Dudfield: As you go down to the entrance of the Rock Church, the men go down one side and the women go down the other, down these steps. And as you enter into the church, you come into a common area where you both sit together, waiting to progress into the next room. They had three rooms within the church, the last room being the Holy of Holies, just like it is in the tabernacle with Moses, that only the priests can go in there, it’s not for the common people. But people will come down and go in and go to certain parts of the room, to worship and to gain instruction from the priests.
Along the side of the church they had these windows, each one representing the Apostles, and a lot of symbolism between the Old Testament and the New Testament. And in our Church, there’s a lot of similarities of the things we believe in dating back many generations, through the early church.
President Robert Dudfield: One of the things I would add as well when Sister Dudfield spoke about the Old Testament, the New Testament, the missionaries from Ethiopia have such a great knowledge of the Old Testament and New Testament, is that teaching people in Ethiopia. Now start with a common scripture of teaching from the Old Testament, then progressing to the New Testament, then introducing the same unit teaching, and then progress to the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, and to watch them through that, so beautifully working through the standard works, to be able to testify of Christ, magnify their purpose, is something that, of course, we are quit envious of. We are Australians that have perhaps taken the Old Testament and New Testament for granted as we did seminary. To be able to see them deeply committed to being able to use all of the scriptures in testifying of Christ and inviting people to come unto Christ.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Wow. If you had one moment in your mission that became anecdotal or symbolic of what your mission has meant to you, I would love for each of you to share one of those. What would that moment be?
President Robert Dudfield: I think, for me, I would bring it back to my experience in the hospital with COVID, thinking about, why has the Lord called me here to Ethiopia? Why has he taken my wife with me here, to serve in Ethiopia, and for me to lie in a hospital bed and potentially die. At one point, I actually said to my wife, “I think I need to start writing letters to our children,” our five children back home and some of those that are married with children themselves, because I thought that perhaps this was how it was going to end, and it just didn’t seem right. And we know others that have not been as fortunate to make a recovery. So I’m very sensitive to this. But I think about back in section 123 of the Doctrine and Covenants, it said, “Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.”
Well, for me, knowing that there was a purpose for us to be in Ethiopia and to be able to push through some of the challenges, as early as it was in the mission field, and to be able to embrace every opportunity as a learning opportunity and to submit cheerfully, I think, for me, it captures the approach that we’ve taken over these last 18 months. You can either continue to ask yourself, “Why me or why this or why are we going through such experiences? Why does it have to be the case?” Or we can take a different approach. What thing would the Lord have me learn through this experience, and taking that approach has just unfolded miracle after miracle, experience after experience, lesson after lesson. It helps to refine us and help us to become closer to the Savior as His representative in Ethiopia in His great work here. And so I think that’s what would capture, for me, the experience that we’ve had so far, during our missionary service here for the first 18 months.
Sister Darice Dudfield: So, for me, all the work that we’ve put in to build Ethiopia, and then be taken out to come to Kenya — as we look back and see that the leaders back in Ethiopia step up. When I think about why did the Lord pick us up and plunk us here in Kenya, when we’re doing such a great work in Ethiopia? As we look back, we see that we had done enough to sustain the leaders back there so that they could continue the work. We’ve watched one branch president who has just stepped up so much. He’s only been a member for a very short time. He was able to go to the temple not long ago with his wife and his young child and be sealed together. Now, he has just grown so much in his calling. I mean, he got to the point where he was with the brand-new Aaronic Priesthood members. He held the Aaronic Priesthood class with them, and teaching them their roles as priesthood leaders, so that he prepares them for the Melchizedek Priesthood. He has one of the new members as a branch missionary who has stepped up and is leading the charge of continuing to do the missionary work there. They are there pretty much every day helping the missionaries who are teaching online, and they are helping to support and run the missionary work. It’s just amazing to see that branch just grow so much with confidence and leadership. But if we were still there, they wouldn’t have stepped up, and this has been a great chance for them to actually take that leap.
President Robert Dudfield: Let me just share one of the tender mercies that we’ve discovered here in Kenya. We found in Kenya, here in Nairobi, there are three large pockets of Ethiopian community. Thousands upon thousands of Ethiopians. And as we working through getting work permits ready, there will be an opportunity for our missionaries to be able to go out to the Ethiopian communities, to be able to share with them the gospel in Amharic, or in Oromo, and to be able to connect with them in a way perhaps they have not connected before. And so we would not have had that experience, had we not been here in Kenya, and be able to reach out both to the Ethiopian people here in Kenya, and to also to be able to connect with their families back in Ethiopia. And so again, it’s just one of those tender mercies, and it comes from a situation that you weren’t expecting, but welcome with great excitement.
One of the challenges that we’ve found: We’ve got the handbook of instructions, the general handbook is not in Amharic. And so to help these local leaders, we’ve got different sections that have been translated, to help them better understand their duties and responsibility, to help the Relief Society president understand what it actually means to be Relief Society president, to help an Elders Quorum president understand what priesthood keys are, and how to use those keys to minister to those who are in his quorum, and the list goes on. So many things are needed to be able to help to strengthen relationships and to strengthen Church leaders with the right tool, as we help to build the Church.
Now, one of the other charges we were given, as we were to come, to not just be observers, was to be a voice and a seat at the table when it comes to interfaith relationships, dealing with those of other faiths, and also to be able to build strong government relationships as well. We have some tremendous friends now that we’ve made that are either leaders in other faiths or heavily involved in different government portfolios, and we’ve treated them as dear friends with experiences that we’ve had. But it’s provided an opportunity for the Church to … come out of obscurity, to be able to be more known for who we are and who we represent, and what we can bring to the table to be able to help to strengthen families, to support education, to help from humanitarian perspective, and to be able to assist in any way we can for freedom of religion or belief, or to be able to support those that are less fortunate than ourselves, and to be a part of that in one way, shape or form. And that has been a tremendous experience.
I’m just sharing one experience, Sarah. ElderJoseph W. Sitati is the area president here. He and I, he came for a visit in Ethiopia for a few days and we set up some meetings to visit a number of faith and government leaders, and that was a great experience to be able to have him as an African, a local Kenyan member and and senior Church leader to be able to be part of the group [that represents the Church]. We went to visit the Catholic church and to visit with the Ethiopian cardinals, and what a delightful man he was, and we spoke together, he thought that perhaps we were both from the United States could tell that Elder Sitati is from Kenya, not from the United States, but once I mentioned that I was from Australia, and the outback in Australia. Originally I grew up in Tasmania, and for those that may be listening, Tasmania is a small island state of the government, the mainland of Australia, and most will think of Tasmania with Looney Tunes cartoon and the Tasmanian Devil. Once he found out I’m from Tasmania, he roared with laughter, saying that this is the third time he’d ever let the devil into the cathedral in Ethiopia. What an unlikely friendship that has turned out to be. He’s just a great support and a great man of faith and a great friend as well, and that symbolizes some of the relationships we’ve been able to form, the religious council and other faith groups, and also with other groups that support and promote many of the values that we support.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, President and Sister Dudfield, we’re so grateful for your faith and your commitment and your service and your friendship, we pray for you. We certainly pray for your family back in Australia. As we close this podcast, I’m hoping that you can answer the same question we have all of our guests answer, and share something that you know now, after serving in the Church’s Ethiopia mission and leading that effort.
Sister Darice Dudfield: Well, for me, what I know now is that the Lord is in control, and that He guides us constantly. We see so many miracles, and we’re so grateful for that. We feel the prayers being answered on our behalf, through our whole time. Every time we have a challenge pop up, we feel the prayers being offered for us, and we feel that the Lord is on our side and guiding us through this whole process. And I’m so grateful for that knowledge, and to know that the Savior cares about all of that, and particularly, us in general.
President Robert Dudfield: I think for me, Sarah, it would be very much about — we’ve been associated with mission leaders over the years, but never really experienced it ourselves until we’re actually on the ground here. And I think for us, it’s been willing to be as flexible as needed to be, to be able to be accommodating as needed to be. This is not our work, we don’t have our own agendas around the missionaries. And if we allow ourselves to be molded and to be moved, and to be refined because of our experiences, we have found there are just tremendous blessings. In fact, flexibility will be certainly one of the things that stands out to me.
I think the second thing for me would be just never underestimating just the remarkable young men and young women that are out serving a mission, particularly this time in the world, the current environment, we have some of the most remarkable young men and young women. And it’s just a privilege to serve, not just with them, but to be able to learn from them each day. And yes, they are young people, and yes, they are very inexperienced, but they have a powerful testimony and really are an example of just a great shining light for us as well.
I think the third thing I would say is that in line with President Nelson’s great optimism, there is something we do in our service, that is always to look for the lessons from the Lord. In the last conference, this is what President Nelson said. He said, “The pandemic has demonstrated how quickly life can change, at times from circumstances beyond our control.” And certainly, we have been living that for the last 18 months here in the Ethiopia Mission, now in Kenya. He says this: “However, there are many things we can control. We set our own priorities and determine how we use our energy, time, and means. We decide how we will treat each other. We choose those to whom we will turn for truth and guidance.” That’s the great optimism of the prophet of God, and we seek to follow his counsel as we decide how we treat each other and whom we choose to turn for truth and guidance. And there’s no question in our mind that as we turn to the Savior Who’s work we do, and as we align ourselves with prophets and apostles, and as we put our best foot forward as fully covenanted in this call, that we see the Lord’s hand guiding us continually, and it’s just been such a tremendous blessing and a privilege to be able to be serving and witnessing small part of the great and powerful work of the Lord will continue to move forward, in spite of any of the restrictions that we might be facing.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer KellieAnn Halvorsen and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com.