Episode 100: Elder Ronald A. Rasband and Elder S. Mark Palmer on the growing and influential Church in Africa, with guest host Sheri Dew
As the Church grows rapidly in Africa, Elder Rasband shares some of his treasured experiences on the continent
Episode 100: Elder Ronald A. Rasband and Elder S. Mark Palmer on the growing and influential Church in Africa, with guest host Sheri Dew
As the Church grows rapidly in Africa, Elder Rasband shares some of his treasured experiences on the continent
In May 2022, Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles visited Africa, an area for which he has administrative oversight for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“This is just the beginning,” Elder Rasband told Latter-day Saints in a social media post celebrating the member meeting in Mozambique — the largest gathering in the history of the Church in that country.
Elder Rasband joins this special 100th episode of the Church News podcast with Elder S. Mark Palmer of the Presidency of the Seventy to talk about the Church in Africa. Sister Sheri Dew, executive vice president of Deseret Management Corp. and a former member of the Relief Society general presidency, is the guest host.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: I think that’s one of the greatest ongoing phenomenon in the Church in Africa, is they are a visionary people and as I go now and meet with our leaders — these stake presidents and Area Seventies who are generally first generation members — they have these stories. I’ll often say, “Well, tell me how you join this Church.” “Oh, I had a dream about it before I ever joined the Church.” These people are given dreams from Heaven and they respond to them.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. 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. In May, Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles visited Africa, an area for which he has administrative oversight for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In a social media post, Elder Rasband referenced a gathering in Mozambique, the largest gathering in the history of the Church in that country. He told members in that post, “This is just the beginning.” Elder Rasband joins this special 100th episode of the Church News podcast with Elder S. Mark Palmer of the Presidency of the Seventy to talk about the Church in Africa. They are joined in the episode by guest host Sister Sheri L. Dew, executive vice president of Deseret Management Corp. and a former member of the Relief Society general presidency.
Sister Sheri Dew: Elder Rasband and Elder Palmer, we are just thrilled to welcome you to the Church News podcast. Thank you so much for somehow squeezing in a little time this morning for us to have a conversation. Welcome.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: Thank you, Sister Dew, and throughout the conversation this morning, I might refer to you as Sheri.
Sister Sheri Dew: Good, I sure hope so.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: And I want to say a word of thanks to Sarah, who introduced this podcast this morning and let her know that I, personally, am one of your greatest fans and I enjoy this podcast. I’ve listened to many and when you invited me and Elder Palmer to do this, I was just thrilled to be able to participate. So, hopefully we can add to the great history you’ve already got and share with the members of the Church, who are listening, some very exciting things that are happening in Elder Palmer’s and my part of the world.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate that.
Sister Sheri Dew: Elder Palmer, welcome to you as well.
Elder S. Mark Palmer: Thank you so much, Sheri. It’s really an honor and I’m so pleased to be here with Elder Rasband. It’s a great privilege for me to serve with him.
Sister Sheri Dew: We’re going to talk today, principally, about Africa. But before we start diving in on that, I would like to ask both of you, perhaps, an introductory or a ground-laying question, and that is this: You’ve both had very distinguished lives and careers and many experiences prior to being called as general authorities. I wonder if you would just reflect and maybe select one or two. As you think back, retrospectively, can you look at some of those experiences and say, “Those experiences were actually preparing me for the kind of responsibilities I have today?” And, Elder Palmer, I wonder, could we start with you?
Elder S. Mark Palmer: Well, sure. I think if we think about the assignment, when I was called as general authority, it was actually President [Henry B.] Eyring who called me and he said to my wife and I, said, “Well, we’re going to,” I was sixty-years-old at the time, he said, “We’re going to organize the next 10 years of your life. We’re sending you to Africa.” Well, that wasn’t really on the radar for us, but because my family and I joined the Church when I was very young in New Zealand, I think the experiences of growing up in the Pacific have actually ended up being very, very helpful as we see an emerging church on the African continent. We joined the Church at a time when the temple was under construction and so the first temple in the Southern Hemisphere was dedicated, and our family was able to be sealed in that.
At the time, there was one stake outside of North America and that was in Auckland, New Zealand. Auckland, today, has 13 stakes. We grew up in a church that was made up of so many from the islands of the Pacific and, of course, we saw and witnessed tremendous faith and how the Lord had prepared so many of our Maori saints and Polynesian saints to accept the gospel through dreams through visions, and then we saw how a multicultural sense of unity and love could exist within this wonderful church society we have. So, all those experiences of growing up in such an environment, I think, have been enormously helpful as, as I now get the great blessing of serving in Africa and seeing an emerging Church there and having a little vision of what it can become, as the second generation starts to grow up, or even the third generation grows up in the Church. So, that would just be a little way in which, perhaps, the Lord has helped prepare for this current assignment.
Sister Sheri Dew: Well, that’s a beautiful thought I can picture from having been to so many places in both Africa and the South Pacific. Yeah, that rings visual to me to see how that could be very, very harmonious in terms of your experience. Elder Rasband…
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: Thank you, Sheri and thank you Mark for that beautiful reflection on your life. Mine was a bit different. Sister Rasband and I are both sixth generation Latter-day Saints. All of our great-grandparents were pioneers on both her side and my side and so, I have often felt, and I’m going to use a phrase that President Ballard uses, that I was born with “believing blood.” And from the earliest days that I can remember, at the knee of my angel Mother, I have just believed. I’ve never had challenges of faith. I’ve never had challenges of my testimony and I began that way, in humble circumstances. My father was a truck driver, grew up in a humble home. It was a beautiful beginning to my life and then throughout my life, it’s as if, as you say, I look back, now, in hindsight, it’s as if I was a chess piece on a chess board, and Heavenly Father, the Lord and the Holy Ghost, it seems, moved me from place to place, experience to experience. Different people influenced my life all along that journey.
I like a statement by John Donne where he said, “No man is an island. No man stands alone.” That certainly applies to me and my life. I was molded. I was shaped by the people along that journey that contributed to who I am today. President Nelson once said after Elder Stevenson, Renlund and I were called to the Twelve, he said to us and our wives, he said, “My new brethren of the Twelve and you dear sisters, let me just say, it takes a long time and many experiences to grow an apostle of the Lord.” And I went, “Ding, ding, ding, that’s me.” It’s been a life that experiences, a life of people, first and foremost of which is my sweetheart Melanie, who has truly raised up her husband to serve in the capacity that we are now serving together. Others along that journey, certainly my employer and partner for many years John Huntsman would have to be on that list. And both of them, Sheri, came from a decision I made, which some of your listeners are not going to like, but it’s true, nonetheless, to attend the University of Utah. Number one, I
Sister Sheri Dew: You’re looking at me, as you say that.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: Yeah, I say that, dressed in blue, as you are today. I couldn’t afford BYU. I didn’t have the grades to go to BYU and so I needed to live at home and go to school. And those were the reasons why I chose to go to the University of Utah and that’s where I met sweet Melanie was at the University of Utah and that’s where I met John Huntsman. And so those two singular events had as much shaping on my life as anything else that happened and they were huge influencers and contributors and still are. I still follow my wife in so many ways. She, as the proclamation to the world suggests, she is truly my equal partner and I love her so much. And there’s very few days that go by that I don’t think of my friend, partner John Huntsman and I still have a wonderful relationship with his family. Pepper that with all the Church leaders I’ve met during the years and other influencers, that’s a popular word these days. I’ve had lots of those in my life and I just feel blessed amongst all people to be able to serve where I’m serving and feel it an immense honor and privilege.
Sister Sheri Dew: I just love both of your reflections. I love that they’re very different. This is not a cookie-cutter church and I love that. And I’ve been reflecting as both of you have been speaking on something. Elder Neal A. Maxwell used to say. He used to talk about each of us having a divine orbit and I hope that each of our listeners will reflect about their orbits and the people who have helped them and are helping them. That’s a beautiful way to think about it and a beautiful beginning.
Now, let’s talk about Africa. I have looked forward to this so much. I would simply say that many moons ago, when I was serving in the Relief Society general presidency, I received a number of assignments to travel to quite a few countries in Africa and it sounds so cliche, but it was life changing for me. And so, I have looked forward to saying, let me talk to some of you who have had more recent experiences than I have and more expanding and expanded experiences that I’ve had. The Church News just featured an article on the growth of the Church in Africa over the past 10 years and the statistics say, if I counted correctly, that there were at least 14 countries where the growth, over the last decade has been more than 100%. And it seems like every week when the Church News reports on new stakes created, it feels like half of them are from Africa. So, talk to us about what you’re seeing there. The positives of this kind of explosive growth and maybe, also some of the challenges associated with it. Elder Rasband, do you want to lead out on this?
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: Okay. Well, let me give a little background before I comment on Africa. In my ministry at the Church, now in its 21st year of general authority assignment, I’ve largely been assigned to supervise the Church in Utah. 17 years of my ministry have been either as area president, or supervising elder in the presidency of the Seventy or the Quorum of the Twelve of Utah. And you can imagine now for me, after that background and that experience of a year ago, this month, beginning my service, as the First Presidency assigns me to supervise two of the areas in Africa, I was delighted, I was thrilled and my excitement was only multiplied by knowing that, I said, “Well, I’d love to do that, but can I make one request?” And they said, “Well, ask it and we’ll tell you.” I said, “I’d love to have Elder Palmer, who’s a new member of the presidency of the Seventy, be my cohort in supervising Africa. If you could just give him to me as my partner we’ll go and do the very best that the Lord would have us do.” And lo and behold, for that reason or any other, I was grateful that Elder Palmer was assigned as my supervising companion and as he told you, in his beginning statement, when he began as a general authority, he was shipped off to Africa. So, he has this rich background and when we’re, now, meeting with our area presidencies, or considering area Seventies, or state presidents or anyone, I just turned to Elder Palmer, and he tells me about them. He says, “Well, I know them. I know him. I know his family. I know this mission. I know where we’re going.” And so, for the benefit of the Lord’s Church right now, you’ve got a fresh-minded apostle, looking at growth in Africa.
Sister Sheri Dew: Fresh eyes
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: Fresh eyes, fresh eyes, with a very different background of Church supervision and an absolute expert in Africa with Elder Palmer and together, with our wives, we’ve been to Africa, now, multiple times together, we’ve sat with presidents and kings and, even before I had this particular assignment, I had some beautiful assignments to go to Africa. And, you know, you’re just never finished learning when you go to Africa. You’re learning all the time and, for me, it’s one of the great honors of my life that I get now to face the African people on behalf of the First Presidency and Twelve with the deep love and affection I have in my heart for them.
Sister Sheri Dew: I love what you just said, “We never finished learning.” Again, my experience is so shallow and so small compared to yours, but oh, that’s so true. Elder Palmer, please, enlighten us.
Elder S. Mark Palmer: Well, I think first of all, I would never call myself an expert on Africa, but it has been a joy for Jacqui and I to be there for five years. We were based in South Africa. There were, I think, 36 countries within the — what are now the — Africa South, Africa Central areas. And a particular joy this past year has been time in the Africa West area as well. I think your question, Sheri, related to the tremendous growth we’re seeing happen. Maybe a perspective on this. When Sister Palmer and I, Jacqui and I, first moved in 2016 within the countries that go all the way up to Ethiopia, there was one temple, which was in Johannesburg. There was also a temple in Accra and Aba, Nigeria. You think about the impact that happens, as all of a sudden, so many more temples are announced and then you see these tremendous number of stakes being formed, that you referenced.
I think it’s important to point out that, you know, the Lord’s hand is over the growth that’s happening. We are all familiar with the remarkable things that happened in Nigeria and Ghana is that people were prepared before the Church was able to become formally established, throughout all of Africa. We have people, in general, many cultures, many differences, but people in general, who have great faith in Jesus Christ and they are very, very quick to open their hearts and their minds, to anything related to the Church of Jesus Christ. And so for us to be able to take that message to the Church of Jesus Christ has been restored, every missionary I’ve talked to will tell you, they have people coming up to them on the street and seeing the name of Jesus Christ and the name tag and wanting to know more. In five years is, I would talk to everybody I could meet and invite them to Church, in five years, I never had one person who was rude or upset that I would invite them to hear from the missionaries or come to church. Now, that’s not the experience in the rest of the world.
Sister Sheri Dew: That’s quite a statement. Yeah.
Elder S. Mark Palmer: But this is what’s happening in Africa. There’s a reservoir of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and there’s this tremendous faith amongst our people and then so many of them are first generation, but we have outstanding leaders, who are really carrying the Church forward to great heights.
Sister Sheri Dew: I’ve said in plenty of meetings where I’ve heard senior leaders talk about the importance of the Church growing from centers of strength. How would that apply to Africa and what are the challenges that come with explosive growth along with the beauties that come with explosive growth? Elder Palmer, do you want to pick up where you just concluded?
Elder S. Mark Palmer: I appreciate you mentioning centers of strength, because that is, of course, one of the great challenges. You have so many people who will move to a village or move to a town or have gathered together and become attracted to the Church through online methods or through relatives. And yet, one of the great challenges for the leaders of the Church, and this has been over many years now, has been to say, “Well, the gospel will eventually come to all people and will be taught to all people in their town, but it needs to be done in the Lord’s way.” And so, it’s the hardest thing to have to say to people, “We can’t actually bring the Church to you right now. We can’t send missionaries, because there’s a limited number of resources, many hundreds of millions of people, and the Church has had to start in larger population centers and grow the Church there. So, if you will, the branches don’t overgrow the roots of the tree. So, that center of strength strategy is, still continues to be a challenge. And sometimes wonderful saints in Africa will say, “Well, can we just have the Church come now? We’ve got 100 People who want to meet together and have the missionaries. So, it’s a difficult thing for leaders to have to continue to do it in a thoughtful and inspired way.
And then the other question is, “What are some of the other challenges?” Well, when you have people who come into the Church, and they’re called to be a bishop, or go on a mission, after one year in the Church, called to be a bishop the year after they get back from a mission. We have stake presidents who have been members for five or six years. Well, there’s naturally going to be just things that they don’t know and so, one of the great challenges is to be able to strengthen, teach and grow the future leaders of the Church and that’s happening in a wonderful way.
Sister Sheri Dew: It’s a great problem to have, isn’t it? That’s a happy problem. Elder Rasband, please pick up where Elder Palmer just left off.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: I would just add an exclamation point to one thing that he said and that is the importance of training of leaders — men and women. We have taken this year that Elder Palmer and I have had, and most of what we have done has been training of leaders, men and women, who are filling these positions now. And you know, they get to have access to the same General Church Handbook that we do here in Salt Lake, which has its pluses and its minuses. And we tried to start them with a basic menu of the Church. Years ago, we had a basic unit program. Africa is really the basic unit area and we’re building. We add a little more meat, a little more milk. ... We just do the best we can to bring them along in a line upon line, precept upon precept way and it’s very critical that we have leaders at the area, presidency level, the Area Seventy level, the organization sisters that are now available throughout Africa, that are helping to train their leaders. And so, I put training right up at the top of what’s essential, as we monitor the growth of the Church in Africa.
Sister Sheri Dew: I love that. And something you just said, Elder Rasband, reminded me of something that I heard President Boyd K. Packer say more than once. And that is, in addition to all of the practical training, repeated — so repetition, repetition, repetition — never forget that the Spirit is just as close to Johannesburg as it is to Salt Lake City.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: Well, that’s the truth.
Sister Sheri Dew: And so, we know that these people are unusually spiritually receptive. We’ve all heard legendary stories. Elder Palmer inferred this just a little bit ago about things that happened, experiences that happened prior to 1978 with the priesthood revelation where there would be men and women who would come across a Book of Mormon or come across an ad about the Church in the Reader’s Digest or something, and plead with Salt Lake City to send missionaries and you both just explained why that couldn’t always happen right at the time, but post 1978, again, and referring to what Elder Palmer mentioned, when the Church did start to proselytize, particularly in Nigeria and Ghana and they’re lining up, we’ve seen the pictures on them lining up for baptism, what should we understand about the Lord preparing an entire continent for the restoration — Elder Rasband do you want to lead on that?
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: My immediate reaction, Sheri, is having read all those stories and accounts, having been to those countries, having been to the very locations those branches first met in, my reaction is, it’s still happening. For some reason the Lord grants to these African people, dreams and visions. They are a visionary people. As Elder Palmer said, missionaries will be walking down the street and friends of the Church will walk up to them and say, “I had a dream about you. I saw young men in white shirts with black, something on them and I need to know who you are and what you’re doing.” They are a visionary people. And so, those dreams, those visions, those instincts, are still in place. And as I go now, and meet with our leaders, these stake presidents and Area Seventies, who are generally first generation members, they have these stories. I’ll often say, “Well tell me how you join this church.” “Oh, I had a dream about it before I ever joined the Church.” And I don’t know what it is. I mean, I’ve looked at my own life and say, “Should I be more of a visionary man? Should I be more attentive to my dreams that sometimes don’t make any sense to me?” That these people are given dreams from heaven and they respond to them snd I think that’s one of the greatest ongoing phenomenon in the Church in Africa, is they are a visionary people, and missionaries will meet them and greet them, or these friends will meet and greet the missionaries.
Sister Sheri Dew: That’s absolutely beautiful. Elder Palmer, what would you add to that?
Elder S. Mark Palmer: I love what Elder Rasband said. I just love it. My wife and I, last week, were in Ghana and we were talking to the Church history advisor there and his wife asked how they came into the Church. Both of them shared an experience that related to a dream they had related to the Book of Mormon. I can remember being in Lubumbashi in the D. R. Congo interviewing men as candidates for stake president. One of them told me, well, he had a dream, in which he saw the name of the Church in his dream, and in French obviously. And some time later, he then saw one of our church meeting houses and saw the name of the Church on it knew that was a fulfillment of his dream. There are countless, countless experiences like this. And so, why is this happening? Well, I love what it says in the end of Alma chapter 26 when it says that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in. And God is very mindful of those who are searching for truth in the many, many countries across the continent of Africa.
Sister Sheri Dew: You’ve both prompted me to think about a moment I had sitting in a stake center outside of Accra, in Ghana. And the opening prayer was offered by a woman that was so profound, that I remember thinking, “I’m pretty sure angels are here. I wonder if I look up, if I could see them.” I just thought, “Well, I’m sitting on the stand, maybe I shouldn’t be looking around with my eyes open.” But it was a freeze frame moment I still haven’t forgotten. Let’s switch just slightly and say another characteristic that seems to be prevalent with, frankly, in every country I’ve been in, and I’ve not been in nearly as many as the two of you, but the African people feel happier. You will look around and see the conditions in which they live. They don’t necessarily look like happy conditions everywhere that you look, but as a people, it always feels happy. Would you comment on that? Elder Palmer, let’s start with you and then go to Elder Rasband.
Elder S. Mark Palmer: Well, that’s been a marvelous learning experience for me personally, that the joy you feel has very little to do with material wealth. I do want to loop back to one thing. When we talk about the African people, the African continent, we do need to remember, of course, the Church was first introduced into South Africa back in the 1850s. And then you have just a variety. You have some countries, which are just beginning and others where it has been for some time. But in responding to that question about happiness and joy, I remember being in a meeting with Elder [David A.] Bednar and it was a group of mission presidents and stake presidents and their wives. And he made a comment about needing to avoid the pride cycle, which seems like an interesting thing to talk about when we have a number of our Saints, here, by the world’s standards, living in meager circumstances. And I remember one of our wonderful mission presidents, his name is President Chadambuka. He’s now serving as an Area Seventy. He said, “You know, many times I’ve gone into homes with senior missionary couples, foreign missionary couples, and I go into the home and I watched a foreign couple, who will kind of break down in tears and feels such pity for those that they’re visiting. And he says, “Now, just being a local and having a deeper understanding of the people, I said, ‘Well, why would you feel pity? Even though they might not have a lot in terms of temporal possessions, those that we’re visiting are happy. They have the joy of the Gospel.’” If you use a scriptural term, they have “eternal riches.” And of course, they’re so willing to share whatever they have. So, true happiness and joy comes from this connection with family and connection with the gospel of Jesus Christ and we see this reflected in those who are living in prosperous circumstances within Africa, and those who are living in circumstances that are far from prosperous.
Sister Sheri Dew: Thank you. Elder Rasband.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: I mentioned earlier that I still have much to learn in Africa and this is one topic I want to plumb even deeper. I seem to feel that their happiness is related to the simplicity, and I don’t say that in a negative way, the simplicity of their lives. They truly can focus on things that matter most. They can focus on our Savior, Jesus Christ. They can focus on the messages of the Prophet. They have a tendency to order in their lives the things that matter most and that gives them great happiness, is what I’ve learned. You go into an African humble home, I’ve done that, and it may have a tin roof. It may have a dirt floor, but on the wall will be a picture of the Savior, Jesus Christ, or on the wall will be a picture of their closest Temple, which for some of them is a great distance away. And they either have a great hope that someday they can go there, or they’ve been there and they’re preserving a magnificent memory. And that might be all the decoration that they might have in their living room, which may serve as other purposes too. So, I think the complexity that we’ve added to our lives, in many cases, sometimes clouds the things that really matter most. And I think for these wonderful African saints, they can still focus on the things that matter most, and they do, and I think it brings great happiness for them.
Sister Sheri Dew: I vividly remember sitting in an airplane flying home from my first trip to Africa thinking, “I wonder who the Lord is worried about more — the Africans who have nothing but happiness are the Americans who have everything but happiness.” Not sure what the answer to that would be.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband:That’s part of future lessons we all need to learn.
Sister Sheri Dew: Yep, more learning
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: Because there are lessons that are going to bless this whole church from our experience in Africa
Sister Sheri Dew: Isn’t that the truth?
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: And we need to know how to magnify them to everyone else.
Sister Sheri Dew: Beautiful. Now, Elder Palmer a minute ago mentioned temples. If we’ve counted correctly, we think we have six operating temples on the continent now and that would include a temple just recently dedicated in Cape Verde. And 16 more 16 more announced are in process. What difference is the increase in temples gonna make? Elder Rasband?
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: Well, let’s first of all, talk about that revelation that came to Russell Marion Nelson, as he announces temples, all over the world. Many countries, many cities clamoring for that announcement in general conference and here we have 16 coming to Africa. What does the Lord see, revealed to His servant, the prophet, for the future of Africa? He sees a temple going people, which means the likes of Elder Palmer and I and area presidencies and brother and sister leaders need to prepare the people now, to be a believing, recommend-carrying people in anticipation of these temples. And whenever I have brought this up, they rejoice in it. They are so excited to think that the prophet has seen Africa with those lens that they’re 16 more coming. May I tell a quick story?
Sister Sheri Dew: Please
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: So, on our last trip, Elder Palmer and I went to Kenya where a temple is being built. It’s out of the ground. It’s going to be a beautiful temple.
Sister Sheri Dew: In Nairobi, right?
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: Yes, and as we were making that plan, we were told that the prominent local television station wanted to interview us on live TV, at the temple site. Whoa, I got pretty excited about – that live TV, say what we want to say to the whole country. So, they had a very capable young man interviewing us. I did this interview with Elder Joseph Sitati, our area president, and we talked a little bit about different aspects of the temple, but the last question was startling to me, live television broadcast through the whole country. Here’s the question: “Elder Rasband, as an apostle of Jesus Christ, what would you have to say to the people of Kenya, today?” I still remember the moment. I wondered if I should cower back a little bit and not be too apostolic. And as soon as I thought that I said, “No, no, my ordination by Thomas Monson said, ‘You’re a special witness of Jesus Christ at all times, at all places, and in every circumstance.’ Here’s a circumstance I’m in and I’m being interviewed on live television to the country.” And so I bore them my witness of Jesus Christ and I told them, and pronounced a blessing, as I shared with them upon the country, upon its leaders, and upon the people, that they would be blessed, as they turned themselves to Jesus Christ, in whatever condition, whatever religion, whatever part of life they are in, their lives will be blessed, and Kenya, as a nation, would be blessed. And I concluded, “in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.” That’s how that interview ended on public television, in Nairobi, Kenya, with a rendering of the temple behind my back
Sister Sheri Dew: My goodness
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: And it was a powerful moment. You remember that Elder Palmer?
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: Oh, I do for sure and I remember the impact has had on members as well, who were able to watch that. And, you know, we haven’t always been well-received and Kenya, as a temple comes and you have an apostle who has that just helps break down some of those barriers about what the Church represents.
Sister Sheri Dew: The very fact that that young interviewer would ask that kind of question says something about those people.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: It does and at first, I was startled that he asked that and saved it for his last question. On the other hand, he too, was inspired of the Lord and I think it was meant to happen. You mentioned Neal Maxwell earlier, Sheri, Neal Maxwell also said one time, “There is no such thing in a church or gospel setting as a coincidence. They are all there by divine design.” And that was one of those moments. It was meant to happen. And fortunately, I didn’t falter under the pressure and went forward in an apostolic way and think of the missionaries the next day. They now go out and someone at the door says, “We saw your apostle on TV — come in and tell us what happened.”
Sister Sheri Dew: I’m sure that’s happened too.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: It’s happened, hasn’t it, Elder Palmer?
Elder S. Mark Palmer: For sure.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: So, that’s just an experience that comes to mind, is the Lord has seen the African people. Through His prophet, He’s revealed 16 more temples and we now have the obligation to prepare a temple-ready people.
Sister Sheri Dew: Before we leave the subject of temples, you dedicated right before COVID hit everybody.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: Yes.
Sister Sheri Dew: You dedicated a temple in Durban. Is that right?
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: Yes.
Sister Sheri Dew: Anything you’d like to share with us about that moment?
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: Your podcast isn’t long enough for me to share what I had in that moment. It was unbelievable. We decided to make a two-week trip of that and we visited cities that were in the temple district before the dedication. You were with me there too, weren’t you, Elder Palmer?
Elder S. Mark Palmer: I was, unforgettable.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: Mention some of the cities we went to.
Elder S. Mark Palmer: Well, we were in East London, Port Elizabeth, we went to Maseru and Lesotho to, of course, Durban itself.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: Cape Town, I think.
Elder S. Mark Palmer: Cape Town. Yes, for sure. That’s right.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: And so, we kind of got a feeling for the people, that we’re all going to be now part of this new temple district and that blessed me so much to get a feeling of the people who were going to go and how much they were excited for this temple in Durban. Now, along with that, we had the magnificent experience of taking the king of the Zulu nation through a temple visit. Was that just the day before we dedicated the temple?
Elder S. Mark Palmer: Yeah, that was on the Saturday. That’s right.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: So most unusual, usually the open house happens
Sister Sheri Dew: Right
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: Weeks and weeks ahead of time, but this was the only day he could come. And so Elder Palmer and I asked our temple department colleagues, “Can’t we walk him through and his royal entourage?” And we did and I’ll never forget sitting with him and one of his wives sitting in the ceiling room. And Melanie, my wife, sweetheart that she is bearing witness about the sealing power of God and how that in these holy places, that they were sitting in right then they could be sealed for time and all eternity. And I saw a tear well up in the wife’s eye. She still is a good friend to my wife, Melanie. They still communicate especially after her husband, the king, passed away of COVID. What in the last year, Elder Palmer?
Elder S. Mark Palmer: Yeah, it was probably about 18 months ago, I would think.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: Yeah, so that was one of his finale experiences, being in the Durbin temple, hearing about the sealing power of God and knowing that within the Church, our reach is to his people is like 30 million Zulus spread out in multiple countries in Africa. And here we were with him on a full tour of the Durban temple. That’s just one of many experiences, let alone the dedicatory services the next day and the people that came and the beautiful children and my mind is just full of Durban experiences.
Sister Sheri Dew: One of the challenges of this podcast is something you just said a minute ago — we don’t have long enough to talk about everything we would love to talk about. Let me ask you a question, Elder Rasband, and then I have a concluding question for you both. Against the backdrop of everything we’ve just heard. You both testify about and relate to us, which is so informative, and it’s mind expanding and inspiring as well, but President Nelson when he was still Elder Nelson, a few years ago, along with Sister Nelson had a very frightening experience in Mozambique where they were attacked, actually, and were, really, in mortal danger. They absolutely love the people they met there. They’ve spoken openly about that, but it was a harrowing experience. I contrast that with an experience you had fairly recently of visiting the president of Mozambique. Would you talk to us about that – your experience along with that interesting and quite stark contrast?
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: Well, thank you, Sheri. Let me just say for all your listeners, that that story is recounted in detail in a book you were asked to do with President Nelson entitled, “Insights,” I believe, and he gave you the permission to tell that story.
Sister Sheri Dew: Yes
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: It’s beautifully told there and I would just recommend to all of our listeners that if they’d like to hear that frightening story, it’s recounted beautifully in that book. So, I had read that multiple times. Elder Palmer and I had talked about it and here we are set up to go, now, meet in Mozambique with our members, which, by the way, the Church has grown since those days that Elder Nelson was there to being over 15,000 members strong. We had a meeting with members and friends of the Church one night, where they got the biggest hall, the biggest ballroom in any hotel there and we had a member meeting. You remember that Elder Palmer?
Elder S. Mark Palmer: Yes, that was in Maputo and it was on a weeknight when it was difficult for people to travel.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: People standing in the windows, standing outside trying to hear what we were saying and then that teed us up to this meeting with the president. And he was happy to receive us. We got in there. It was very presidential style. He sat at the head of the table. I was to his left and all the local Mozambique press was in the room with their cameras rolling and the first thing the President says to me, “Elder Rasband. “Would you pray for our country and would you pray for me?”
Sister Sheri Dew: My goodness
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: That was his first comment. So. I thought about that President Monson invitation again, at all times, in all places, in every circumstance, even this one and I stood up and I offered a heartfelt prayer for him, as the president, for the country of Mozambique, for their citizens, for their civil conflict they had going on at the time, for their efforts to care for children and the underprivileged in that country. And I don’t always remember prayers that I offered, but I remember that and I concluded that one also, “in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.” And it had a stunning effect on that room and the president. At the end of our discussion, I could have brought any kind of a gift – a Christus statue, a statue of the handcart pioneers, which years and years ago is what I used to give away. Not anymore.
What I do now is I follow the lead of President Nelson. When he has a head of state come to visit with him, he presents to them a leather bound copy of the Book of Mormon with the name of the guest embossed on the cover. And then he not only hands it to them, very tenderly, and humbly, but he’ll turn to some pages in the Book of Mormon, Third Nephi, in particular, I’ve been there. I’ve seen this and he’ll tell them about the Book of Mormon. He’ll say, “Of all the things I could give you, this is the most precious.” That’s what I did at the end of this meeting with the King of Mozambique. And I handed him with both hands, this Book of Mormon with his name, in Portuguese, on the cover and he took it and held it close to his heart. That’s how we finished the meeting.
And when I came home from that trip, and I sat knee to knee with President Nelson, I said, “President, some 13, 14 years ago, you had your experience in the very city that I was in, and you were miraculously saved by the Lord. It was miraculous.” I said, “Now, fast forward to this trip Elder Palmer and I and our sweet wives just took and here I am handing the Book of Mormon to the president of the country, and being offered by him to pray, also on public television, to be broadcast to the whole country.” And then he said to me, “Ron, that also was a miracle.” And so you’ve got these two miracle bookends – his sad experience, but he was saved by the Lord in a miraculous way. And then mine, where I was able, in a miraculous way, to help continue to move the Church forward. So, that is, that’s that little story, Sheri.
Sister Sheri Dew: Elder Palmer, do you want to, it’s not, that’s not a little story. Elder Palmer, any reflection you want to add to that before we go to our last question, since you observed all of this?
Elder S. Mark Palmer: No, it was just one of those experiences that none of us will forget. I think Elder Rasband best described it beautifully.
Sister Sheri Dew: In the spirit of reflecting on the experiences you’ve had thus far, particularly in Africa, what do you know today that you didn’t know before you started having these experiences? Love to know, beginning with you, Elder Palmer, and any concluding words that you would be willing to share with us and then Elder Rasband.
Elder S. Mark Palmer: Well, thank you, Sheri. I think when I was assigned to go down to Africa, I met with Elder Carl Cook, who had just returned. And I said, “Do you have any advice for me in this new role serving in Africa,” and he said, “Mark, he said, you go down there and you’ll think that you’re going to teach the people, but in actual fact they will teach you.” And that has absolutely been the case. Without any doubt, the lessons learned have been lessons learned as we’ve watched pure testimony borne and in meeting after meeting as we’ve watched tremendous faith amongst our converts and tremendous consecration amongst our leaders. And then the second piece of advice he gave was, he said, “Just always remember that you are serving under prophetic direction and that the apostles who are called to supervise the work and who visit with in Africa, pay real close attention to what they say and what they do.” That has also been a great learning experience to watch the impact of those the Lord has called us as living apostles go out just like they did in days of old and receive very, very clear spiritual impressions about what is needed at that time for the particular group that work.
You’ve heard about this experience in Mozambique, but I could share with you others, including some remarkable insights that happened when Elder Rasband was there a couple of months ago, related to how we have more missionaries be able to serve which is vital to the future of the Church. So, I guess if there’s a concluding comment I’d make is that I have such a testimony that the Lord is preparing his children, that we are seeing tremendous leaders from Africa, that the Church is in very, very good hands. We have some wonderful general authorities, now, and with tremendous mission presidents and faithful people serving in all callings. And then how inspiring has been to watch President Nelson come in 2018. First off, he was called to both Nairobi and to Harare, and to watch the apostles as they sought the inspiration of Heaven, to provide the guidance needed to help move the Lord’s Church forward. So I’m very, very grateful for the privilege of being a witness to that.
Sister Sheri Dew: Thank you so much, Elder Palmer, Elder Rasband. Could we give you the last word and in doing so, thank you both profoundly for sharing your heart and your experiences and your insights with us. This has been, for me, and inspiring experience. Thank you, Elder Rasband, the last word.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband: Let me say first, what a privilege it is for me to serve with Elder and Sister Palmer. I think you can gather from his wonderful spirit and testimony that he is a jewel for the Church also, and I’m honored that we have a chance to work so closely together. Secondly, let me thank you, Sheri and Sarah, for the privilege of being on your podcast. We have only seen the tip of the iceberg here, today. And as I mentioned multiple times now I still have much to learn. And I hope I can have much to offer in the years ahead in this great assignment that we share in Africa. I draw from the scriptures to give my conclusion and that is that I know that God loveth with all of His children of every color of every gender of every nation tongue and people and He has the message of redemption for them. And it’s our great privilege, on this side of the veil, to go forward with our members and missionaries, to share the importance of the gathering of Israel and what it means to Heavenly Father, to have His children gathered. And Africa is going to continue to be a great gathering harvest for this Church for many years to come. And I’m completely confident that the Lord will raise up a generation to be leaders amongst the men and women to help shepherd this growth, and to be prepared for these many new temples that are coming to Africa. That the Lord’s gathering will continue in full measure amongst these wonderful saints, and all the saints and all of Heavenly Father’s children throughout the world. I love the Lord. I know that this is His Church. I know that He presides at the head of it and I know through many sacred experiences, that the Lord is in the detail of individuals lives, and in the magnificence and grandeur of His Church, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Sister Sheri Dew: Amen.
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.