Elder Cook Urges Members in Southeast Africa to Build Zion
Contributed By Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News associate editor
The progress of the Church in the Africa Southeast Area is remarkable, said Elder Quentin L. Cook after visiting the area October 15–27.
“We were impressed with the strength of the priesthood leadership and the unity of the members. They come from many countries with different languages and racial backgrounds, but they are united in living the culture of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” said Elder Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Elder Cook and his wife, Sister Mary Cook, were accompanied on the trip by Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy and his wife, Sister Kathy Clayton, and Presiding Bishop Gary E. Stevenson and his wife, Sister Lesa Stevenson. Also joining the leaders were members of the Africa Southeast Area Presidency: Elder Carl B. Cook, Elder Stanley G. Ellis, and Elder Kevin S. Hamilton and their wives, Sister Lynette H. Cook, Sister Kathryn K. Ellis, and Sister Claudia Keysor Hamilton.
During their visit, Elder Quentin L. Cook, Elder Clayton, and Bishop Stevenson conducted a review of the Africa Southeast Area, met with government officials and other national leaders, and held member, missionary, and priesthood leadership meetings. They also participated in devotionals for the youth, young single adults, young married couples, single adults, and newly returned missionaries. Their wives met with the women in the areas and conducted women’s conferences and auxiliary leadership training.
The area includes 21 countries and a membership that is culturally, ethnically, and geographically diverse. Although the countries face many challenges economically, they are not currently dealing with Ebola, which has impacted western Africa. In fact, Elder Cook noted upon his return to Salt Lake City that not a single incidence of the disease has been transferred to the Church’s Africa Southeast Area from countries in west Africa.
The area is very large—the Democratic Republic of Congo alone covers half the area of the United States and has one of the Church’s largest French-speaking populations.
“Members work together; they love each other. It is a remarkable thing,” said Elder Cook.
He said members in most of the countries came to special devotionals for them. “We stressed the importance of ‘building Zion in their hearts and homes.’”
Elder Cook said that in Zimbabwe they met with high government officials where “we stressed faith, family, and religious freedom.”
“We received strong assurances that religion and freedom to exercise religion will be protected. Though the country has had challenges, it has always given a high priority to faith. The children in school study both the New and Old Testament. Our North American missionaries were pleasantly surprised by the depth of scriptural knowledge that the native missionaries possess.”
The General Authorities also visited visited Zambia, Mozambique, Congo, Namibia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Swaziland, and several cities in South Africa.
The biggest challenge facing all the countries in the area is “rapid growth of the Church,” said Elder Clayton, noting that “retention is very high.”
“It is a wonderful thing to go into an area review where the challenges are related to growth,” said Elder Cook.
Bishop Stevenson noted that the number of local missionaries in the area has grown from 400 to 1,300 in recent years.
“The stake presidents are working hard to build temporal and spiritual self-reliance,” he said.
Elder Clayton said everywhere they visited they found members in the area preparing for the upcoming rainy season—tilling the earth and planting gardens. “The people are self-reliant,” Elder Clayton said. “They grow their own food.”
Bishop Stevenson said the leadership in the area, which has great depth, is prepared to face the challenges, including finding places for members to meet. In many cities, Elder Clayton said, the Church rents houses and converts them into meetinghouses.
Elder Clayton said in Mozambique and Swaziland the Church leaders found “large and well functioning districts approaching stakehood.”
In Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the Church has announced plans to build a temple, members are participating in a vocation program in which they learn construction skills. They are then receiving on-the-job training by building new LDS meetinghouses. When the members complete the self-reliance training, they receive a construction certificate and are employable, he said.
“The competence in which they build is reflected in the high quality of their work,” added Elder Clayton.
Elder Cook noted that Zambia celebrated its 50th anniversary as a country during his visit. An October 20 newspaper headline about the event—“God’s Favour”—reflected the significance the country places on religion, Elder Cook said.
“You have to give a lot of credit to these countries for striving to maintain religious freedom,” he said.