Missionaries in Africa Worked to Increase Service and Self-Reliance

Contributed By Linda Talbot, Church News contributor

  • 6 March 2017

Sharon and Robert Berg, who recently returned from serving as senior missionaries in Africa, at their home in Pearland, Texas.  Photo courtesy of Jennifer Martino.

Article Highlights

  • Brother and Sister Berg served their mission as the assistant area directors of public affairs in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • One of the objectives of their training was to increase service and self-reliance in Africa.

Recently returned from serving an 18-month mission for the Church in sub-Saharan Africa, Sharon and Robert Berg of Pearland, Texas, were full of enthusiasm for what they witnessed in the lives of African people.

As assistant area directors of public affairs in the Africa Southeast Area headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, the Bergs supervised national public affairs directors in 23 African nations, from the D.R. Congo to Madagascar and Namibia. “The strength and dedication of the African people is amazing,” said Brother Berg.

Sister Berg explained one of the objectives of their training was to increase service. “There are lots of Mormon Helping Hands projects. Each year countries come up with sustainable projects to carry out throughout the year, with the culmination in August. Projects varied from cleaning streets and communities to building homes to working on hospitals, police stations, and schools,” she said. The websites africase.lds.org and mormonnewsroom.co.za put participation at 268,449 man-hours with 52,641 participants in 2016 across the area.

Another of their objectives was to increase self-reliance. The continent has been in a severe drought, with water being a precious commodity. The Bergs traveled to three well sites, known as boreholes. “It was incredible to see how they dig them down by hand, and the gratitude of the villages that received the blessing of water. The village is required to come up with a certain amount of money to place in a fund for maintenance. They are also trained on how to repair and maintain these wells,“ Sister Berg added.

“We would provide training and say to them, ‘This is your show,’” Brother Berg said. The African people have a passion for social media. Almost everyone has a smartphone. “They will be out in the fields with their phones,” he said.

A young mother and child attend a devotional at the Africa Southeast Area office in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo courtesy of Robert Berg.

Sister Sharon Berg with a Kenyan hostess in native dress. Photo courtesy of Robert Berg.

There are several countries in the Africa Southeast Area with very active ministries of health which, in partnership with LDS Charities, sponsored a training program for midwives called “Helping Babies Breathe.”

“The mortality rate of newborns has vastly improved thanks to this program,” Sister Berg said.

“Another big effort in these countries is the LDS Charities wheelchair initiative, which trains local rehabilitation organizations to provide wheelchairs for people that fit them specifically. In addition, training is included on how to repair and maintain the chairs. In this self-reliance effort we saw lives and hearts changed,” she added.

The Bergs also helped build bridges of understanding and trust between national administrations and the Church and its workings, including the desire to travel between countries for temple and missionary service. Brother Berg explained, “We would sponsor government officials to visit and give them a tour so they could see and ask questions. They would leave saying, 'I can see you live your religion.’” The Bergs found these visits to be rewarding, and friendships were forged with immigration officials of different faiths which they still hold dear.

“Neither of us has ever worked so hard in our life,” Sister Berg said. It was also the most amazing experience they ever had. “I still stay close to them through media. Some of them have come to visit us,” she added.

At their home in Pearland, Texas, Sharon and Robert Berg display the name tags they wore when they served as missionaries in Africa. Photo courtesy of Robert Berg.

Meeting of the Church’s Angola National Public Affairs Council. Photo courtesy of Robert Berg.

Church fleet employee Malvern Chitiyo with his wife and baby at the Africa Southeast Area offices in Johannesburg. Photo courtesy of Robert Berg.

Missionaries from the South Africa Johannesburg Mission on their last day in country at the Apartheid Museum. Sister Dunn, the mission president’s wife, is in the center. Photo courtesy of Robert Berg.

The Church’s Kenya National Public Affairs Council in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo courtesy of Robert Berg.

A school in Kibera, the largest low-income area in Nairobi, Kenya, uses desks donated by LDS Charities. Photo courtesy of Robert Berg.

Sister Sharon Berg, a Public Affairs missionary, with local children outside their home in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo courtesy of Robert Berg.

A stake center in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. A new temple is also currently under construction on this site. Photo courtesy of Robert Berg.

The Church Humanitarian Department contracts with local individuals and companies to build water wells. This man is beginning a new well in Cartier township in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo courtesy of Robert Berg.

Elder Johnston, a humanitarian missionary in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, shows how the village water-well builders make the tiles for the wells. Photo courtesy of Robert Berg.

L’Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste En Concert is the only all-black orchestra in the world. It performed a free concert in the stake center at Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo courtesy of Robert Berg.

From left, Brother and Sister Nashiwaya and their two sons and her sister, Kutemba Makuwa, at the LDS chapel in Windhoek, Namibia, after Church services. Photo courtesy of Robert Berg.

A missionary choir from the Democratic Republic of the Congo Kinshasa Mission sings. Photo courtesy of Robert Berg.

Missionaries from the Democratic Republic of the Congo Kinshasa Mission attend a conference. Photo courtesy of Robert Berg.

Elder Hale, a senior missionary, provides instruction on the online FamilySearch website in the family history center of the Africa Southeast Area offices in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo courtesy of Robert Berg.

Africa Southeast Area offices in Johannesburg, South Africa. Senior missionaries met with General Authority Seventies Elder Stanley G. Ellis, Elder Carl B. Cook, and Elder Kevin S. Hamilton. Photo courtesy of Robert Berg.

Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy walks with a young man after addressing priesthood meeting attendees at Manzini, Swaziland. Photo courtesy of Robert Berg.

Boys from Harare, Zimbabwe, who attended a meeting with Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have a great time between meetings. Photo courtesy of Robert Berg.

Multistake young single adult meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, with Elder Quentin L. Cook. Photo courtesy of Robert Berg.