Presiding Bishop Retraces Ancestor’s Footsteps in South Africa

Contributed By Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News associate editor

  • 7 November 2014

Presiding Bishop Gary E. Stevenson (second from left) poses with Elder Carl B. Cook, President of the Africa Southeast Area (left); Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (right); Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy; and Elder Walter Chatora, an Area Seventy, during a visit to the Africa Southeast Area October 15–27, 2014.

Article Highlights

  • Bishop Gary E. Stevenson's recent trip to Port Elizabeth, South Africa, marked the 160th anniversary of his great-great-grandfather's first visit, on horseback, to the area.

As Presiding Bishop Gary E. Stevenson prepared for a trip to the Africa Southeast Area in October, he reread the missionary journal of William Holmes Walker, his great-great-grandfather. William Walker was one of three missionaries assigned to South Africa in 1853—the first Latter-day Saint missionaries to set foot on the African continent in this dispensation.

In his journal, Elder Walker wrote about his arrival in Cape Town, South Africa, during a severe storm: “The weather was very thick and heavy.”

“From the moment the missionaries arrived on the continent the opposition started,” said Bishop Stevenson. “Much of his journal describes the adversity that they faced from the natural elements and in the work. They were abused and persecuted throughout much of their mission by many people but ultimately had a great deal of success.”

On the morning Bishop Stevenson flew to Port Elizabeth, South Africa, he again read William Walker’s journal. He then realized his trip to Port Elizabeth marked the 160th anniversary of his great-great-grandfather’s first visit, on horseback, to the area. The early LDS missionaries conducted the Church’s first conference in Port Elizabeth.


Bishop Gary E. Stevenson interacts with children during his visit to the Church's Africa Southeast Area.

Speaking at the meeting in Port Elizabeth on October 26, Bishop Stevenson told the congregation that the meeting was “particularly emotional, as my great-great-grandfather was the missionary that was conducting that very conference [held in 1854].”

Bishop Stevenson read from William Walker’s journal, written on August 12, 1854: “We held conference at Algobay, Port Elisabeth … which was conducted in the usual manner. It was a long time to be remembered not only by the Saints who had come in from the different parts of the country, it being the first conference ever held in this locality.”

Bishop Stevenson said he felt “particularly blessed to have had this assignment. No one knew of this association when the assignment was made for me, and, frankly, I didn’t know either. I can’t imagine what it took for Grandpa Walker to get to Port Elizabeth by horse.”

During the trip, Bishop Stevenson also had the opportunity to hike to the site where William Walker and his companions organized the first branch of the Church in Cape Town, South Africa.

Bishop Stevenson said seeing the Church today in South Africa—especially in areas where his great-great-grandfather labored 160 years ago—were “special moments.”