Elder Bednar: Church in Africa Is “Vibrant and Growing”
By Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News assistant editor, and James Dalrymple, Church News contributor
“The Church is vibrant and growing in Africa,” said Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during his recent visit to the Africa Southeast Area.
There is an eagerness and light in the eyes of the African Latter-day Saints, he said. “This is a place where many people live challenging, difficult lives. They don’t have many of the temporal comforts and blessings that people in the Western world have. Many of these Saints are grateful to have one substantial meal a day. Yet because of the gospel of Jesus Christ, they have great light and hope. I learn a great deal from the people every time I visit the African continent.”
Elder Bednar and his wife, Sister Susan R. Bednar, traveled to Africa October 23 through November 6. They met with members and missionaries as he conducted a review of the Church’s Africa Southeast Area and visited Gabon, a sovereign state on the west coast of Central Africa.
Elder Bednar was accompanied on the assignment by Elder Craig C. Christensen of the Presidency of the Seventy and his wife, Sister Debbie Christensen; Bishop Gérald Caussé, First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, and his wife, Sister Valérie Caussé; and members of the Africa Southeast Area Presidency and their wives.
Leaders, members, and missionaries in Johannesburg and Durban, South Africa; Lubumbashi, and Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo; and Libreville, Gabon, received uplifting instruction from the Brethren and their wives.
“Africa is an enchanting and inspiring place,” said Elder Bednar. “Africa is diverse and complex. There are highly industrialized and sophisticated communities and rural and simple villages. The gospel of Jesus Christ gathers all kinds of people into the gospel net. Even though there is a common strong faith among the Latter-day Saints, there is also a remarkable diversity.”
Elder Christensen, on his first visit to Africa, stated the area was “quite different, quite diverse, quite broad from any other place we have been in the world. As we mingled with the Saints, we observed strong faith and spiritual depth.”
Elder Christensen said members have a desire to bless and watch out for one another, which “is a natural extension of the Savior’s gospel.”
Africa is one of the most rapidly growing areas of the Church. Referring to that growth, Elder Bednar mentioned that a stake president in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has an unusual weekly challenge in sacrament meeting—finding enough time for confirmations. During a recent meeting, 18 new members were confirmed.
“That is a wonderful problem to have,” said Elder Bednar. There are places in Africa where full-time missionaries are not currently serving, but stakes continue to be created and develop because of member missionary efforts. “Finding people to teach is not a fundamental problem in Africa. The challenge is making sure there are sufficient priesthood and auxiliary leaders to support the growth so the Church can be unified and strong.”
Bishop Caussé, visiting Africa for the first time, indicated that the Presiding Bishopric is indeed aware of the growth in the area. Their efforts focus on making sure members have enough meetinghouses and the temporal help they need in order to move the work forward.
Elder David A. Bednar speaks to members during a visit to South Africa. Photo by James Dalrymple.
Some may measure the maturity of the Church in an area by the number of meetinghouses, how large the congregations are, or the tools available. “The maturity of the Church is to be found in the hearts of people. In Africa I find a very mature Church,” he said. “The family is the center of the gospel, evidenced by the way these people live the gospel in their homes.”
Elder Bednar reported that the members asked “spiritually significant questions,” especially the youth, who posed profound and penetrating questions focused on the temple. Elder Bednar found that where local Church members are diligently preparing for a temple, such as in the DR Congo, there is abundant faith.
“This is a land, a people, and a place of great faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “You can feel it as well as hear it when these Saints pray and when they sing.
“These members have a simple faith that is uncluttered. It is focused on Christ. And it brings many blessings and spiritual gifts into their lives.”
In closing, Elder Bednar affirmed, “Every time I have an opportunity to come and witness what the Lord is accomplishing among the people here, it is thrilling for me. Africa changes me.”