Virginia Stake Brings Taste of Africa to Community
Contributed By By Kara McMurray, Church News staff writer
More than 500 people got a taste of Africa during an event highlighting the African culture in Woodbridge, Virginia, on April 26.
“It started small, but grew much bigger than we were,” said David Oryang, second counselor in the Woodbridge Virginia Stake presidency. “It started out not only being a taste of Africa, but ended up being a feast of Africa.”
President Oryang, who is from Uganda, said planning for the activity took about four months, and about 200-300 people were expected to attend.
The Woodbridge Virginia Stake hosted the Taste of Africa night as a way to “honor the faith, testimony and culture of African American and African members of the Church,” Linda Le, assistant director of stake public affairs, said via email.
“What I took away is just how exciting the growth of the Church is in Africa,” said Ian Houston, director of public affairs in the stake. “A part of that is that citizens in Africa are coming to the United States. This growth is happening right before our eyes.”
Those in attendance were greeted at the door by missionaries and were given “passports” that represented 15 countries set up in classrooms in the Woodbridge stake center. “Each room had mementos or things they had from the country. There were pictures, pots, and glasswares in some rooms or clothing in others,” Sister Le said.
“People really took away the fact that this is a multicultural Church, and ... that we worship Jesus Christ,” said Jeff Kimera, who served on the planning committee for the activity.
The cultural hall served as the center of the activity, President Oryang said. Eighty testimonies from African American and African members of the Church adorned the walls of the cultural hall, as well as a timeline of the growth of the Church in Africa.
President Oryang said the activity started as a way to serve the needs of the African American and African Latter-day Saints in the community. “It grew out of [instructions] from our stake president that we needed to do something for the Africans and African Americans,” he said. “We were led to focus on the growth of the Church in Africa.”
Woodbridge Virginia Stake President Clark Price said there are hundreds of Church members with “some kind of African connection” and there are “thousands who are not yet members who live in the stake boundaries who have some kind of African connection.” He said they felt a need to address the needs of the growing number of African Americans and Africans in the area.
“What we have found with the Church is we have many Africans coming as modern LDS pioneers from Africa and they have started to raise families and bring additional relatives to our area, our ward, and our stake,” Brother Houston said.
“It’s been a real blessing for our ward and our stake to have that diversity within it.” Brother Houston said there was a big focus on showing the milestones for members of the Church in Africa. “People came away with a very nice reminder of the spiritual growth that has occurred in Africa,” he said. “It spoke to the maturing growth of the Church in Africa.”
For the first half of the Taste of Africa night, attendees went to the various countries, got their passports stamped, mingled, and watched videos. Following that, there was a “Why I Believe” devotional in the chapel. Recent converts and returned missionaries who served missions in Africa bore their testimonies and shared their experiences in the gospel.
“The Spirit was powerful. Many in attendance were deeply touched by the Spirit,” President Clark said. “We were just very grateful for the excellent attendance and more especially the powerful Spirit that attended the testimonies.”
Brother Houston said the event was important for the community, as well as the Church. “It’s important for the community to understand what our values are and to see that first hand,” he said. “It was important that we be the messengers in the terms of communicating that our doors are opening. We are part of the fabric of the local community—participants, veterans, mothers, and fathers. The only difference is that we have had the opportunity to hear about the Church.”
When the activity was over, no one wanted to leave, Brother Oryang said. “We have definitely opened up a big door,” he declared. “I’m just beside myself about everything that happened. It was way beyond anything that anyone of us could have planned ourselves and foreseen.”