Nigeria and Ghana: A Miracle Precedes the Messengers
For years the letters have come to Church headquarters in Salt Lake City—simple, eloquent requests for “holy books,” for information about the Church.
The postmarks? Nigeria and Ghana, in western Africa. And the authors of those letters? Humble, truth-seeking Christian Africans who have known little about the Church, except that they need to know more. As literature was sent to groups and individuals in towns and villages, these black Africans prayed for the day the gospel would be given to them from the mouths of missionaries.
That day finally came in November 1978 when two couples, Elder and Sister Rendell N. Mabey, and Elder and Sister Edwin Q. Cannon, Jr., were sent as special representatives of the International Mission to Nigeria and Ghana. Since then, more than 1,700 converts have been baptized.
Sister Rachel Mabey, Elder Mabey’s wife, says simply, “The Lord has prepared the people. They are an earnest spiritual people.” The Mabeys and Cannons do not credit the conversion rate to their proselyting. They see the hand of the Lord clearly in the lives of the converts.
The story goes back at least eighteen years.
It was then that what Elder Cannon calls “an extraordinary phenomenon” began occurring in Western Africa. Africans learned of the Church from other Africans who had studied in the United States. They came across some missionary pamphlets. No one now knows how those pamphlets got to Africa in the 1950s—but the effect was remarkable. Many who read them recognized the truth. Then—independent of each other and without knowledge of the other’s actions—several groups of blacks in both Nigeria and Ghana started their own religious organizations, patterned after the Church. However, visa problems prevented representatives being sent to officially establish the Church.
The groups built small meeting-houses and met regularly. They copied organization, doctrines, songs, and titles after the Church, as much as they were able to discern from the literature they received. Occasionally they had contact with members of the Church visiting Africa.
The Africans even proselyted. One man, after a stirring spiritual experience, “was constrained by [the] Spirit to go from street to street … to deliver the message which we had read from the Book of Mormon and from the pamphlets.” Despite some “persecutions” and sometimes being labeled as an “anti-Christ organization,” the “missionaries” were undaunted.
“We persisted with the word and won forty people that day even to the admiration of the Muslims around,” one man reports. The “missionaries” and their forty converts gathered to learn the doctrines of the Church. Later they “won 47 more members.”
Such experiences were not uncommon among the independent groups who, without authority, organized themselves in the name of the Church. Groups in Nigeria and Ghana—again, without knowledge of each other’s activities—registered in their respective countries under the name The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Leaders of the Church in Salt Lake City became aware of the devotion of these Africans. Letters such as this came frequently:
“Please I have been told much about how this great restored church was founded by Our Great Prophet Joseph Smith and still I am being more anxious to know more about it through the reading of books about it. I have heard of the book of Mormon, which was some good news revealed and given to Joseph Smith on the Mount Comurah. I will be very happy if copy of the Book of Mormon is sent to me in order to read more about the words which the Lord gave. …
“Actually I wish to become a pure Mormon and so I want to know more about Mormon for … the little that our elders and pastors have told us here in Ghana have made me get the insight of the seeing of a light somewhere.
“I always become happy when songs and hymns like “Come! Come! Ye Saints” and “Come, O thou King of Kings” and some songs of Zion are sung in the church services. Actually I wish I am with you there to share these happy things that you enjoy in Christ.” That letter was written by Emmanuel Bondah, then in “sixth form” in school.
Another wrote: “We here are the true sons of God, but colour makes no difference in the service of Our Heavenly Father and Christ. The Spirit of God calls us to abide by this church and there is nothing to keep us out.”
The author of that letter, Anthony Obinna, was later to become the first black western African baptized and called as branch president. But before this happened, difficulties with visas had to be resolved. And the Biafra war made the situation more complex.
In August 1978, Elder Cannon and Merrill Bateman of the Brigham Young University faculty were sent by the Church on a factfinding tour of the groups in Nigeria and Ghana. They came back with recommendations that the Church move ahead. Within months Elder Cannon and his wife, Janath, were called with the Mabeys as special representatives to western Africa.
The couples immediately sought out those who already knew about the Church. They were received enthusiastically and warmly both by those who knew about the Church and by those who didn’t. The couples were able to communicate openly about the gospel, and often in English.
“One of the greatest factors in the success of the Church there is the use of the English language,” Sister Cannon says. “And the people want the literature. They’re hungry for tracts and reading material. For years Catholic and Protestant missionaries from England have sponsored missions, and hospitals, and schools in Ghana and Nigeria, which is why many of the native people there are Christians and are literate in English.
“We appreciate the tradition of respect for Christian missionaries,” Sister Cannon adds.
Elder Mabey tells how he greeted the Africans who investigated the Church: “We would bring them greetings from President Kimball and tell them we had nothing to bring them except salvation and life eternal. We weren’t making any promises of worldly goods.
“We said we realized the world was full of all colors of people, all kinds of backgrounds, and we didn’t think of ourselves as white men among them. We said that we’re all children of God who are loved by our Heavenly Father.”
Those who had already known some about the Church were humble and willing in giving up their crosses and collection plates as they learned the practices and doctrines of the Church more fully. They sacrificed both time and money.
In many places where the representatives baptized, members provided meetinghouses already built by the Africans. Elder Mabey describes in an early report the building in Sekondi, Ghana:
“A meeting house consisting of plaster walls, tin roof and cement floor, … an old piano, some wooden benches, and various Church pictures will be retained. Of interest on one end of the outside of the meeting house is a weathered sign, ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Founded in 1830.’” The sign and building have since been attractively repainted.
In the Ikot Eyo village of Nigeria, the Church held a meeting in a building with a sign “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Inc.” That building holds about 250 people. The day the branch was organized, 218 attended the sacrament meeting. “The meetinghouse was built and is owned by the people who have now been confirmed members,” Elder Mabey says.
Some such buildings were outgrown months ago. Some bulging congregations meet outdoors, outside their meetinghouses.
The Mabeys and the Cannons did not have time to meet with all the congregations that have been meeting in the name of the Church. In one case, they met with the “mother” church but could not meet with the fifteen “branches” of that congregation. Such work has been left to subsequent representatives.
Sister Cannon explains how, in good faith, these people tried to adopt the Church before the representatives came:
“What these congregations did was use the name of the Church. Most of them knew something about Church doctrine, but they didn’t know Church practices. So they just transferred the traditional Protestant pentecostal type of service to what they were doing in the Church.
“They had collection plates, a lot of pentecostal hallelujahs, singing, dancing, and drums. It was, of course, very satisfying to them. And for us to just go in and say, ‘You can’t do this,’ wasn’t enough. We had to tell them what they can do and what Church services are like. And that takes time. They not only have to learn new things, they have to unlearn a lot of old things.”
Though many such practices are not common in Church services, Elder Cannon explains, “Many of them are not against the doctrines of the Church. For instance, one practice they have is that as you’re speaking to them and you say something they particularly agree with, they’ll come right out with ‘Amen!’”
The chapel the representatives found in Cape Coast, Ghana, included a life-size statue of the Angel Moroni, “obviously copied by some local sculptor from the illustration of Moroni as it appears on the front cover of the paperback Book of Mormon, with the trump to his lips and standing on a ball,” Elder Cannon says. A black-bound Bible and a paperback Book of Mormon were painted on the pulpit. Also displayed were paintings of Joseph Smith and a picture of the Tabernacle Choir.
Once, following little more than a hunch, the representatives took a taxicab to a village nineteen miles from the Nigerian town of Owerri, in search of a man whom they had heard was interested in the Church. Following directions from a native, they drove directly to “a little building with a sign across the front: ‘L.D.S. Nigerian Mission.’” Elder Cannon says, “We knew we had arrived.” The founders of that “mission” were later baptized into the Church.
Those who have joined the Church leave behind the imitation of the Church which they earlier established. Former “pastors” and “apostles” are now in district and branch presidencies; several women once titled “prophetesses” are now Relief Society presidents.
These new African Saints are not a Westernized people, although many speak English and wear Western clothing. Most of them live much more simply than those in Western cultures do, but the people take pride in their cleanliness, grooming, and hospitality.
Although modern freeways are being built in Africa, other roads are often “miserable.” Distances are long, and driving is often difficult and hazardous. Sometimes finding gasoline is a problem.
Poor communications also slow down church work. Telephone service is often unavailable or inadequate. Cables are unreliable. Letters may take weeks to get from one state to another.
Such conditions are challenges, but the representatives and members try not to let them become hindrances. And the friendliness of the people in Ghana and Nigeria compensates for other difficulties. The couples reported to President Spencer W. Kimball: “We have never been anywhere in the world where it is so easy to engage a stranger in gospel discussion—opportunities [are] at every hand. One need not go from door-to-door—just have your tracts ready. Even busy people walking on the street will stop and talk. Workmen on construction jobs carry the tracts in hand for long periods of time. If you go by an hour or so later, it isn’t unusual to see them reading” (see Ensign, May 1979, p. 106).
Church leaders from Salt Lake City have visited the new members in Nigeria and Ghana. Elder James E. Faust visited in February 1979, and Presiding Bishop Victor L. Brown visited in April 1979 to determine the temporal needs of the new members. John Cox, regional representative from England, visited Ghana.
Although the western African Saints are halfway around the world from Church headquarters and have only begun to participate in such Church programs as Relief Society, their faith is strong. For them, faith is based on years of hope, which is now being fulfilled.
Area Conferences in a “New Land Apart”
In these lines from his “Song of the Future,” the noted Australian poet A. B. (Banjo) Paterson identifies the mood and the theme—“one vast united brotherhood”—that marked the five New Zealand and Australia area conferences held during late October and early November.
There was brotherhood in the warm greetings of New Zealand Prime Minister Robert David Muldoon as he addressed a luncheon in Wellington:
“I am sorry that President Spencer W. Kimball was not able to come as he intended. We wish him well.” He added, “We admire the work your church does in our country. It is an important influence for good in New Zealand. You are welcome and among friends here.”
That spirit of welcome and brotherhood was also present in the greetings of other government officials of both countries.
With President Kimball absent as he recovered from surgery, President Tanner headed the delegation from Church headquarters.
Participating with him in conferences in Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand, and Melbourne, Adelaide, and Sydney, Australia, were President Ezra Taft Benson, Elder Howard W. Hunter, and Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve; Elder Loren C. Dunn of the First Quorum of the Seventy and executive administrator for the two countries; Bishop H. Burke Peterson, first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric; Barbara B. Smith, general president of Relief Society; Elaine A. Cannon, general president of the Young Women; David M. Kennedy, special representative of the First Presidency; and D. Arthur Haycock, personal secretary to President Kimball.
For at least this observer, there were refreshing, constantly recurring evidences that love, friendship, and concern—the elements of brotherhood—are palpable presences that span years and continents and link the hearts of scattered Israel. For instance:
—President N. Eldon Tanner’s moving account of the 1832 conversion of John Tanner, his great-great-grandfather, took on an added dimension and a new glow when President and Sister Tanner embraced their grandson, Elder Douglas Rhodes, a missionary in Sydney. The eighth generation of the Tanner family is now serving the Church, the legacy of the work of two long-ago missionaries.
—President Ezra Taft Benson recalled that it was “115 years ago that my father-in-law joined the Church in Christchurch, New Zealand.” A former jeweler for a tsar of Russia, Carl C. Amussen had picked up off the street a pamphlet, “Voice of Warning,” written by Parley P. Pratt. Subsequently baptized, he returned to Europe to share his “pearl of great price” with family members, migrated to Utah, and later completed successful missions to New Zealand, Australia, and his native Denmark.
—Throughout Australia, Elder Howard W. Hunter was constantly meeting people who had come into the Church during the four years—1956–60—that his two sons were missionaries there. The older son completed his two years’ service on the day the second son arrived in Australia.
—In Wellington, New Zealand, seven members approached Elder Marvin J. Ashton and his wife, Norma, and expressed gratitude for their son Stephen who had baptized them and nineteen others as a missionary ten years earlier.
—In the center spread of the printed program for the Melbourne area conference was a picture of young people gathered in the 1950s for a youth conference in Melbourne. Among those pictured were Elder Loren C. Dunn (then, as now, a missionary) and at least thirty-eight others who are currently serving in executive positions in stakes, wards, and missions in Australia.
—Mr. and Mrs. Bob J. Belbin, now of Hamilton, New Zealand, joined the Church in 1950 in Ipswich, Australia, baptized by Elder George Fairbanks of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Pausing to chat after Brother Belbin had been set apart by President Tanner as an officiator in the New Zealand Temple, the Belbins shared their gratitude that Chris, their second son, was then at the Missionary Training Center, preparing to serve in the Canada Calgary Mission. Seeds planted by a Canadian thirty years ago are returning to bless that country, via Australia and New Zealand.
President Kimball’s recovery from surgery was naturally a major concern throughout the conferences. So, each morning President Tanner would call Salt Lake City and speak to the President and report their conversation to the members, except for one day, when as President Tanner explained, “President Kimball was out of his room, visiting the sick on the fifth and sixth floors of LDS Hospital.”
There was gratifying evidence that President Kimball’s counsel on missionary work from 1976 New Zealand and Australia area conferences had been taken to heart.
President John D. Jeffrey of the Brisbane Australia South Stake explained that in 1974 there had been only four full-time missionaries serving from the Brisbane Region. As of 1 December 1979, there were forty full-time missionaries from the same region, serving in fifteen different missions worldwide.
Douglas James Martin, a Regional Representative residing in Hamilton, New Zealand, similarly reported that during the 1960s between 50 and 100 New Zealand Saints had accepted mission calls, but that during the 1970s more than 500 had served worldwide.
Attendance at the priesthood meeting in the Sydney Town Hall was three times what it was nearly three years earlier during the first Sydney area conference, a typical experience in the whirlwind conference tour.
Steady growth is also continuing with approximately 50,000 members in each of the two countries, a near doubling in nine years. Australia now has five missions and eleven stakes, while New Zealand has three missions and thirteen stakes. More than 5,000 students are enrolled in seminary and institute.
All of this provided a backdrop for the continuing challenge described by Bishop H. Burke Peterson as our important responsibility “to learn of the Savior and to live like the Savior; not merely to know, but to do. To discover what it is to be a disciple of Christ, we must serve.”
Buttressing this testimony were these sermons in a sentence:
“We belong to the Church of Jesus Christ and he directs the Church through a prophet of God, Spencer W. Kimball.”—President N. Eldon Tanner.
“The way you can change people’s lives is the same way the Savior did, with love.”—Barbara B. Smith.
“My plea to you is that we strengthen our families so that our memories of home may be happy ones, that our home life may be a foretaste of heaven.”—President Ezra Taft Benson.
“The manner of our living, not our words, fashions our children’s character.”—President Tanner.
“Never forget that the family is the cornerstone of stability in the word.”—Elder Ashton.
“Go home and write about what you feel today; a life recorded is a life twice lived.”—Sister Cannon.
“What we must be willing to do is to sacrifice whatever is required of us, whether time, or talent, or riches, or the praise and honor of men, or whatever it may be, to the extent the Lord may require it.”—Elder Dunn.
“Relief Society is not a women’s club, it is a gift from God to the women of the world.”—Sister Smith.
“We need diligent women who love their husbands into gentility.”—Sister Smith.
“The most important reason for the priesthood is to be a good father and husband.”—Bishop Peterson.
“In the temple I have seen the prophet on his knees with the Brethren around him, praying for young people, for the Lord to keep them from evil.”—Elder Hunter.
“The work of mature missionary couples is worthy of the highest praise.”—David M. Kennedy.
“Don’t be timid in spiritual matters.”—President Tanner.
“No one could know missionaries and not believe in miracles.”—Elder Hunter.
“Testimonies touch us more deeply than teachings.”—Elder Ashton.
“Keep our missionaries off the street: give a referral today.”—Bulletin board notice in Auckland, New Zealand, Mt. Roskill Stake center.
Finally, Elder Ashton challenged all who attended the area conferences: “If you love Spencer W. Kimball, do what he asked you to do.”
That was summarized in these words of President Kimball himself, in a message read by D. Arthur Haycock, his personal secretary:
“Every man and woman should return home from these conferences with a determination that they will take the gospel to their relatives and their friends.”
Thus did the message resound through newspaper, radio and television interviews, and during eight general sessions, one of which was televised nationwide over twenty-three Australian stations from the Sydney Opera House. And in five priesthood meetings, five women’s meetings, five missionary meetings, separate workshops with Relief Society and Young Women leaders in each of five cities, and a special meeting with workers in the New Zealand Temple.
Or, as stated unequivocally on signs posted throughout the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney:
“Do the right thing.”
“60 Minutes” Charges Refuted
In response to an unfair and slanted feature in the CBS-TV program 60 Minutes, Wilford W. Kirton Jr., general counsel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, issued the following statement:
The CBS Television show 60 Minutes, which was aired throughout the United States on December 9, included a segment about a Utah cherry processor, Garn Baum, who has for several years had an antitrust suit pending against a competing fruit processing plant, a number of individuals, the state of Utah, and two corporations owned by the Church.
Lawyers for Mr. Baum spent more than three years investigating the case and taking sworn depositions of all possible witnesses. On 28 November 1979, a U.S. District Court judge was asked to dismiss the case for the reason that there was no evidence to support Mr. Baum’s action against the Church corporations.
The federal judge listened to the entire argument of Mr. Baum’s lawyer. After the lawyer, with Mr. Baum in attendance, stated that he had no case against the Church corporations, the judge said:
“As I understand it, counsellor, you concede that you’ve been able to discover nothing in the records in reference to the so-called ecclesiastical corporations.”
Mr. Baum’s attorney, who is not a member of the Church, replied: “Yes, Your Honor. I have to be candid. I can find nothing in the depositions which show the requisite matters [essential facts necessary to support a legal claim] as to the two church corporations.”
The above statements of the judge and Mr. Baum’s lawyer were communicated to the CBS-TV producer of the 60 Minutes television program, who refused to use them.
In order to correct the unfairness against the Church in the 60 Minutes TV program, a chronological review of events in the case will be helpful.
1. In 1975, First Security Bank, which held a mortgage on Mr. Baum’s property, obtained a judgment against him and an order to sell the property.
2. Mr. Baum asked Deseret Title Holding Corporation, a Church-owned firm, to buy his property for a specified amount of money. Deseret Title officers made a counter offer which was refused by Mr. Baum.
3. When Mr. Baum failed to meet his obligation to the bank, a sheriff’s sale was conducted. Deseret Title was the only bidder and offered the same amount of money earlier offered to Mr. Baum. This amount was in excess of the amount owed by Mr. Baum to the bank.
4. The bank was paid the amount due and Mr. Baum received the excess money—an amount which he would not have received had Deseret Title not purchased the property.
5. Mr. Baum was granted, by law, a six-month period during which he could redeem his property. He failed to do so within the specified period.
6. After the redemption period expired, the sheriff granted deed to the property to Deseret Title Holding Corporation.
7. Deseret Title allowed Mr. Baum to remain on the property for an additional six-month period and later extended that period several months, at Mr. Baum’s request.
8. In early 1976, Mr. Baum filed the antitrust lawsuit.
9. Mr. Baum agreed, in late 1976, to vacate the premises by 1 February 1977.
10. In March of 1977, Mr. Baum advised that he would never voluntarily vacate the property.
11. A portion of the television report focused on a cherry orchard on the property wherein the trees had died due to a lack of irrigation. The TV reporter said that it was a sin to let the trees die, after stating that it was unclear which of the parties was at fault. He could have easily reported the truth. When representatives of the Church corporations attempted to turn the water in to save the trees, Mr. Baum claimed that he owned the water rights and threatened them with bodily harm if they tried to water the trees. They peaceably withdrew.
12. During the program, much was said to lead viewers to believe that it is impossible to engage lawyers in Utah to accept employment in a case against a Church-owned institution. Nothing could be further from the truth. If the TV reporter had interviewed any number of reputable lawyers in Utah, he would have been told that parties claiming to be aggrieved by Church institutions have no trouble at all in securing highly skilled lawyers to represent them.
13. The television report implied that Mr. Baum has found it impossible to get justice in a federal court in Utah because of the influence of the Church and so is taking an appeal to a Colorado court. This knowingly misrepresents the fact that an appeal of a U.S. District Court ruling in Utah routinely goes to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is situated in Colorado.
These facts were explained to the producers of the CBS-TV 60 Minutes production, who ignored them.
As 1979 closed, President Spencer W. Kimball continued to convalesce following his second operation for subdural hematoma. His doctors said that he could “now begin a gradual resumption of his normal work,” and part of December was spent in light work at home while convalescing.
Two General Authorities have received new assignments. Elder A. Theodore Tuttle of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy has been called to preside over the Provo Temple, succeeding President Orville C. Gunther. Elder Robert L. Simpson of the First Quorum of the Seventy has been called to be president of the Los Angeles Temple, replacing President Richard C. Stratford. Both changes were in effect at the first of the year.
Regarding the Equal Rights Amendment: In response to queries growing out of the December excommunication of Sonia Johnson, former member of the Sterling Park (Virginia) Ward, her bishop explained that Mrs. Johnson’s stand on the ERA was not the reason for her excommunication.
In a letter (later made public) to Mrs. Johnson, Bishop Jeffrey H. Willis said, “As you know, I have at no time tried to dissuade you from seeking the ratification of the amendment. I have counseled with you relative to your support of the Church leaders and doctrine.” He stated that other members of the Church support the ERA, “and to the best of my knowledge no Church action has been taken, nor is their membership in question.”
Jerry Cahill, director of press relations for the Church, emphasized that while the Church opposes passage of the ERA, it supports equal rights for women.
Visitors to the 1980 Winter Olympics will have a chance to learn about the Church. The Church’s Lake Placid Visitors Center opened in December, in preparation for the February Winter Olympics. The center is on the ground floor of a new hotel—an ideal location for the displays to be seen by athletes, spectators, and workers.
A slide show features Scott Bringhurst, a marathon runner and member of the Church. Printed materials at the center will be in the three official languages of the Olympics—English, French, and German.
Hundreds hear about “art as vision” at a Brigham Young University Symposium. Its College of Humanities, with funding from the Utah Endowment for the Humanities, recently sponsored a symposium featuring three of the foremost living scholars in the humanities.
The keynote speaker, from the University of Toronto, was Northrup Frye, considered to be the most influential literary critic and theorist of the century. Also speaking were Brewster Ghiselin, professor emeritus of English at the University of Utah, who read and discussed poetry and the creative process, and John Fraccero of both Yale and Stanford, who spoke on Dante’s three-part structure of vision taken from Augustine in the Divine Comedy.
As part of his larger discussion on “Visions and Dreams,” Professor Frye referred to the pattern of metaphors and similes that “starts with effects and makes you search for causes, moving backwards in time” and pointed out that the Bible, using a system of types and symbols, moves “forward.” As Augustine said, the Old Testament is “revealed” in the New Testament; the New Testament is “concealed” in the Old. Typology thus “throws the mind forward” and becomes “the language of hope and vision, not only for the Bible but for a whole way of life. In spite of mankind’s folly and cruelty, events are going somewhere, meaning something, and that meaning will be revealed.”