In 1998’s early months President Gordon B. Hinckley made two major journeys within weeks of each other to meet Church members worldwide. While visiting five African countries and locations in Canada, the Canary Islands, and Cape Verde during a 12–22 February trip, President Hinckley was accompanied by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. With President Hinckley’s trip to Africa—his longest yet, involving nearly 54 air-travel hours and 25,000 miles—he has completed visits to every continent except Antarctica while serving as Church President.
Two weeks after his African assignment, President Hinckley visited a number of cities in northern Mexico during a 9–15 March journey. He was accompanied to Mexico by Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder Eran A. Call of the Seventy, President of the Mexico North Area.
Nova Scotia, Canada
On his way to Africa, President Hinckley stopped on Thursday, 12 February, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, where about 1,700 members from Canada’s maritime provinces filled the World Trade and Convention Center to hear President Hinckley and Elder Holland speak. Elder Donald L. Staheli of the Seventy, Second Counselor in the North America Northeast Area, also addressed members.
“Sometimes we feel isolated up here,” said a member from St. John’s, Newfoundland, “but every kilometer we drove, every fathom of water we sailed, and every ache and pain we suffered was well worth it. It was such a blessing to come see the prophet.”
During his address President Hinckley illustrated the principle of gratitude by telling the story of a devastating explosion in Halifax harbor during World War I that was caused when an ammunition ship accidentally ran into another ship. Thousands of people were killed or injured, and extra medical help was provided by the city of Boston, Massachusetts. Since that time, the people of Halifax have sent a Christmas tree each year to the people of Boston to express their gratitude.
“That was the most spiritually powerful experience I have ever had, just being in the same room as the prophet,” said Daphne Oliver of North Sydney, Nova Scotia. “He radiated his love towards us. I felt it so strongly.”
Before reaching Africa, President Hinckley stopped on Friday, 13 February, in the city of Las Palmas in Spain’s Canary Islands, located in the Atlantic off the coast of northwest Africa. President Hinckley and Elder Holland were met in Las Palmas by Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Seventy, President of the Europe West Area. A group of children in native dress greeted President Hinckley at his hotel and presented him with flowers and a timple, a local musical instrument similar to a ukelele.
After being interviewed by radio and newspaper journalists and meeting with a local government official, President Hinckley spoke to about 800 members gathered in the Palace of Congresses. During his press conference, President Hinckley said, “Our purpose is to lift people’s lives and help them find the answers to life’s most important questions.”
Francisco Barrera, president of the Fuerteventura district, said: “When the mission president told me that President Hinckley was going to visit the Canaries, I laughed and told him I didn’t believe him. As time passed I started to see the preparations, and it was like a dream come true. This visit will strengthen our members.”
President Hinckley arrived on the African continent on Saturday, 14 February, where he was met in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, by Elder James O. Mason of the Seventy, President of the Africa Area, who accompanied him throughout his Africa travels. A group of children sang “I Am a Child of God” (Children’s Songbook, 2) and “Follow the Prophet” (Children’s Songbook, 110) for President Hinckley, and then he addressed about 1,100 priesthood leaders gathered in a concrete-and-tin structure with open sides.
“I am thrilled with the prophet’s visit and his counsel to the brethren to be committed in their callings,” said Calabar district president Imoh Eshiet after the priesthood leadership meeting. “I will take back this message to my members and encourage them in their duties as parents in the home and leaders in the community.”
The next day, Sunday, 15 February, President Hinckley drove to Aba, Nigeria, to look at some Church property. To his surprise, the roadway approaching the property was lined with hundreds of Aba stake members and friends dressed in their Sunday best and waving small green-and-white Nigerian flags in greeting. Later that day President Hinckley addressed some 12,000 members in a regional conference in Port Harcourt. Numerous members from distant Nigerian cities traveled up to 12 hours to attend the conference. Before the conference, hundreds of members had spent hours preparing the civic center for President Hinckley’s visit by cleaning walls; removing cobwebs; cleaning and painting the VIP lounge; sweeping; installing lights and fans; constructing a stand and a toilet facility; preparing draperies, a podium, and potted native plants; renting and setting up 10,000 chairs; and temporarily installing an organ from a stake center.
“The Church will grow in Nigeria as you grow,” President Hinckley said. “If you don’t do anything, nothing very much will happen with the Church. But if you are anxiously engaged in assisting those for whom you are responsible, the Church will grow in strength.”
Speaking of the 1978 revelation extending the priesthood to all worthy males, President Hinckley said, “I am an eyewitness to what happened.”
After the conference, a sister from Benin City commented, “This conference was like Moses gathering the children of Israel.”
One of President Hinckley’s first actions in Accra, Ghana, on Monday morning, 16 February, was to visit a site for a potential temple. He then met for about 30 minutes with the president of Ghana, His Excellency Jerry John Rawlings, at his palace. Speaking briefly about the period beginning in 1989 when Ghana’s government banned all activities of the Church (see Don L. Searle, “Ghana: A Household of Faith,” Ensign, Mar. 1996, 38–39), President Rawlings said, “We take back the conflicting signals of the past and look forward to the spiritual developments of the future.” President Hinckley responded, “Let’s put all that behind us now.”
Later that afternoon President Hinckley addressed about 6,500 members gathered in Independence Square near Accra’s Atlantic coastline. During his remarks he announced that land had been purchased for the construction of a temple there. The temple will be the Church’s second on the continent, the first announced for Africa since the Johannesburg South Africa Temple was dedicated in 1985. The 6,500-strong congregation responded with great fervor in the outdoor square.
Upon returning to his hotel that evening, he gave interviews with national TV and radio reporters.
President Hinckley traveled east across Africa and arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, on the afternoon of Tuesday, 17 February. He addressed some 900 members in a large conference room at his hotel, including some members who had traveled from Ethiopia, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda. In areas where members could not afford to travel to Nairobi, some pooled their funds to send representatives who could return and share the experience with them.
“There is a tremendous bond of love that grows among the Saints of God wherever they may be found,” said President Hinckley in his remarks. “It is a marvelous and wonderful thing. As I look into your faces, I can see the same bond of affection as I do when I look into the faces of people in the Salt Lake Tabernacle. We are all part of this great family—this Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, now 10 million strong, scattered through 160 nations of the earth.”
President Hinckley also said: “There isn’t the slightest doubt in my mind that the time will come if you will walk in faith and patience that a temple will be built in this land to serve the needs of this people. Now, don’t count on it for a few years, … but it will be so.”
Addressing some 1,500 members in Harare, Zimbabwe, on Wednesday evening, 18 February, President Hinckley quoted Peter, who said, “God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34–35). Then President Hinckley said: “That, my beloved brothers and sisters, describes you. I’ve had that testimony reconfirmed in my heart on this trip as I have met with you and many others that all are alike unto God. … We’re all of a great family, a marvelous family, the family of the living Christ, worshiping Him together.”
Several government and religious representatives were in attendance at the conference, including Zimbabwe’s secretary of defense and social welfare director. At the end of the conference, as the congregation stood and sang “God Be with You Till We Meet Again” (Hymns, no. 152) in English and two local languages, President Hinckley was presented with a stone sculpture titled The Eternal Family, created by Agrippa Ndongwe of the Mutare district.
President Hinckley arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Thursday morning, 19 February. That afternoon he toured the Johannesburg temple, met briefly with temple workers, and gave an interview for South Africa’s largest newspaper. That evening he addressed about 5,500 members at Johannesburg’s National Recreation and Exhibition Center.
“What a glorious season this is in the history of this Church, my brothers and sisters,” President Hinckley said in the Johannesburg conference. “Never was the Church stronger than it is today. Never was its voice more widely listened to than it is today. Never have we built buildings to the degree that we are building them today. This is the greatest stage in the history of the Church.” He reminded members of what the Lord’s Church expects of them, including developing a testimony of Heavenly Father and his Son, Jesus Christ; acquiring a personal conviction of Joseph Smith’s mission and the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon; honoring the priesthood; living the Word of Wisdom; paying a tithe and offerings; showing charity toward others; and praying often.
On Friday, 20 February, President Hinckley addressed 1,800 members gathered in a convention center in Durban, and later that afternoon he flew to Cape Town and addressed about 1,500 members at a suburban university sports stadium.
“Many of you are concerned about conditions here,” President Hinckley said in Durban. “Some of you worry whether you should emigrate and go elsewhere. … I want to give you assurance that the Church is here to stay in South Africa. We have been here a very long time, and we are going to be here for a long time. We have that beautiful temple in Johannesburg. We have meetinghouses up and down the land. We’ll build buildings. The membership of the Church will increase. We now have five stakes in Johannesburg, but the time will come when we will have five stakes here [in Durban].”
As President Hinckley entered the conference in Cape Town, he was handed a collection of personal notes written by the youth of the stake. “Tired? He might have been, but no one in the congregation would have recognized,” observed Clive Nicholls of Rondebosch. “Something special happens to a congregation when the Lord’s anointed encourages, reproves, and gives counsel to guide and direct their spiritual development. Tears and smiles from the Saints seemingly contradict, but there is no doubting the exchange of love and affection between the Saints and their prophet.”
When President Hinckley left his hotel the next morning, he was greeted outside by local Primary children singing “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet” (Hymns, no. 19). Ruffling the children’s hair and shaking hands as he moved toward his car, the Church leader said, “I’m thrilled you all came out to say good-bye.”
President Hinckley departed the African continent on Saturday, 21 February, and later that day arrived in Praia, the capital of the Cape Verde islands. He met with Cape Verde’s secretary of state and held a press conference with radio and television representatives. The next day, Sunday, 22 February, he gave the final address of his journey to about 800 members gathered from several islands.
“Once again, President Hinckley demonstrated his incredible vigor and insatiable desire to be among the Latter-day Saints,” commented a traveling companion. “‘This is where the action is,’ [President Hinckley] said with a gleam in his eye.”
Hermosillo and Ciudad Obregón, Mexico
Hermosillo was the first of 10 stops President Hinckley made during his 9–15 March trip to northern Mexico, during which he addressed a total of about 53,000 members. A few months earlier, he had visited cities in southern Mexico and Belize (see “President Hinckley Tours Mexico and Belize,” Ensign, Feb. 1998, 75–77).
Speaking in Hermosillo, President Hinckley said: “I hope that every adult in this congregation will qualify for a temple recommend. Even though you may not be able to get to the temple, you get a temple recommend from your bishop and stake president. Carry it with you, and it will remind you of the great and sacred covenants which you have made to the Lord to live lives of cleanliness and purity, to be kind and dear one to another, to reach out to your neighbors even though they are not members of the Church, and to help and bless their lives.”
Later on Monday, 9 March, President Hinckley addressed some 3,300 people in Ciudad Obregón. “You are just as dear to me as are the Saints in Salt Lake City,” President Hinckley said. “What wonderful people you are! If you are living the gospel, you are the best people in the world. I believe that! We pray for you. We know that you pray for us, and we thank you for your prayers, and we leave our blessing upon you this night that the heavens will be opened as you walk in righteousness. … Don’t you ever forget that you heard Brother Hinckley say tonight that he knows that God lives and that Jesus is the Christ and in a glorious vision they ushered in this great dispensation of eternal truth.”
Culiacán and Guadalajara, Mexico
President Hinckley spoke to about 4,100 members in Culiacán on Tuesday morning, 10 March, and to about 6,000 members in Guadalajara that evening.
“You are now as strong as any group of members anywhere in the world,” President Hinckley said in Culiacán. “You have testimonies. You know the great plan of happiness of God. Do your very best to build and strengthen the kingdom and others. May you be true and virtuous. … You are a beautiful people. I love you.”
In Guadalajara, President Hinckley reiterated his urgent message about retaining new converts: “I plead with every one of you tonight to find out about the converts to the Church and put your arms around them and make friends of them, and you bishops and branch presidents put them to work. Give them something to do. As they work, they will grow in faith. Faith is like the muscle of my arm. If I use it, if I nurture it, it will grow strong. If I put it in a sling and leave it there, it will grow weak. Brothers and sisters, please, please reach out to every convert in the Church and help him or her to become established in the faith.”
Torreón, León, Ciudad Victoria, and Monterrey, Mexico
Keeping up his pace of two cities per day, President Hinckley met with about 5,300 members in Torreón on Wednesday morning, 11 March, and with thousands more in León that evening.
“It has been a grand experience to listen to the prophet of our God speak clearly and to receive his blessing as an individual and a family,” said Torreón member Victor Rios Avendaño. “Participating in the choir has been an extra blessing,” remarked Brother Avendaño’s wife, Norma Oralia. “Along with being able to sing and sit near the pulpit, I was able to see a living prophet for the first time in 20 years, and I was able to do it with my husband and our children.”
President Hinckley spoke in Ciudad Victoria on Thursday morning, 12 March, and addressed about 12,000 people in Monterrey that evening.
“It was something very special for us to have the opportunity to listen to President Hinckley’s message in this part of the world,” said Abelardo Morales Méndez, president of the San Nicolás stake. “We love him very much, and we wish to continue being blessed, as he said. I believe that all members feel the same love and the same harmony for him. I felt very pleased and strengthened.”
Commenting on the unusually cold weather in Monterrey, choir director Mormón Treviño of the Roma stake said: “I enjoyed seeing that even though the Brethren were suffering from the cold and the rain they were calmly seated. The prophet’s message touched my heart.”
Chihuahua and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico
“I have the feeling that there are wonderful days ahead for Mexico,” said President Hinckley to nearly 4,000 listeners in Chihuahua on Friday evening, 13 March. “This nation is standing on its feet and moving forward. The Church is maturing in this country. … I am impressed with you, with the strength of your faith, with the leaders that are growing up among you, with a generation of young people who have a knowledge of the gospel and a love for the work and faith in God.”
In Ciudad Juárez the next day, Saturday, 14 March, President Hinckley conducted a priesthood leadership meeting that afternoon, and the next morning, Sunday, 15 March, he addressed a large conference. “There is no greater blessing in all the world than the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God and the living reality of the Savior of mankind,” President Hinckley said. “God is a personality. He is an individual being of flesh and bones. Jesus is a resurrected being of flesh and bone. The Holy Ghost is a personage of Spirit, but an individual. They are not three in one, but three individuals of one purpose. That knowledge has come to us through the restoration of the gospel.”
Ciudad Juárez is located about a three-hour drive from Colonia Juárez, where ground was recently broken for a small temple (see “Colonia Juárez Temple Groundbreaking” on page 118 of this issue).