In the 1970s and 1980s, the international perception of Soweto, South Africa, included images of terror, violence, and rioting. Home to more than four million Blacks, this segregated township southwest of Johannesburg was the scene of great social upheavals that helped bring worldwide attention to—and the eventual abolition of—apartheid, the policy of racial separation in South Africa.
But even during those violent, troubled years, a miraculous transformation was underway in Soweto. The gospel of Jesus Christ was being preached there, a branch of the Church was created, and missionaries and members of various races were working side by side to establish a spirit of tolerance, understanding, unity, and peace.
Now there is a stake in Soweto, and the future is bright. Two young men are deacons in the Soweto Ward and exemplify the dramatic changes that have taken place there.
When you approach the Vilakazi home, you’ll likely hear laughter and the shuffling sounds of a soccer ball being kicked back and forth. When you enter the front gate, identical twin 13-year-old boys are playing an energetic game, teasing each other good-naturedly between kicks of the ball.
The yard is immaculate, the lawn and flower garden have been tended with great care, and the car parked in the driveway is polished. Sister Vilakazi smiles when you compliment her on her home and garden. “The twins help with the work,” she says.
These 13-year-old twin brothers—filled with seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm—are also best friends and are together practically all the time. They are in the same classes at school and church and have many of the same friends and interests. When Nkosinathi is swimming, playing sports, or sketching elephants, lions, and tigers, Bonginkosi is usually right there doing the same thing. When Bonginkosi is studying the scriptures, passing the sacrament, or bearing his testimony to a friend, Nkosinathi is more than likely right alongside him.
Except at school, where some know them as Allen and Bryan, Nkosinathi and Bonginkosi use their African names. The names reflect their parents’ joy at their birth. In their native Zulu tongue, Nkosinathi’s name means “God be with us.” Bonginkosi’s name means “We thank the Lord.” Both boys take seriously the responsibilities that come with their names.
Their parents and four older brothers and sisters had already joined the Church when the twins, the youngest in the family, were born. The whole family was sealed in the Johannesburg South Africa Temple when Nkosinathi and Bonginkosi were five years old. The twins were baptized at age eight and were ordained deacons at age 12.
Most of their friends at school are not yet members of the Church, and Nkosinathi and Bonginkosi know the importance of representing the Church well and sharing the gospel with friends.
Sometimes people tease the twins because they won’t follow the crowd in doing things they shouldn’t. Does the teasing and name-calling bother them? “Not that much,” says Nkosinathi, “because I know what’s right. So I just walk away.” Both boys admit that at those times, it’s especially nice to have a twin brother close by.
Their courage and example have been rewarded. For example, “our friend Mbuso Yende became interested in the Book of Mormon,” says Bonginkosi, “so we gave him a copy. Then we invited him to church.” The boys invited the full-time missionaries to teach Mbuso in their home. As a result, Mbuso was baptized and is now a teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood in the Soweto Ward. And Mbuso’s mother and other family members are listening to the missionary discussions and attending church with the Vilakazi family.
Having tasted the delicious fruit of missionary success, they are more encouraged than ever to continue preparing for their missions.
“I want to go on a mission to teach the gospel to people who don’t know, who aren’t fortunate enough to have learned about the gospel,” says Bonginkosi.
“I also want to share the message of our Church,” says Nkosinathi, “so others may know the truth.”
Although their missions are six years away, both boys are focused on their goal. “We study the scriptures together and in family home evening,” says Nkosinathi, adding that they are looking forward to attending seminary when they’re old enough. “And we pray every day,” says Nkosinathi. As a result, they feel more prepared to answer questions about the Church and to bear their testimonies. It’s not at all uncommon to see one or both of them—in white shirts and ties—helping the full-time missionaries tract and teach.
The twins do chores around the house to earn money and learn skills for their missions. They help their dad, Gideon Ndondo Vilakazi, by washing the car and working in the yard. When their older sister is working, they help care for her baby. They are learning how to cook (Bonginkosi’s specialty is chicken curry) and to iron their own shirts. “They help me with the dishes and the laundry,” says their mom, Lovedalia Thandekile Vilakazi. “And they help me clean the house by sweeping and scrubbing the floors.”
The boys loved their years in Primary. (Their mother is Primary president.) They learned the Articles of Faith and, at a moment’s notice, can still recite or sing all 13 word for word and explain their meanings.
Now they are following their dad’s footsteps in the priesthood. (Brother Vilakazi is high priests group leader.) “Being a deacon means a lot to me,” says Bonginkosi. “I feel I’ve grown a lot by finishing Primary and going into the deacons quorum. I was really excited to pass the sacrament for the first time.”
In addition to passing the sacrament, the twins and the six other deacons in the ward collect the hymnbooks after meetings, clean and wash the sacrament trays, close the windows, and help keep the meetinghouse tidy. And they enjoy participating in activities with other young men and young women in their ward, such as playing soccer, swimming, hiking, giving service, and attending Mutual.
Their heroes are Nephi and Joseph Smith. And they also have modern-day heroes. “I look up to my bishop,” says Bonginkosi, “because he’s a very righteous man.”
“He always assists people with any problem they have,” says Nkosinathi.
Energetic teenagers, faithful bearers of the Aaronic Priesthood, a blessing and support to parents and family, good friends to others, prospective missionaries. These young men—and many others like them—represent Soweto’s bright promise for the future. “God be with us!” “We thank the Lord!”