One Saturday afternoon in September 1985, our family was enjoying a restful afternoon under the shade of a tree after a late lunch at our new home in Gigiri, Nairobi. We had moved there earlier that year and found that the garden needed much work. We did not have the money to hire a professional landscaping contractor, and so we made it a family project to do the work ourselves. As we had done on most Saturdays for several months, we spent much of the morning and early afternoon digging up the lawn to level it in preparation for planting new grass and flowers.
It was in this situation that, without prior appointment, two gentlemen walked in through the gate. One was an extended family member whom we knew well. He introduced his companion as an engineer who had recently returned from the US where he had gone to study.
That engineer and his family became new family friends. We learned that he was a member of a church which was not yet established in Kenya at that time. A short while later, Sister Sitati and I felt the desire to check on him after visiting a relative who lived in his neighborhood. Soon after we arrived at his home, the senior couple missionary—who later baptized us into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—walked in. After answering our curious questions, the couple invited us to attend church in their home the following Sunday. We accepted the invitation. The rest is history—we have attended church every Sunday since then.
Out of the normal and natural interactions of our lives, our family came to learn about and join the Church.
In many communities in Africa, it is normal for family and friends to visit each other unannounced. Although the commercialization of life has—to some extent—taken away the social time that people used to spend with each other, the culture of spontaneously dropping in at the home of a brother, or a sister and her family, or an uncle who is unwell, or a distant aunt who is having some challenges in her life, or a nephew who has passed the national exam, to check on them is still alive and well.
Such visits are always welcome, because they are prompted by the desire of the visitor for the welfare of those visited. The opportunity is taken to speak about each member of the family and how they are doing, whether present during the visit or not. The struggles and joys of life since the last visit are shared, and each one is strengthened in a genuine spirit of compassionate care one for another.
Speaking by way of illustration using the parable of the sheep and the goats, the Lord Jesus Christ taught us how we are to minister in His church:
“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me” (Matthew 25:35–36).
This will sound familiar to many of you in congregations throughout the Area, because you have grown up in a culture in which it is normal and natural to make the effort to be aware of the circumstances of extended family members, and to do what you can to help alleviate their afflictions. And you have always done that of your own free will, because it was the right thing to do. To you, it was just normal and natural to be concerned, and to help according to your ability when help was needed. Without being reminded, you hearkened to Alma’s counsel to those willing to be disciples of Christ to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light” and to “mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:8–9).
Today, as a member of the Church you and I have come into the “fold of God” and are “called his people” (Mosiah 18:8). The living prophets and apostles are calling upon you and me to care for our brothers and sisters in a higher and holier way through ministering. In so doing, we will have the Spirit of the Lord help us to “stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that [we] may be in, even until death” (Mosiah 18:9). We have the blessing and opportunity of drawing from our common experience and culture of compassionate care for one another in our communities. We can apply that experience, which is a part of our second nature, in responding effectively to the invitation of our living Prophet, President Russell M. Nelson to help lift up our brothers and sisters in the gospel and build up the Lord’s church. After doing our best, the Savior’s words of welcome, peace, and comfort await us:
“Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: … Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:34, 40).
I pray that we will continue to minister in normal and natural ways to our brothers and sisters in the fold of God, and to all God’s children within our influence, that we may always look forward earnestly to that day of rejoicing with the Savior.
Elder Joseph W. Sitati was sustained as a General Authority Seventy in April 2009. He is married to Gladys Nangoni; they are the parents of five children.