Sometimes an eternal family’s introduction to the gospel begins with something very simple, like a picture of Jesus displayed in a barbershop. This was the case with Brother and Sister Kapenda, who moved to South Africa from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia. Like many others, they came to South Africa looking for work opportunities and government stability.
They initially moved to Johannesburg, but later settled in Ladysmith, where Brother Kapenda worked out of a little pink wooden shack that served as his barbershop. It stood in line with a dozen or so other barber shops along Lyell Street, the main road through busy, bustling Ladysmith. Brother Kapenda’s father had prophetically told him before he left, “When you go to South Africa, you will find the church that is right for you.” His father also promised that he would pray for him.
Brother Kapenda‘s barbershop displayed a picture of Jesus that everyone passing by could see. One June day, Elder Jared Hilton from Cedar Hills, Utah, and Elder Mike Hensen from Richfield, Idaho were walking past the barbershops when they noticed the picture. Though they first walked on by, they later felt impressed to go back.
Brother Kapenda was across the street when the elders first walked by, but when he saw them return, he crossed the street to meet them. When he identified himself as the owner of the shop, the missionaries said they saw his picture of the Savior, and wanted to tell him about the gospel of Jesus Christ. He was interested, as he was not attending any church at the time. He had visited several churches, but explained, “When I went to those churches, my heart was not there.” He knew that someday he would find the right church, so he invited the elders to his home.
They met with the Kapenda family, including Sister Kapenda and their two young children, Joseph and Charlotte. After giving them a Book of Mormon, the missionaries began teaching them the gospel. Brother Kapenda struggled with the English Book of Mormon, so the elders gave him a French edition which he read diligently.
After some initial missteps, the whole family visited the Ladysmith LDS Church for the first time on Father’s Day. To everyone’s surprise, Brother Kapenda was called upon to pray. He accepted, praying in French to know the truthfulness of the gospel. It was his first time giving a public prayer. He had also taken the sacrament many times in other churches, but in this Church, it was different. After the family returned home, even young Joseph said, “This is the church we must go to!”
Brother Kapenda agreed, stating, “All week I was blessed.” As they progressed in the missionary lessons, their testimonies of the restored Church grew, and both Brother and Sister Kapenda accepted the invitation to be baptized just one month later.
The supportive Ladysmith saints filled the room adjacent to the baptismal font. They sang hymns with their typical enthusiasm and lovely harmony, and gave talks on baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. When the beautiful couple, dressed in white, entered the baptismal waters, their smiles displayed their joy.
After his parents were baptized, young Joseph could hardly wait until he was old enough for his turn. His father had been counselled by the branch president to teach and prepare his son for baptism, and Joseph was an eager learner who asked a lot of questions. Not only did he want to be baptized, but he wanted to be a missionary when he grew up. He immediately became an enthusiastic little member-missionary, talking about the Book of Mormon and the Church to all of his neighbors and friends, and inviting them to Church. Many came, which antagonized the pastors of their old congregations, who actively denounced the Church, stating, “They don’t even have a cross on their church!”
Brother Kapenda learned to respond: “Though we don’t wear, or have a cross on our buildings, we respect it as Christian symbol. However, we prefer to emphasize the resurrection rather than the death of the Savior.”
Brother Kapenda was soon called as a counsellor in the branch Young Men’s presidency, teaching the “Come Follow Me” lessons to the Aaronic Priesthood young men. He studied and prayed about the new lesson manual, and could feel the Spirit as he learned the lessons. The family found happiness through friendship, callings, and learning more about the gospel. In December 2012 Brother and Sister Kapenda had the opportunity to go to the Johannesburg Temple to be baptized for the dead.
The family received an additional blessing when Sister Kapenda gave birth to their third child, John. Brother Kapenda was a joyful man as he returned to his home in Zambia for business. He was mindful that young Joseph’s eighth birthday was coming up and his son was anxious for his father to baptize him as soon as he returned.
Unfortunately, Joseph came home from school one Monday complaining of a headache. Despite rest and medication, he worsened as the week went on. He was admitted to the Ladysmith Provincial Hospital in the early hours of Friday morning; but was pronounced dead by 6:00 AM.
The family plunged into grief. Church members surrounded them to console and sustain them. They introduced a quiet, reverent way of expressing their love. They sang hymns for hours to comfort the family and invite the Spirit. They offered assurance that little Joseph was with his Father in Heaven, the Savior, and other relatives who had passed on.
Because the Kapendas had now been members of the Church for a year, they could go to the temple to receive their endowments and be sealed together as an eternal family, which they were very anxious to do. They drove to the Johannesburg Temple, where they spent two days. They did their own temple ordinances the first day. The second day was Joseph’s big day; his father was to be baptized for him. Those who attended felt impressed that Joseph’s shining spirit was present. He was confirmed at the edge of the font. Afterwards, the directing temple worker commented that he had “not often felt such a strong spirit as a baptism was being performed.” Joseph Kapenda was baptized at last.
The family then had the glorious experience of being sealed together. The company waited in the sealing room as the two children, reverent and beautifully dressed all in white, were brought in. A special missionary served as proxy for Joseph, and Brother Kapenda later said he absolutely felt Joseph’s presence there. An eternal family was formed, and to think it all started with a picture of the Savior displayed in a barbershop.