150 Years Preparing for a Temple

150 Years Preparing for a Temple

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Kwazulu-Natal, the province in which Durban is found, began more than 150 years ago. In January 1863, the first mission president of the area, President W. Fotheringham, appointed Henry Dixon to commence missionary work in Natal, as the province was then known.

Two years later, a number of people had joined the Church in the area. They heeded the call to gather to the United States, where the prophet of the church, President Brigham Young, invited the Saints to gather to Zion. By April 1865, the final group of Saints had immigrated, and the South African mission was closed.

It was some time before missionary work in the country recommenced. But 58 years later, in 1903, the South Africa mission was officially re-opened. A further 20 years after this, the first branch (since the re-opening of the mission) was established in Natal. A brother by the name of Tex Smith was called as the first branch president.

The Church grew slowly in the area. However, over the decades came a strengthening of testimony among the members, and a willingness to sacrifice for the gospel and its precepts.  

Sacrificing for the first Church buildings

Sacrificing for the first Church buildings

In 1958, the first LDS chapel was built in Durban. Members were asked to raise money for the construction of the building. The journal of the missionary, Evan P. Wright, records one of many wonderful efforts.

“Prior to the erection of the Durban Chapel, a remarkable thing was accomplished by a young Church member who personally raised 120 pounds and 17.5 pence for the building fund,” wrote Brother Wright.

“During his school vacation, he contributed most of his time to raising funds by selling ‘bricks’ to people of that city. The remarkable thing is that the boy, Lindsay Wiblin, was only nine years old.”

During the years 1970 and 1985, the members of the Church in Natal were again asked to make financial sacrifices. This time, it was for the building of temples in faraway lands – first in Sao Paulo, Brazil, which was constructed in 1976, then in 1985, for the first African temple which was built in Johannesburg.

'Oh, there’s my ring!'

'Oh, there’s my ring!'
Garith Hill presided over one of the branches in the stake at the time that the Johannesburg temple was being constructed. His responsibility was to counsel with each active family in the branch and suggest an amount that they donate towards the building of the temple. The process was known as an assessment.
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“It was a challenge for me because, basically, we were given the instruction by our priesthood leaders to call the membership in and tell them this is how much the Lord expected them to pay,” said Elder Hill. “It was a very spiritual experience for me and for many of the members. Many of them responded that they did not know how they would be able to pay that money. But, miraculously, within months of them having received that assessment, most of them stood up in fast and testimony meeting and told of ways that the Lord had blessed them and enabled them to pay [the amount we had asked of them].” 

Brother Hill went through the same process with his own family. “I went to my wife and I told her, this is what the Lord expects us to pay.  And there was no way that we would be able to meet that assessment, ordinarily.  And so, we looked at what assets we had that we could sell. [My wife] Lyris said, ‘I don’t need my engagement ring anymore.  I’m married now and we are sealed in the temple.’ She took off her ring and she said, ‘Let’s sell this and it can go towards our assessment for the Johannesburg South Africa temple.’  We sold the engagement ring and paid the money,” said Elder Hill. Now, whenever the Hills travel to the Johannesburg temple and Sister Hill sees “a little twinkle in the wall” she says, “Oh, there’s my engagement ring!”

The faith and sacrifice of hundreds of members during these years helped to prepare their hearts to receive a temple in their own city many years later.