A Vision for Africa 

A Vision for Africa by S. Mark Palmer

'The true strength of the Church is not found in the beauty of its meetinghouses, the size of its congregations, or the number of wards and stakes, but in the faith and testimonies of individual members, seeking to make and honor sacred covenants—as they love, serve and minister to one another.' 

Last October my wife Jacqui and I attended General Conference in Salt Lake City. We were surrounded by many thousands of members of the church, gathered together in the magnificent and impressive Conference Center. There is a feeling of such joy as the Saints gather in large numbers from all over the world, and throughout the world, to listen to the words of living prophets and apostles in the shadow of the historic Salt Lake Temple, a tangible symbol of sacrifice by a covenant-making and covenant-keeping people.

We returned to our beloved African continent, where the following Sunday we met with a small group of Saints in a rented facility in Kigali, Rwanda. Although the congregation was tiny compared to what we had experienced the week before, we felt such joy to be with these wonderful Saints who are loving, serving, and ministering to one another. Rwanda is a country of 13 million people and right now the Church is young and small in number of members. But the Spirit is strong among these Saints, so many of whom are recent converts. After the meeting we chatted with a delightful group of young adults, all baptized within the past year and who are preparing to selflessly serve others by going on missions.[1]

The same feeling of testimony and willingness to serve existed amongst a small group of brethren who met together in a tiny log schoolhouse in Kirtland, Ohio, USA in 1834. In this little house of about 14 square feet were gathered all the priesthood holders on earth at that time. After the brethren had borne testimony, the prophet Joseph stood and said “ I want to say that you know no more about the destiny of this church… than a babe on its mothers lap….It is only a handful of Priesthood you see here tonight but this Church will fill…the world.”[2] So it is that few of us truly comprehend the destiny of the Church in Africa, but we glimpse this future in the pure testimonies of those who love and follow Jesus Christ and have taken His name upon them by covenant.

Recently we were assigned to teach missionaries in Ethiopia, the largest country by population in the Africa Southeast Area with over 100 million people. We found twelve young elders full of faith in Christ as they minister to all by sharing the gospel with those not of our faith[3] who are willing to listen. Those missionaries understand that although few in number, they, along with our faithful members in Ethiopia, are like the sons of Mosiah-- inviting others to come unto Christ by teaching faith in Christ, the joy of repentance and the blessings of entering into sacred baptismal covenants.

In a similar way Jesus and His small following of disciples must have at first seemed insignificant to the proud and well-established sects of His time. Yet as His disciples straightway accepted His invitation to follow Him, this small number of men and women from Galilee grew in faith and testimony until Peter was able to answer the searching question “Whom say ye that I am?” with the declaration that “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”[4]

In one of the smallest countries in Africa we have a few faithful Saints who worship together each Sunday, even though we do not have any established wards or branches. Most of these brothers and sisters are alone, far from their families and on temporary and very challenging work assignments. The group is so small that there are few formal callings. Not long ago, Jacqui and I were blessed to meet with some of these faithful Saints in a simple non-denominational chapel on a US military base. They are all expats and came from far-away places including Samoa and Hawaii. The group included a wonderful recent convert, and we were delighted to find each member shining with the light of the gospel in their eyes. We shall not forget the great joy we felt as we witnessed this small band of covenant-keeping disciples of Christ loving, serving and ministering to one another.5

We both were deeply touched by this sweet experience as it made us reflect on our earliest memories of Church. As a young girl, while living in Nigeria, Jacqui and her family had sacrament meeting each Sunday in their home, as there were no other members of the Church within 3000 miles of Kaduna. When I was a little boy, we lived on a sheep farm in rural New Zealand, far from any organized ward or branch. With approval from the mission president, my father also administered the ordinance of the sacrament each Sunday during a simple service in our living room that included talks, hymns and prayers by members of our young family. Jacqui and I both understand in a very personal way what it is to be part of a home centered church where faith is nourished, and the Spirit abounds in homes of gospel learning. We cherish sacred covenants later made at baptism and in the House of the Lord. And we trust in the Lord’s promise that “where two or three (or more) are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”[6]

There are times when each of us can feel small and alone. Perhaps we are the only member of the Church in our family. We may be the only member of the Church in our school or place of work. We may live far from a temple or meet in a tiny rented facility on Sundays. Yet we will never be truly alone as we honor the covenants we have made with the Lord, ministering to one another, feasting on the Book of Mormon,[7] and trusting in the promise of His Spirit always being with us[8] as we repent by turning unto Him.[9]

The true strength of the Church is not found in the beauty of its meetinghouses, the size of its congregations, or the number of wards and stakes, but in the faith and testimonies of individual members, as they seek to make and honor sacred covenants, as they love, serve and minister to one another. This vision is described in the Africa Southeast Area Plan. No matter our personal circumstances, let us each “deepen our conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ in our hearts and within our homes.”[10] As we do so we will be “establishing the Church on a sure foundation”[11] which will lead it to “come forth out of obscurity and out of darkness”[12] and fulfill its destiny among Our Heavenly Father’s children on the African continent.

[1] Africa Southeast Area Plan

[2] Wilford Woodruff as quoted in “Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith”

[3] Africa Southeast Area Plan

[4] Matthew 16:15

[5] Africa Southeast Area Plan

[6] Matthew 18:20

[7] Africa Southeast Area Plan

[8] Moroni 4:3

[9] Helaman 7:17

[10] Africa Southeast Area Plan – Vision

[11] Africa Southeast Area Plan – Vision

[12] Doctrine and Covenants 1:30