Joseph Sitati, First Kenyan District President

Joseph Sitati, First Kenyan District President

Joseph Wafula Sitati was born in Bungoma, Kenya, in May 1952. He married Gladys Nangoni in July 1976. They are the parents of five children and currently reside in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Elder Sitati joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1986. His first knowledge of the LDS Church came through a 1985 business conversation. The meeting agenda turned from engineering to religion, and Elder Sitati discovered an entirely new approach to life in the message his colleague shared.

“I understood who I am as a child of God, a new concept for me. … I knew why I was here on earth, where I was going and why. I saw a new perspective on the family — that it was the central doctrine of the Church. That information helped me reorder my priorities. I had thought that success in the world would apply in my family, but it’s really the other way around.”

In 1989 government officials in Kenya restricted members to meeting in groups of no more than nine adults. Then in July 1989 all full-time missionaries were asked to leave the country. Brother Sitati, a convert of only three years, was set apart as the first Kenyan district president. Under President Sitati’s direction, small groups were formed to meet in homes. He recalled: “Each group had a priesthood leader, but our numbers were so few. That was one of the great challenges at that time. A number of people fell away. In my own mind there was no doubt at all that this problem would be solved. I saw this as a passing phase.”

President Sitati asked the members to fast and pray that the Church might become officially registered with the government. In family and personal prayers, they pled for a miracle. There was a great unity of faith in this matter, even among the children. If family members failed to ask the Lord to open the way for the Church to become registered in their land, the little children would remind them and ask that the prayer be said again.

On 25 February 1991, President Sitati, Charles Asiago, and two other brethren were asked to come to the attorney general’s office. They were overjoyed when they were presented with the registration certificate for the Church. President Sitati recalled, “It was a very, very happy occasion. We cried. I thought I was dreaming.” In April 1991, the LDS Church was also registered in Uganda. In October 1991 Elder James E. Faust of the Quorum of the Twelve dedicated Uganda and Kenya for the preaching of the gospel and the building up of the Lord’s Church.

Since joining the Church in 1986, Elder Sitati has served in numerous callings, including branch president’s counselor, branch president, district president, mission president’s counselor, stake president, Area Seventy, and mission president. He also served as the Church's international director of Public Affairs for Africa.

On April 4, 2009, at age 56, Elder Sitati was sustained a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At the time of his call, he had been serving as president of the Nigeria Calabar Mission.

Elder Sitati earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Nairobi in 1975 and a diploma in accounting and finance from the Association of Certified Accountants. He has also done course work for the MBA degree from the same university in 2000 and worked as an executive for “Reach the Children,” a nongovernmental organization. Prior to that, he worked in several positions with the Total Group, the 4th largest oil and gas company in the world. Among those positions was that of strategy manager at Total Kenya and consultant for the overseas division. 

Elder Sitati observed this about the LDS Church in Africa: “Now is a time of great transition across Africa. Cultural traditions are breaking down; people are migrating to the cities. In a new and unfamiliar environment with very little to hold on to, they become more responsive to the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are, overall, a religious people, very receptive to the Spirit, and they find a sure hope in the teachings of the Church. They join the gospel culture.”

Elder Sitati described positive changes in the lives of a pair of fellow Africans who also became members of the LDS Church:

Isaac worked as a gardener but was unable to support his wife, who, of economic necessity, lived 2 ½ hours from Nairobi. After his baptism and following Church teachings, Isaac broadened his understanding of his personal potential. He worked hard, volunteered for additional training and found a new job. The new Church member eventually upgraded from an embassy driver’s job to his own business.

Shem lost his job shortly after he joined the Church in 1989. His wife’s experiences in Relief Society helped them start a food business. “They now have a thriving catering business based on the skills they learned in Relief Society,” Elder Sitati explained.

Elder Sitati recently spoke at the University of Utah on race, self-reliance and church growth in Africa. A report of that event can be read here:

Excerpted by Collette Burgoyne