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Area Presidency February  Message

“The Growth of the Church in West Africa”

AWA
ELDER VINSON
Elder Terence M. Vinson, Africa West Area President

Having lived in West Africa now for almost 5 years, I am still amazed at the growth of the Church here. My wife, Kay, and I arrived in July 2013, just after Elder Joseph W Sitati had created the Warri Nigeria Stake earlier that same month and prior to his departure from West Africa. I was impressed and surprised at how quickly the Church had grown from the first stake in West Africa in May 1988 to this Warri Nigeria Stake, the 38th in West Africa just 25 years after the first. Although the Church then had a presence in 7 countries of West Africa, there were stakes in only 4 of those 7 countries.

But I had no concept of the acceleration that was about to come. As at the end of December 2017, there are now three more countries (Senegal, Guinea, and Mali) where branches of the Church have been formed, bringing to 10 the number of countries with a Church presence within West Africa. And 7 of those 10 countries are contributors to the total of 96 stakes now in West Africa.

The 100th stake of the Church in the Africa West Area will be created just 30 years after the first.

This growth has been phenomenal, but it is not the most important measure of the strength of the church. As we know, the church does not consist of buildings and infrastructure; rather, it consists of members committed to living the gospel and keeping their covenants, as taught by Moroni:

“And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful into prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and finisher of their faith.

And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.

And they did meet together oft to partake of bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus.” (Moroni 6:4-6)

Both the growth, and the strength, of the church in West Africa lies in the hearts and souls of the members. There is great faith and love for God, and there is love and concern for one’s neighbour. In fact, it is no surprise that the strength of the church here is based on the two “great commandments” (Matt. 22:37-40). The people of West Africa, in general, love God, and they love their neighbour.

Another key to the growth and strengthening of the church here is that many young men and young women have responded to President Monson’s call, as clearly given by him in October 2010:

“First, to young men of the Aaronic Priesthood and to you young men who are becoming elders: I repeat what prophets have long taught—that every worthy, able young man should prepare to serve a mission. Missionary service is a priesthood duty—an obligation the Lord expects of us who have been given so very much. Young men, I admonish you to prepare for service as a missionary. Keep yourselves clean and pure and worthy to represent the Lord. Maintain your health and strength. Study the scriptures. Where such is available, participate in seminary or institute. Familiarize yourself with the missionary handbook Preach My Gospel.

A word to you young sisters: while you do not have the same priesthood responsibility as do the young men to serve as full-time missionaries, you also make a valuable contribution as missionaries, and we welcome your service.” (President Thomas S Monson, Oct. 2010 General Conference)

This has not only provided a force of missionaries led by the Spirit, but it has provided wards and branches with young but mature men and women of quality and experience beyond their years, to add to the strength of those wards and branches, and of the stakes and districts. We are only limited by the number of those responding to the Lord’s call through His prophet, to be prepared and to serve missions.

We see that cycle now beginning in Dakar, Senegal. The first two missionaries to be called as missionaries from that country, Elders Batoumeni and Ngoudiabantou, travelled from the MTC to their missions in early November 2017, one to the Ghana Accra West Mission, and the other to the Ghana Kumasi Mission. They will return in two years, experienced in matters of the Spirit and with great maturity, to provide increased strength to the growing church in Dakar, Senegal.

Especially limiting is the lack of sister missionaries. Most mission presidents want more sister missionaries as they are so productive and effective, both in finding and teaching, and in adding a different, and needed, perspective to the work. In West Africa, only African sisters are permitted to serve. So, our missions are in need of more sisters to be prepared and willing to do so. We invite all worthy young men to fulfil their responsibility to be prepared and to serve a mission, and we welcome, just as strongly, all worthy young women who may be considering serving to do the same.

This is part of the gathering of the children of Israel. It seems to me that the blood of Israel flows strongly in the veins of West Africans. The gathering will only occur as we all assist in that process of inviting souls unto Christ.

The Lord wants to gather His children “as a hen gathereth her chickens” He said four times in 3 Nephi 10:4-6. His efforts to gather depend on our efforts to be His hands.

An article by Philip Allred which appeared in Meridien Magazine some years ago, better describes this analogy and its reference to the Saviour’s Atoning Sacrifice, as follows.

“A few years ago, a colleague of mine at Idaho State University related one of his student's experiences that help illustrate this mother hen symbolism. The student, a young man, had been helping inspect some fire damage just outside of town from a recent blaze. As he and the other volunteers were assisting one of the inspectors, they noticed several smouldering mounds across the scorched earth. Intrigued, he asked the inspector what these were.

The inspector replied that he should kick one of the piles. He did. To his great surprise several baby Sage Grouse chicks ran out from under the upturned mound. He was fascinated. How ingenious he though, these little chicks had known to run underneath this refuge. The young man asked the inspector how the chicks knew about this natural shelter.

To his amazement, the inspector replied that they were not natural at all; instead this smouldering heap was none other than the remains of their mother. The inspector continued to explain that when a fire breaks out the mother hen calls out to her young ones and stretches out her arm so that they can run inside to her protective embrace.”

Can you see the similarity of this example to what the Saviour had done for you and me? What can we do for Him?

We again invite all to consider and ACT upon the Lord’s counsel given previously: “And if any man among you be strong in the Spirit, let him take with him, him that is weak, that he may be edified in all meekness, that he may become strong also. ….. Behold, this is the way that mine apostles, in ancient days, built up my church unto me.” (D&C 84:106, 108)

This invitation is to adults, married or single, and to Youth and children. None are exempt from this opportunity and responsibility that we have taken upon ourselves in our baptismal covenants. Are we willing to do as we have covenanted – to bear one another’s burdens, to mourn with those that mourn, to comfort those needing comfort, to stand as witnesses of God always in both word and actions? Are we willing to eject pride and a sense of entitlement from our lives, and to embrace and teach the principle of true integrity?

If the answers are yes, who will you take and to what will you take them? Will you take them to the sacrament service, to the temple, to the missionaries, or to your home to study the scriptures or to understand real integrity with you? Let us help our Redeemer gather His chickens in West Africa, a land of faith, kindness, and love. That will truly grow the Church, as the vehicle for administering the ordinances, to be strong. It will also grow the church, as the combination of all the Latter-day saints in West Africa, to be strong, sure and united.