“Voice from Nigeria,” Ensign, Dec. 1980, 29
Taken from the letters of Anthony Obinna, this is the story of him and his wife, Fidelia Njoku Obinna, the first black members of the Church in West Africa. Brother Obinna was the first branch president and Sister Obinna the Relief Society president of the first native branch of the Church established in black Africa.
Uzodimma was the name given to me by my parents; it means “the best way” or “Where the way is good or gainful, no one recognizes the leader, but where it is bad and has no gains, the leader is condemned and receives all the blames.”
I was born in 1928 in Umuelem Enyiogugu in Aboh Mbaise, Local Government Area of Imo State, Owerri, in Nigeria. I did not know my grandfathers, but only heard stories about their lives and how they lived. My father’s name was Obinna Ugochukwu. Obinna means “One who is very dear to his father.” Ugochukwu was an Igbo word meaning “gift from God.” My parents and grandparents were idol worshippers. Every year they promised their gods such animals as goats, sheep, hens and fowls, and many other things, including farm products to protect their lives and those of their families. My father had three wives, for it was an Igbo custom for one to marry as many wives as he could maintain.
My father was an influential man, a peacemaker, a lover of truth, a local judge, and one who opposed evils and lies. He was a farmer as well as a trader and very humble in his ways. He had twenty-four children and many died when they were very young. There are eleven sons and four daughters now living, with a great many grandchildren.
During that era of primitive times our people detested Western education and hated anyone who talked to them about sending their children to school or taking them to church. They were always afraid of white men and never wanted to appear before them or go near them. They wanted their children to remain at home, farming on their plots of land. Only people who were regarded as unhelpful members of the family were allowed to go to school or church. It was very difficult to send girls to school, for their work added to the income of the family.
I was very fortunate, and little did I think how much God had in store for me. I was the fifth child. My parents sent me to school in 1937, when an English visitor spoke to my father and he could not understand him; so my father made up his mind to send me to school. After I completed my standard six course in 1944, the second world war brought hardship to us. It was difficult to secure employment, so I left for Jos in northern Nigeria and took up teaching as my career. By then I was 17. A Catholic priest encouraged me to take correspondence courses from Wolsey Hall, Oxford. I was very interested in subjects like English, geography, economics, history, religion, and health science, and I did well at my courses.
In 1950 I married my dear wife Fidelia Njoku. She was born at Ibeku Okwuato in Aboh Mbaise Local Government Area in 1930, the daughter of Njoku Ugonabo and Mrs. Ekeoma. Both parents died when she was very young, and as a result she was denied the opportunity of education. As an orphan with younger brothers and sisters to support, she was engaged in petty trading, covering many miles away from home to distant markets to make a living. She had embraced the Catholic religion and was appointed leader in many organizations. She told me that God was directing all her affairs because of very strong faith she had in him, and that she did all she could to avoid the temptations of the devil.
During the early years of our marriage, we had series of troubles as a result of miscarriages. All our hopes were placed in God’s protection and the advice from our doctors. Things were very difficult, so I became a trader, with my wife as the storekeeper. She was honest and deserved the honour and admiration of people around us, who regarded her as a worthy homemaker and example to other women. Her duty is ever to give sound advice to people in all walks of life whenever her attention is needed, and her family responsibilities are the first things in her life.
In 1952 I started teaching and struggled hard to further my education. My wife was patient enough to wait for me to go to teacher training colleges for four years. I had a marvelous teaching career. I did not know that God had a work for me to do, besides my small efforts in the teaching profession.
In November 1965, I was visited in a dream by a tall person carrying a walking stick in his right hand. He asked whether I had read about Christian and Christiana from A Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. I told him that I had forgotten it and he told me to read it again. After a few months the same personage appeared to me again and took me to a most beautiful building and showed me everything in it. That personage appeared to me three times.
During the Nigerian civil war, when we were confined to the house, I picked up an old copy of the Reader’s Digest for September 1958. I opened it at page 34 and saw a picture of the same beautiful building I had been shown around in my dream, and immediately I recognized it. The heading was “The March of the Mormons.” I had never before heard the word Mormons. I started to read the story because of the picture of the building I had seen in my dream. I discovered that it was all about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
From the time I finished reading the story, I had no rest of mind any longer. My whole attention was focused on my new discovery. I rushed out immediately to tell my brothers, who were all amazed and astonished to hear the story.
By that time there was a blockade all over Nigeria, so I could not write any letters to the headquarters of the Church. At the removal of the blockade in 1971 I wrote a letter for instructions. Pamphlets, tracts, and a Book of Mormon were sent to me, including “Joseph Smith’s Testimony” about the restoration of the gospel. Brother LaMar S. Williams was in the Missionary Department at that time, and his instructions were that they had no authority to organize the Church in Nigeria then. I was totally disappointed, but the Holy Spirit moved me to continue writing. Many a time in dreams I saw some of the missionaries of the Church discussing matters about the Church.
Persecutions, name calling, and all kinds of abuses were rendered to me. I was persecuted in various ways but I kept deaf ears. I knew I had discovered the truth and men’s threats could not move me and my group. So we continued asking God to open the door for us.
Elder W. Grant Bangerter answered a letter I sent in the same way—that the Church could not be organized in Nigeria yet, but that the leadership had the desire to do so.
On 9 October 1976, I wrote to Elder Bangerter:
“I have received your letter of Sept. 24 with thanks. I have noted what you said therein. We are not disencouraged anyhow but shall continue to pursue the practice of our faith which we have found to be true. …
“We are very optimistic that Our Lord Jesus Christ will make it possible in future for the Church to take more direct action. We are well aware that our faith is being tried. We are doing everything we can to establish the truth among so many of Our Heavenly Father’s children in this part of the world.”
Brother Williams gave us a program to follow on Sundays. We continued praying always, until 21st of November 1978, when the Church was officially opened for the black race (in Africa) with the authority to hold the priesthood and administer the ordinances thereof.
Nineteen members were baptized on the above date by Elders Rendell N. Mabey, Edwin Q. Cannon, Jr., and A. Bruce Knudsen. The Aboh Branch was organized, with Anthony Obinna as president, his brothers Francis and Raymond as his counselors, and his wife Fidelia as Relief Society president. When President Obinna expressed concern about the propriety of having his own family in these offices, Elder Mabey assured him that they had been chosen for their worthiness, not for their kinship. The new branch presidency promptly reported the event in a jubilant letter to the First Presidency:
“The entire members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in this part of Nigeria have the pleasure to thank you and the Latter Day Saints throughout the world for opening the door for the Gospel to come to our people in its fullness.
“We are happy for the many hours in the Upper Room of the Temple you spent supplicating the Lord to bring us into the fold. We thank our Heavenly Father for hearing your prayers and ours and by revelation has confirmed the long promised day, and has granted the holy priesthood to us, with the power to exercise its divine authority and enjoy every blessings of the temple. …
“There is no doubt that the Church here will grow and become a mighty centre for the Saints and bring progress enough to the people of Nigeria as it is doing all over the world.”
I am blessed with a humble and loyal wife, with seven fine and beautiful children who are all members of the true church on earth. My children are all educated. My first daughter and my first son are certificated teachers. Bonaventure has completed secondary class five, Angella is in secondary class four, Stella Ego is in secondary class two, and Anastasia is in secondary class one. The youngest boy in the family entered the college in September 1980.
The most important talk and love in my house is about “our church.” As Christ is guarding his true church, membership is increasing daily, and I testify that in the future, the membership of the Church will be as great as the sand on the seashore. God is great and performs wonders. No human power can withhold God’s work in this world.