“Orderly Growth Marks Church in Zaire,” Ensign, Apr. 1991, 76–77
In one respect, serving in Zaire is a missionary’s dream come true. The couples assigned here do not have to knock on doors or seek investigators; people line up every Sunday at the close of meetings to request the six discussions. Missionary couples schedule two or three teaching groups a day, each made up of as many as four people. They teach in French or use a Lingala or Tshiluba translator, and every month each companionship baptizes eight to twelve new members.
But there are also challenges that go along with living in this country of phenomenal gospel growth. Until twenty-eight years ago, when the natives expelled the European government, Zaire was the Belgian Congo of Stanley and Livingston fame. It is one of the largest countries in Africa and is the size of the United States from the Mississippi River to the East Coast. It is bounded on the north and west by the Congo River. The country is rich in mineral resources and could feed much of Africa from its large, fertile plains, yet it is a poor country and must import food from South Africa or Europe. Zaire also has challenges with high unemployment and inflation, as well as with dysentery and malaria, which cause many deaths annually.
Zaire was dedicated for the preaching of the gospel by Elder Marvin J. Ashton in 1987. Five other people were present at the meeting: the mission president and his wife, an LDS United States embassy officer and his wife, and one black member who had been baptized in France. Today there are eight branches in Kinshasa, the country’s capital, and two in Lubumbashi.
Because Catholic and Protestant missionaries have been working in Zaire for centuries, people have a strong foundation in Christianity. Many know the Bible well. This makes them especially receptive to the Book of Mormon because the additional scripture fills in gaps in their Bible training.
Most adult Church members in Zaire are young males in their late teens to early forties. This is partly because tribal tradition requires a man to investigate something first and then take it to his wife and children. Church meetings are also predominantly male because of the high cost of transportation. If a man brought his whole family to church by bus or taxi, they might have to go without food for the next few days. And walking miles in the hot, humid climate is difficult, especially for women and children.
On the other hand, having so many brethren in the Church means that there are enough priesthood holders to assume leadership positions and to help integrate new members into the growing branches.
In Kinshasa, a sprawling city of about six million people, none of the members have cars; that means missionaries take the Church to the people instead of bringing them to the Church. Some of the major duties of missionary couples are to identify buildings in the city that are close to centers of member population; oversee carpenters, electricians, and plumbers in their work to convert buildings to chapels; and shop for lumber and hardware to build benches, lecterns, sacrament tables, and blackboards. When missionaries attend meetings in the weeks after a new chapel is finished, they often find, instead of the fifteen or twenty members who live in the area, more than a hundred people in the building and others standing at the windows and doors to hear the services.
The citizens of Zaire are dignified and hopeful. Even more impressive is their uncommon depth of spirituality, their abundance of faith, and their keen sensitivity to the workings of the Spirit. It is this sensitivity that helps them believe and readily accept the gospel, receive the promptings of the Spirit, and grow in faith.
One member, a university professor, studied for the ministry and was offered a fine position, a good salary, and an automobile if he would stay in that church. A friend told him he was a fool to give all this up for the Mormons. He answered, “How can I accept this position when I know the Church is true?” Both he and his friend were baptized, and he is now in a branch presidency.
One young man who had been seeking the true church says that when he walked down a street and saw the sign in front of an LDS chapel, “I knew I had found the right church.”
Another man, skeptical of the Book of Mormon, had intended to discontinue the missionary lessons. Then he dreamed he was sitting at a kitchen table with his deceased father. His father showed him a copy of the Book of Mormon and said, “Son, this book is true.” The man was baptized soon afterward.
A branch president in Zaire, a former Protestant minister and Bible scholar, was puzzled about the Bible’s references to tithing. When someone told him Mormons paid tithing, he went looking for information about the Church. He found little at the library, so he went to the U.S. embassy to find out if the Church was organized in Zaire. Embassy employees sent him to visit the Zaire Kinshasa Mission president, who was registered along with all other citizens of the United States. The mission president taught the minister the discussions, and he was baptized, giving up his employment for the gospel. Several months later he was appointed head of a government bureau.
The Lord is helping the Zairian people overcome their challenges. And he will continue to do so as more and more people accept his gospel and live according to its principles. His hand is surely over Zaire.