“Five General Authorities Address South Africans,” Ensign, May 1992, 110–11
For the first time in the 140 years that the Church has been in South Africa, five General Authorities met with the Saints there in a single meeting. It was also the first time that the two most senior members of the Quorum of the Twelve visited that country together.
The occasion was a regional conference held in Johannesburg on February 9. Speaking to the congregation were President Howard W. Hunter, president of the Quorum of the Twelve; Elder Boyd K. Packer, also of the Twelve; Elder Richard P. Lindsay of the Seventy, president of the Africa Area; and his counselors, Elder J Ballard Washburn and Elder Earl C. Tingey of the Seventy.
South Africa “is a good place to be, a good place to live with good people,” President Hunter told the audience. “What a glorious thing it is to be a member of the Church, to have the benefit of modern-day revelation, to have friends, to have a code of living that is different from the world’s and that will bring us happiness if we are willing to follow its admonitions and live in righteousness.”
For most of his address, President Hunter commented on the Savior’s parable of the plowman. “The Master made it clear,” he said, “that the work of the kingdom must take precedence over all other things. … Those who become disciples of the Master must put their hand to the plow and, without any turning back, prove themselves to be worthy plowmen. By turning over the old dirt of tradition, they prepare the field for the spread of Christianity into the world.”
He cited the work of missionaries, seminary and institute teachers, and Church leaders as examples of modern-day plowing. “This is hard work,” President Hunter said. “But if we submit ourselves to the easy, little progress is made. … May we put our hands to the plow and not look back, and may we earn a place in the kingdom of God by our faithfulness.”
Elder Packer told the assembled Saints that this was his third visit to South Africa. “If I have an impression of [my visit] this time,” he said, “the word change comes to mind—and not just change, but progress. … I sense that as the future unfolds that there will be great and important changes ahead.”
South Africa is undergoing great change at present as its various cultures seek new ways of working together to build a stronger and more cohesive society. Many have worried about the future. To those assembled at the conference, Elder Packer assured them that “there is reason to have courage and hope and gratitude to live in such a wonderful land.”
He addressed the bulk of his remarks to the youth, describing his first trip to southern Africa and a lesson he learned, later shared in general conference, of the danger of crocodiles, which camouflage themselves in muddy elephant tracks. In the same way, “there are spiritual crocodiles all around,” he told the youth. “And they are … well disguised.” There is safety, however, in listening to parents and teachers as they point out dangers.
Elder Packer also shared the story of his son, who learned that a wild horse can’t be tamed by physical strength. He pointed out that, like a wild horse, “life is big, and it can be mean and dangerous, but you don’t whip it with your brute strength. You must use something else. … If you learn to listen to the Holy Ghost, then the Lord will watch over you and you can meet any challenge.”
To the parents, Elder Packer said, “Stand steady and look to the future. Erase fear. … Jesus presides over this church. He is our redeemer. If we know him—and we can know him—then our lives can be full of security and faith.”
Elder Lindsay addressed a related theme. “As Elder Washburn and Elder Tingey and I and our wives have traveled throughout many of the nations of this great [African] continent, the question of peace—the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ—has been much in our minds. …
“Here in South Africa we are experiencing some considerable degree of turmoil. Elsewhere in the world there are conflicts. There is never a time that we are without violent controversies. … The blessings of the gospel are universal, and so is the Lord’s formula for peace: Keep the commandments of God and serve his children.”
Elder Lindsay went on to declare that peace “begins in our hearts; it is furthered in our homes. If we are faithful, and if we are righteous, we will set the pattern for this great nation in the pursuit of peace.”
Elder Washburn commented that he has known personally twenty-one of the twenty-eight men called to the Quorum of the Twelve during his lifetime. “I’ve been blessed on occasion to be present when the Lord has revealed his will to them,” he said. “I’ve seen their love and consideration for each other and for all of Heavenly Father’s children. For forty years I have heard them speak the word of God.”
Elder Tingey echoed Elder Washburn’s remarks, saying that “the Peters and the Johns of yesteryear are the Elder Hunters and Elder Packers of today. It is my humble testimony that if you will listen and ponder and think and talk about … what you hear and feel today, you will receive that which the Lord desires of you, and it will become personal revelation to you.”
Others who addressed the conference were Sister Inis Hunter, Sister Donna Packer, regional representative Don Harper, Johannesburg temple president Charles Canfield, and Johannesburg mission president Peter Mourik. A choir of young people from various ethnic backgrounds provided music for the two-hour meeting.