“South Africa: Land of Good Hope,” Ensign, Feb. 1993, 33
Just off the southern tip of South Africa, two oceans collide. A swift Atlantic current sweeping up from the Antarctic runs head-on into a slower and warmer current flowing out of the equatorial Indian Ocean. When they merge, somewhere near the Cape of Good Hope, the collision often creates turbulent, even dangerous weather. Indeed, when Bartholomeu Dias first rounded the cape in 1488, his ship was so buffeted that he called it the Cape of Storms. It was Portuguese King John II, hoping that Dias had discovered a new route to the riches of the East, who renamed it the Cape of Good Hope.
Both names define the nature of not only the cape, but the rest of South Africa as well. The peoples of South Africa represent a wide variety of cultures, some of them oceans apart, and encounters among them are not always smooth. But flowing together from north and south, east and west, they are merging to create out of their differences a future of good hope. Much of that hope is reflected these days in talk of creating a “new South Africa.” In many ways, that new vision already exists among the Latter-day Saints, who represent all of the cultural variety in the country. As reflected in the daily lives of the members of the Church, the gospel of Jesus Christ is solving many of the political and cultural conflicts that afflict this land of stunning natural beauty and human diversity.
To appreciate the challenges facing the Latter-day Saints in South Africa and the hope they place in the future, one must know something of South Africa’s past as well as the social, political, and economic circumstances in which the members find themselves.
Historians believe that the first people to live in southern Africa were the Khoikhoi and the San. These brown-skinned herders and hunters were eventually joined—sometimes peacefully, sometimes not—by darker-skinned groups migrating from central Africa into southern Africa’s fertile western valleys.
In the seventeenth century, several European cultures began consistent contact with these groups. The most notable were Dutch settlers, joined by French Huguenots and Germans, who made their first home in Cape Town, then began moving farther and farther north and east. As they expanded, they encountered, sometimes violently, the Khoikhoi, the San, and Bantu-speaking groups like the Xhosa and the Zulu. In time, isolated from Europe, these pioneering farmers developed their own culture and adopted southern Africa as their homeland. They called themselves Afrikaners—“the Africans.”
The British came to southern Africa late in the eighteenth century. With them came a number of Indian servants and plantation workers who were later joined by other Asians when gold and diamonds were discovered.
These, then, are the major cultural groups in South Africa today. In the nomenclature used by South Africans when referring to themselves, the groups are the San (commonly called Bushmen), the blacks (consisting of at least eight major nations), the whites (consisting mostly of the English and the Afrikaners), the Asians (most prominently the Indians), and the coloureds (a racial mixture of all the groups). They are joined by emigrants from around the world who increasingly eddy into South Africa’s cultural currents.
The challenge presented by this mixing is not without precedent. North America, for example, has received diverse cultural groups ever since Europeans discovered the continent. What may be unique in South Africa, however, is the wide variety of cultures that are mixing together in such a short period of time and in such a small space. Having lived separately for hundreds of years, these cultures are now rushing together, compressing into a few short years the lessons it has taken other countries centuries to learn (if they have learned them at all).
The reason for that compression lies in long-standing cultural patterns, religious convictions, and economic systems codified after 1948 as a policy called apartheid. Apartheid (“apartness”) was based on the philosophy that separate peoples should pursue their own cultural and economic paths. The government therefore established homelands (large geographic areas, some treated as independent nations) and townships (residential areas near metropolitan areas) for nonwhite peoples to live in. Changing economic conditions and realities imposed by today’s worldwide community eventually revealed inequities and flaws in the policy, and it is no longer in force. Leaders throughout the nation are now struggling to create a new constitution that will meet the needs of all who make their home in South Africa.
The task is not easy. Having remained apart for so long, South Africa’s cultures face difficult challenges. Some traditions are common to all groups, of course, but others differ dramatically. A polite young Anglo, for example, might offer his bus seat to an elderly Xhosa, not knowing that in traditional Xhosa society, the young show respect by keeping their heads below those of their elders.
Of course, such minor cultural differences can be overcome with a little education. More difficult is learning to see the world the way others see it. In many traditional black societies, for example, musical ability is more highly esteemed than intellectual prowess. Indeed, in two languages the word stupid would be literally translated as “one who cannot sing.”
One of the greatest problems these cultural cross-currents create is the allure of a better standard of living in the cities, which attracts a steady stream of people from the rural areas. Ill prepared to adapt to the new culture and poorly educated, most find life difficult. Wages are low—if work can be obtained at all—and traditional values like family unity begin to break down. Crime has become a serious problem, particularly in the townships.
Faced with these problems, South Africans are seeking answers to a fundamental question that has muddied relations between peoples for millennia: How do diverse cultures peacefully combine?
For Latter-day Saints, the answer comes as a ship of light from other, eternal shores.
“The answer to bridging different cultures,” says Elder Richard P. Lindsay, president of the Africa Area, “is the gospel. What the Church is doing is building a gospel culture that transcends all boundaries and barriers.”
The final composition of that gospel culture yet awaits us—for, as Elder Lindsay suggests, we are still in the process of building it. There are undoubtedly a number of questions we have yet to answer. Johann Brummer, an educator living in Johannesburg, asks some interesting ones: “What is the essence of the gospel—that unchangeable and unchanging center which you cannot adapt to other cultures? Which aspects of a particular culture, for example, are healthy and wholesome parts of a people’s identity and needn’t be changed—and which aspects are peripheral, things they would be better off without?”
It will take experience and inspiration to answer such questions fully, but Elder Lindsay suggests some preliminary answers: “Building a gospel culture doesn’t mean the denial of everything in our separate heritages, although we must keep the doctrine pure and be willing to change certain traditions that aren’t compatible with the gospel.”
Jan Hugo, president of the Benoni stake, reflects on some of the early efforts in South Africa to bring the gospel to cultures new to the Church. “We learned much from those efforts,” President Hugo says. “Some of the mistakes were that very often we tried to Americanize or South Africanize the people instead of ‘gospelize’ them. We mustn’t try to force our own cultures onto people of other nations and cultures. It is the gospel, not any particular culture, that changes people’s lives.”
That insight applies to Western cultures as well. Obviously, not everything in Western civilization is of celestial quality and thus part of a gospel culture. That is the value of approaching different cultures with a measure of humility—there is always something we can learn from one another. Nowhere are the learning possibilities more evident than in the lives of missionary companions who, having come together from entirely different heritages, somehow work out their differences and develop an abiding love.
Elder David Vusi Mbhele is a Zulu from Kwa Mashu, a township on the outskirts of Durban. In February 1992 he was serving with Elder Evan Dean Vance from Utah. How were they getting along? “There have been some bumps along the way,” Elder Mbhele admits. “But we get along fine. When we have a problem, we just sit down and talk.”
Both elders consider their testimonies of the gospel a common bond. And that bond has developed into respect for each other. “Elder Vance is gold,” Elder Mbhele says. “He’s a born leader. He has taught me faith, a positive attitude, and hard work.” Elder Vance, in turn, admires Elder Mbhele’s facility with language. Elder Mbhele speaks Zulu, English, and Afrikaans (a form of Dutch developed by the Afrikaners during their isolation from Europe).
Perhaps the most powerful influence Elder Mbhele has had on Elder Vance’s life is “the way Elder Mbhele lives. He has taught me to relax and get to know the people. Before my mission, I was a little cold and independent. Elder Mbhele has taught me to be interdependent, to work with him.”
As Elder Vance and Elder Mbhele attest, the most important contribution the gospel makes in bringing diverse cultures together is its power to change lives. That change begins when a person determines to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. One of the blessings the Church enjoys in South Africa is that most South Africans (some 80 percent of the entire population) are already Christians—a result of early missionary efforts by Protestant and Catholic churches. This means that most people who join the Church have less of a cultural gap to overcome than they otherwise would. It makes the Lord’s work easier.
Colin Bricknell, president of the Durban stake, observes that “if people accept Jesus Christ as their Savior, no matter what religion they are affiliated with, they can have a spirit of Christian love within their souls that negates any feelings of aggression toward others.” Such acceptance, especially when coupled with the saving ordinances of the holy priesthood, literally transforms hearts. New converts like Mlungisi and Annah Fukuse of Soweto illustrate the changes that come.
Baptized in December 1991, the Fukuses were converted by simple explanations of basic gospel principles. “I was taught that if someone was going to be baptized,” Mlungisi says, “there were going to be changes in that somebody before he got baptized.” The idea of standards attracted him, as it has many others throughout South Africa.
“As soon as I understood that one must repent before being baptized,” Annah says, “I understood this was the right way. I also understood that Jesus is the good example and everyone must follow that good example. When we follow that good example, the Holy Ghost is with us.”
The changes in the Fukuses’ lives are remarkable. Annah explains: “Before, each of us used to go our own way. Now, since joining the Church, our minds are always together and we are loving each other.”
Mlungisi describes how the transformation even extends beyond their home. “Since joining the Church, I forget there are other nationalities. Whenever I look at somebody now, I see a brother. The only thing I wish is to tell these people what joy is inside me.”
Isaac Swartzberg of Pretoria believes that such rebirth, effected by the Holy Ghost, is the single greatest influence for good in South Africa today. Brother Swartzberg is a Jewish convert of three decades. An influential lawyer, he has done much to smooth the way politically and legally for the Church’s growth in South Africa. Even so, he insists that “the Spirit is the key to overcoming cultural differences; the gospel is the key to the future of South Africa.”
“With the gospel, all things are possible,” declares Christoffel Golden, president of the Pretoria stake. “The gospel brings a spirit into people’s lives which heals and also covers many of the so-called differences we have. I’ve also learned that before the Lord, all people are equal, yet all people are diverse.
“And I don’t think there’s a weakness in diversity. I think there’s a strength. As the Church continues to grow, members worldwide will learn what we have learned here in South Africa—that the inclusion of more and more cultures will dramatically enrich the Church and give it greater strength than it has ever had before.”
If there is indeed strength in diversity, that strength must include the diversity of experience members of the Church share with one another. Longtime members who struggled through the years when the Church was young have learned lessons they are eager to share with their new brothers and sisters. (See sidebar; see also Ensign, Mar. 1973, p. 4; Sept. 1986, p. 44.)
Among those lessons are the values of sacrifice, service, and love. Bishop Alan Hogben of the Sandton Ward in Johannesburg tells how sacrifice and love enabled him and his wife, Pauline, to be sealed in the temple. Soon after they were baptized in 1970, they began talking about attending the temple. “In those days,” Bishop Hogben says, “it meant going to London. That represented a financial challenge I felt was impossible to meet.”
Nevertheless, they decided to make the necessary sacrifices, and to firm up their commitment, they applied for a temple recommend. “When the mission president asked us when we planned to go,” Bishop Hogben says, “I said that I thought it would be in two and a half years.” That was in April 1972. The Hogbens were sealed five months later, in September.
Bishop Hogben explains how the miracle took place. “We were told that the only thing the Lord required of us was to make a commitment, and he would open the doors. So we set out with a very stringent budget that kept household expenses to a bare minimum.”
Interesting things started to happen. “There would come a knock on the door, and someone would bring us a little cake. For months, we would find a food parcel in the back seat of our car after church. Years later, we found that it came from a sister who knew she could never afford to go to the temple, but by helping us she felt she could participate vicariously in our temple experience.”
One evening after sacrament meeting, a member gave them R200—a substantial sum of money in those days. When they asked him why, he said that a man had given his family a gallon of petrol once when they had run out of gas. They had tried to pay him, but he said, “No, just give someone else a gallon when they need it.” The brother was just giving “his gallon of petrol” to someone who needed it.
“At last count, that R200 had contributed to at least four more couples going to the temple,” says Bishop Hogben. “When we returned from the temple, we gave that R200 to another couple, and they gave it to still another. To this day, we don’t know how far that R200 went.”
It is this kind of service and sacrifice that has kept the Church members in South Africa close to one another and to the Lord. They have met their challenges and have grown together in love, creating an ocean of experience from which new members can draw strength.
Today, most of the mature units of the Church in South Africa remain in the English and Afrikaner areas, simply because the Church has been doing missionary work there the longest. Only within the last decade or so has the Church begun to proselyte in other areas. Since a majority of the new converts are in the townships and homelands, most new converts are members of branches in these areas. Consequently, Church leaders in South Africa have learned to take the Church to the people rather than bring the people to the Church. In areas where transportation is inconvenient and expensive, local Church units are created to better serve the members.
“We’re proceeding very cautiously,” says Elder Earl C. Tingey of the Africa Area presidency. “We’re not here to set any records. We’re not impressed with baptismal statistics that are better than last year’s. We are impressed with teaching and training that prepares honest, sincere people to receive the gospel and then remain strong in the gospel after their baptism.”
That is one reason why the Church does not try to export the full program of the Church immediately into new, emerging areas of the Church. “In these small units, you focus on what they can do,” Elder Tingey points out. “You focus on the basic elements of the gospel—the essential covenants and ordinances and what you do each week to live the gospel. You attend church, partake of the sacrament, go home and have family home evening and daily prayer, pay your tithing and fast offerings. Anything else beyond that is a bonus.”
Another lesson Church leaders have learned is the value of encouraging leadership. Cultural transitions go much more smoothly when people have leaders who truly understand them because the leaders themselves are part of the culture. Such leadership is often facilitated by experienced members who, serving in shadow leadership roles, reach out to support and train new leaders. Some of the most effective shadow leaders in South Africa today are the missionary couples who are sent to serve in young branches—not as presidents of the branches, but as counselors, so local leaders can grow, steadied by the hand of experience.
Mary Mostert, recently released director of public affairs for the Africa Area, has observed this kind of training in action and believes that “the most revolutionary thing going on in Africa today is the leadership training that the Church is doing. Missionaries come, teach good leadership principles with the concept of serving your fellowman, and then leave so the new leaders can stand on their own.”
The mission presidents in South Africa try hard to make sure that each missionary sent to them from South Africa has a chance to serve in leadership roles among the various ethnic groups. This way, they can take their experience back with them to their home wards and branches.
Blaine Hudson, president of the Cape Town mission, tells the story of one Afrikaner missionary who so came to love the people he served that he asked to live among them in one of the rural areas—“with donkey, cart, the whole package. He wanted to learn what it was really like to be part of that culture,” President Hudson says. “As that kind of love is shared, great things will happen.”
Of all the lessons learned by the members in South Africa, it is perhaps the lessons of love that most easily translate from one culture to another. Ben De Wet of the Johannesburg temple presidency tells of the time when the Soweto Branch was split away from the Johannesburg Ward. Soweto is a black township on the outskirts of Johannesburg, and before the split the Soweto Saints had to travel long distances at considerable expense to attend church.
When the branch was created to alleviate this problem, stake leaders decided to send members of the Johannesburg Ward to be with them. They asked Bishop De Wet to call for volunteers. He was a little concerned about how his members would respond after years of functioning in a primarily white society. But when Bishop De Wet interviewed the families, most said they wanted to go, that they had been waiting for the opportunity for years. “We eventually sent ninety-three stalwarts into Soweto; some spent five years there,” he says. The longer they served, the more they loved it and the harder it was to leave.
David Barnett also had part in those early efforts. Today, as the president of the Johannesburg stake, he supervises the Soweto Saints’ ongoing training. He remarks that when the time came for the Soweto Branch members to stand on their own, there were many who stopped coming to church. They missed the association with their white brothers and sisters.
“We’ve got to be careful,” he says. “We’ve got to allow time for these new members to grow and learn. But at the same time, we cannot procrastinate. We must work together. We haven’t solved all of our problems, but we’re trying. In the process, we teach them—and they teach us.”
What does the future hold for the Church in South Africa? The youth are undoubtedly part of the answer. By all accounts, they seem to be moving into the future with more confidence and less conflict than previous generations.
Elder Lindsay describes a youth conference he visited in the Durban stake. The young people had come from many wards and ethnic groups. They first had a speech contest, then enjoyed a social. “You’d think that would be pretty challenging interculturally,” Elder Lindsay says. “But they had a great time. They adapted.”
Representative of these new young members are the youth of the Paarlzicht Branch, a mostly coloured unit in the Cape Town stake. Arthur Müller, an expatriate Swiss who has served as mentor for the members in Paarl, estimates that 70 percent of the branch is under the age of twenty-six.
“This means that we have lots of opportunities for leadership experience,” says Harold Lawrence, the branch’s Young Men president. “I like that. It teaches us discipline and going the extra mile. It also builds character.” Harold joined the Church when he was twenty-one. “I was a totally different person when I wasn’t a member,” he says. “But now that I’m a member, it’s easy to communicate with people. Life is easier.”
These young members illustrate an insight President Golden of the Pretoria stake shares: “In Afrikaans,” he says, “they have a saying which means, roughly translated: ‘Don’t go look for the baboon behind the mountain.’ People often perceive problems that are not really there. Our experience has been: Teach people the gospel principles, try to understand the best you can their culture and environment, and let nature and the Lord heal things.”
Much of the healing that is taking place in South Africa seems to be happening in the Johannesburg temple. Charles Canfield, recently released as president of the temple, describes an experience he had shortly after assuming his duties there.
“One day I heard a commotion in the temple and went back to restore some reverence. It so happened that a number of groups from all over South Africa had come that day. What I saw when I entered the room was friends greeting each other—coloured people embracing Afrikaners, British members embracing blacks. Where else but in the temple would you find that kind of natural outpouring of love?
“I learned a good lesson that day. I learned a new definition of reverence.”
President Canfield points out that the temple sits on a high point of ground in Johannesburg. It is very prominent, and at night pilots flying into Johannesburg often use its lights as a beacon.
The temple is indeed a beacon—a beacon symbolizing the good hope the gospel offers to all the people of South Africa. As the Latter-day Saints there have learned, whatever storms the future may bring, the gospel offers a safe haven of love and brotherhood to all who will sail into its quiet waters.
Afrikaner Jeff Swarts believes that his mother, who was not a Latter-day Saint, prayed the missionaries to him. In 1961, Jeff had given up on organized religion, and his mother was concerned about his life-style. She asked God to bring him a church that would stop his partying. “Not just any church will do,” she prayed.
It was not just any church that found him. A friend invited Jeff to listen to the Mormon missionaries. Jeff agreed, then relented. But when his mother discovered that he was going to cancel the appointment, she put her foot down. “Never fool with God,” she said.
So they came. The first thing Jeff said was, “I don’t believe in what you teach. I don’t believe in the three-in-one Trinity, and I don’t believe babies need to be baptized.” Imagine his surprise when the missionaries told him neither did they.
Jeff was converted by the Prophet Joseph Smith’s testimony. “The Spirit confirmed the story,” Jeff says. “God gave me new eyes to see with, new ears to hear with, and the Spirit to teach me. I’ve never looked back.”
Brother Swarts has served in many Church positions over the years. He has also been involved in helping black South Africans adapt to a capitalist culture. A few years ago he started a company to train them in such principles as time management and decision-making. “We must be wise and patient in helping them adjust to this new life-style,” he says.
Not just any schooling will do.
When the first LDS missionaries arrived in Cape Town in 1853, they climbed Lion’s Head (which they called Mount Brigham Heber Willard, in honor of the Church’s First Presidency) and dedicated the land to the growth of the gospel.
Within six months of their arrival, they had baptized 45 converts. By 1858, the number had grown to 243.
But this was the time of “gathering to Zion,” of building the fledgling church in the American west. Groups of new members, trekking to Port Elizabeth for the voyage to Zion, kept the numbers of Church members in South Africa low. The leadership gap left by these emigrations continued to be made up by the missionaries from America, but even that help was withdrawn between 1865 and 1903 when South African wars kept missionaries from the mission said to be the farthest in all the world from Church headquarters.
Left without missionaries for thirty-eight years, members supported one another the best they could until the mission was reopened in July 1903. Over the next fifty years, the South African Saints were left again to their own resources more than once, their efforts made doubly difficult by local anti-Mormon propaganda. Only time and the Saints’ consistent faithfulness have begun to dispel these difficulties.
The work took a leap forward in 1954 when Church President David O. McKay visited the country. Positive media reports followed the prophet, and during his visit he gave the mission president authority to bestow the priesthood on mission members at his own discretion. (Before then, a potential priesthood holder was required to trace his lineage outside the continent.) A vigorous building program was also begun—but for decades the nearest temple remained almost six thousand miles away, and few members could afford to go.
In 1973, President Spencer W. Kimball rededicated South Africa “to the preaching of the gospel … to the transformation of lives.” Among the many blessings pronounced by this prophet of God, none was more thrilling than his request that “processes might converge to bring a temple to this land” and that “no hungry or thirsty soul may ever miss the privilege of hearing and accepting the truth.”
President Kimball himself paved the way for the realization of both blessings. In 1985, just before his death, he sent President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency to dedicate the Johannesburg South Africa Temple. Seven years earlier, in June 1978, he had announced the Lord’s will that all worthy male members could now hold the priesthood.
With the doors open to all peoples, missionary work among South Africa’s diverse cultures has steadily accelerated. Today there are five stakes in South Africa and three missions, with a combined membership exceeding 20,000. Membership continues to increase at a fast rate; in the Johannesburg mission alone, there were 1,673 convert baptisms in 1991. A measure of the Church’s maturity in South Africa is that in late 1990 Africa was made a separate ecclesiastical area, with area presidency headquarters established in Johannesburg. With the presence of a temple and the close leadership of three General Authorities, the Church in South Africa is now poised to offer the fulness of gospel blessings to the entire continent.
1853: LDS missionaries arrive; South Africa dedicated for preaching of the gospel.
1853: 45 members
1855: First members sail for Utah; by 1865, 291 will emigrate
1858: Missionaries withdrawn from South Africa
1862: Missionaries return, but leave again in 1865
1903: Missionaries return after being gone 38 years
1919: Government restricts missionaries from preaching
1935: 1,261 members
1940: Missionaries called home because of World War II
1945: Missionaries return
1949: Mission-wide building fund begins
1954: President David O. McKay visits South Africa; first LDS chapel dedicated
1955: First elders quorum organized
1957: Missionaries forbidden entry for a short time.
1963: First Afrikaans-speaking elders assigned to South Africa
1965: 4,764 members
1966: First South African missionaries serve outside South Africa
1970: First stake in Africa organized in Transvaal
1973: President Spencer W. Kimball rededicates South Africa
1978: Revelation on the priesthood received; Area conference held; South Africa government lifted quotas on the number of foreign missionaries allowed into the country
1985: Johannesburg temple is dedicated
1990: Africa made a separate Area with headquarters in Johannesburg
1993: 22,000 members (est.)
His eyes are gentle, his voice soft. An unconscious humility rests on Eric Zulu like wings on a dove.
Within a few years of joining the Church in Kwa Mashu, a black township near Durban, Eric Gebo Zulu was called to be the president of the Kwa Mashu Branch. It was not an easy calling for the young Zulu to fulfill. In his culture, only the elderly are leaders, and some branch members didn’t accept him. President Zulu also found it difficult to spend so many hours away from his wife and children.
Then came a time of civic violence in Kwa Mashu. The leader of one of the political groups involved in the fighting sought Eric out, wanting to use the chapel for a political rally. President Zulu refused, aware that Church policy clearly prohibits Church buildings from being used for political purposes.
“He threatened me,” Eric says. “He said that they would destroy my house, burn my car, kill me. But I told him that if I’m dying for the right reason, it’s okay.”
Then inspiration struck. President Zulu opened the Church handbook and showed the leader of the group the Church’s policy. He asked the leader, “If you were branch president, what would you do?” The man looked at the handbook—and agreed with President Zulu. He left peacefully.
“Ever since then,” Eric says, “I’ve known that whatever happens in my life—good things or bad things—God is with me.”
True beauty radiates from deep within the soul. Jeanette and Laural Natson are proof. The two Indian sisters are lovely physically, yet they are most beautiful when bearing their testimonies of the restored gospel.
Jeanette joined the Church in 1983 at age twenty-two; Laural joined in 1984 when she was fifteen. “The best thing I’ve ever done is accept the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Jeanette says. “The gospel has made my life so beautiful.” Jeanette is a model who turned down a R10,000 contract because the swimsuits she was asked to model were immodest.
Laural was converted when she felt the Holy Spirit while she was investigating the Church. “I had attended many churches, but I had never felt the Spirit so strong as in that meeting.”
Laural’s plans to serve a mission were delayed when her mother, native to Mauritius, became terminally ill and died, leaving Laural and Jeanette without parents. Their father, originally from India, had died earlier. “But we’re not orphans,” they say. “We have a large church family, and Heavenly Father is always aware of you.”
Of the members from other cultures in the Durban stake, the sisters say simply, “We can eat out of the same plate. There’s an excitement when we’re together. There’s a oneness with the Spirit.”
Lorraine Bibb of the Cape Town First Ward knows that salvation is a family affair. Her uncle was the first to join the Church, in 1930, and the rest of the family, descendants of English and German immigrants, followed in 1931. But it took a sick missionary to convert them.
“My uncle sent the missionaries to us,” Sister Bibb explains. “In those days they walked, so these two had walked about thirty-five miles to reach us. As they came up to the front door, my grandmother was set to send them packing. But as she opened the door, one of the missionaries just collapsed into her arms. She was immediately sympathetic and took him inside. She gave him something to eat, then paid his fare back to the mission home.”
A new elder came to replace the ill missionary, and the two companions stayed with the family for ten days, teaching them the gospel. The family was baptized in July 1931 when Lorraine was eight years old—all except her grandfather, who was away from home at the time and remained unconvinced. Then one night he had a dream in which he saw his family on one side of a ravine and himself on the other, with a river between them. In the dream, a voice said to him, “You have to go through that river to be with your family.”
“That was how he realized that he had to be baptized,” Sister Bibb says. “He went on to serve a mission when he was seventy-four years old. Every one of my grandmother’s family joined the Church, and every one remained active.
“All from that missionary who became ill.”
Change sometimes comes with all the spectacle of sunlight splitting water. For Charles Jacobs, change came as quietly as clouds brushing blue sky.
Brother Jacobs, who is now president of the Paarlzicht Branch, a mostly coloured unit near Cape Town, joined the Church several years ago when an obsession with darts led him to examine his life. “I used to play darts Monday through Sunday. Everything was darts,” Brother Jacobs says. “I was drinking and smoking, and my mother was upset. My money just went through my fingers.”
He started asking Heavenly Father to take him out of the habits he had fallen into. “But I never actually thought he would,” Brother Jacobs says.
Then one evening as he left the house to play darts, he looked at the sky. “I saw a cloud, and it looked like a displeased father figure.” No one he asked seemed to see what he saw. He thought he was losing his mind.
“A few days later,” he says, “I was thinking about the experience when two missionaries knocked on my door. There was something about them that touched my heart, and I decided to let them in.” On their second visit, they challenged Charles to stop smoking. “I didn’t think I could do it,” he says, “but I did. The Lord helped me.” He was baptized soon afterward.
Brother Jacobs bears testimony of the changes his baptism brought into his life. “Ever since joining the Church, I just get more and more work,” he says. That work has changed him from a dedicated player of darts into a dedicated servant of the Lord.