“Winds of Gospel Change Reach Cape Verde,” Ensign, Apr. 1996, 78–79
Though almost 400 miles of the Atlantic Ocean separate Cape Verde’s 10 main islands from Africa’s west coast, dry winds from the Sahara Desert still manage to starve the islands of moisture. But a stronger, life-bringing wind is also reaching Cape Verde, that of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
Uninhabited until the fifteenth century, the desolate, volcanic Cape Verde Islands were first settled by Portuguese colonists as a way station for African slaves. Today’s 400,000 Cape Verdeans, however, have a distinct identity that is neither African nor European. The islands gained their independence from Portugal in 1975. Though Portuguese is taught in schools, Cape Verdeans consider the Criuolo dialect to be their mother tongue. Most of Cape Verde’s land is too dry to farm, but jumbo jets that now routinely refuel on the flat island of Sal also deliver food supplies that help stave off famine.
More than 2,600 Cape Verdeans have joined the Church since November 1988, when Marion K. Hamblin, who at the time was president of the Spain Canary Islands Mission, visited Cape Verde and soon after sent a pair of missionaries to proselyte. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles visited government leaders and dedicated the islands in 1994, praying among other things that the land might better provide for the people. Not only has the Church blossomed, but the missionary effort has come full circle: some 50 young Cape Verdeans have gone abroad as missionaries to help the Church grow elsewhere.
“The gospel brings unity to the family,” says retired military officer Antero Andrade, who was baptized in 1993 on one of São Vicente’s windswept beaches. Brother Andrade knows whereof he speaks: not only did his wife, Orisa, and their two sons join the Church, but so did his parents and all his brothers, sisters, nephews, and nieces. Only his daughter remains unbaptized—and that is because she is too young.
Brother Andrade is president of the Mindelo district, which is named after Cape Verde’s second-largest city. The nation’s two other districts, based in Praia and Fogo, and 12 of its 16 branches are all led by native Cape Verdeans, most of whom are recent converts. The islands are part of the Portugal Lisbon South Mission.
Michelle Semedo joined the Church—and may well have been the first Cape Verdean to do so—in 1987 while staying in Lisbon, Portugal, during a difficult second pregnancy. She brought a copy of the Book of Mormon back home to Cape Verde’s capital city of Praia on São Tiago, the largest island. “I love the Book of Mormon,” says her husband, Pedro, who was baptized in 1993. The couple and their four children particularly enjoy the story of the three Nephites. “We are touched by their unselfish choice to stay with the people and help them,” says Michelle, who is now Primary president in the Praia district.
“I always bring the Book of Mormon with me on business trips,” says Pedro, who presides over the Praia Second Branch. Both well educated, he and his wife work at a state-run food-supply and construction company. Once, while on a business trip to the northern island of Santo Antão, Pedro went two and a half hours out of his way to introduce the Book of Mormon to someone who had accidentally dialed the Semedos’ phone number a week earlier.
In a country where the vast majority of the population is under 25 years old, youth and young adults make up a large proportion of Church membership. Evening classes in seminary and institute in each of the major cities help build momentum for the gospel and encourage many youth to prepare for missions. Under the leadership of energetic teachers like Milena Sa Nogueira, more than 400 students have participated in the gospel-study programs since those programs began in January 1993.
“I used to teach my children the gospel,” says Milena, a widow and mother of five who was baptized in May 1992. “Now, my children teach me.” Milena has held family home evening every week since her baptism, and today she serves as Young Women president in Praia. Early in 1995 she helped organize shipments of food and clothing when a volcano exploded on the island of Fogo and displaced more than 1,000 people.
Because marriage has never been a strong religious or social tradition in Cape Verde, many mothers and fathers who want to join the Church must first get married. For example, Claudimire and Margarida Cardosa, merchants at Praia’s open-air market, lived together for 26 years before their oldest of eight children, 19-year-old KaiuKa, joined the Church. Three other siblings accepted the gospel before Claudimire and Margarida decided to join the Church in June 1993. Before they were baptized, they were joined as a couple in a marriage ceremony at Praia’s civil registry.
In July 1994 President Aníbal Moreira, who is a bank administrator and president of the Praia district, and his wife, Maria do Rosario (Zézá), traveled to the Washington Temple in Washington, D.C., and became the first Cape Verdean couple to be sealed in a temple. Other marriages, too, reflect a strong commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Citing more than 80 marriages and baptisms similar to the Cardosas’, Cape Verde’s leader, President Antonio Mascarenhas, recently honored the Church for helping strengthen family life. Other government leaders have publicly admired Church members’ emphasis on self-reliance and caring for neighbors. As President Moreira puts it, “In the pages of the history of Cape Verde, historians will speak highly about the Latter-day Saints.”