During their wedding in 1946, John Mavimbela and Julia Ngubeni realized they had forgotten the rings. While Julia and the minister waited, John dashed out to look for a solution and came back with a curtain ring to place on his bride’s finger.
It was the beginning of a beautiful marriage. The couple settled in Everton, near Durban, where John ran a shop and they started a family. “My dad was a very loving man,” their daughter Thoba later recalled. “He used to help her with the chores, and that was taboo in those days. And he used to change the nappies of the kids.” But tragedy struck in the summer of 1955, when John was killed in a car crash. “That was an emotional, spiritual bashing,” Thoba recalled. Julia was left to provide for and raise the children on her own.
She did her best to comfort them. “She told us not to feel without a Father, because Heavenly Father had promised to be the father of the fatherless,” Thoba said. But Julia struggled to come to terms with the loss. Racial prejudice in the investigation of John’s death left her with a deeper personal bitterness over discrimination in South Africa. The church she attended at the time was not always a comfort: because of old fears about ancestor worship, speaking of the dead was discouraged. “That really hurt me,” Julia recalled. “I said, how can I when I loved my parents so much, my husband so much?”
Nearly 30 years later, in 1981, Julia Mavimbela saw two young white men helping with a service project in Soweto and learned that they were Latter-day Saint missionaries. She welcomed them into her home more out of curiosity than religious interest, but soon the missionaries asked about a photo of John and felt prompted to teach her about proxy baptism for the dead. “Then I started listening, really listening, with my heart,” Julia recalled. “As the missionaries taught me the principle of eternal relationships, I had the feeling that here is the way to be with my parents and my husband.” She was baptized a few months later.
A year after Julia’s baptism, ground was broken for a temple in Johannesburg—the first in Africa. The ongoing struggle against apartheid sometimes made travel from her home in Soweto to the temple site difficult, but Julia continued to watch the temple progress, even talking her way past a roadblock on the day the angel Moroni was placed on the spire so she could watch the statue go up. After the temple’s dedication in 1985, Julia was finally able to receive and perform ordinances. Despite the injustices outside the temple, she felt a great sense of peace within its walls. “When I was doing my ordinances in the temple, I captured the feeling that we are all on earth as one,” she said. “There is no touch of Afrikaner. There is no English. There is no Situ nor Zulu. You know that feeling of oneness.”
Julia was sealed to her parents and husband. At times, she also caught glimpses through the veil. “One day she went to the temple,” Thoba remembered, “and she came back and she said to me she saw my dad.” She also worked to gather her family history. “Ma was very ardent in keeping the family records,” Thoba said. “We used to visit our family members. And she’d collect as much as she possibly could.” The work allowed her to connect to her family’s past—and to prepare for the future. Thoba noted, “She said she wanted to help us to be families in eternity.”