In April of this year, just a few months before the Africa Southeast Area was divided, Elder Russell M. Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, reminded a meeting of Seventies serving in the Area that the work of the Church in Africa is still in its infancy.
Although I have always been aware of the enormous potential for Church growth in Africa, as I listened to him, there was instilled in me a fresh understanding of the magnitude of the opportunity ahead for all of us who are called to serve the Lord on this continent, to help Him in hastening His work in the coming months and years as we prepare for His return.
Elder Ballard posed the question: “How do we get the love of God the Father and of Jesus Christ into the hearts of the people?”
As we start our service together in the new Africa Central Area, I wish to invite every leader, member, and full-time missionary to summon our best efforts and to act on our opportunities, and within our circles of influence, individually and together as families as well as in our callings, to diligently seek and apply answers to this question.
We were given assurance that the Lord will help us. Speaking to the same group, Elder Neil L. Andersen, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, added that the division of the Africa Southeast Area to create the Africa South Area and the Africa Central Area is pure revelation from God. It does not follow any recent pattern in the Church, and he expressed the apostolic vision that this action, which was unanimously approved by the Council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, will help both areas to grow.
Getting the love of God the Father, and of Jesus Christ into the hearts of the people is the essential prerequisite for the growth of the Church in every dispensation.
Alma’s record in the Book of Mormon, as he started to reestablish the Church among a portion of the people following their escape from the court of the worldly King Noah, gives us one example of this process:
“And he commanded them that they should teach nothing save it were the things which he had taught, and which had been spoken by the mouth of the holy prophets.
“Yea, even he commanded them that they should preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord, who had redeemed his people.
“And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another.
“And thus he commanded them to preach. And thus they became the children of God.” (Mosiah 18:19–22)
In our own time and closer to our own experience, I have been greatly touched and inspired by many examples of compassion shown by members when the coronavirus pandemic struck and paralyzed the lives of everyone in almost all countries as governments acted to try to slow down the speed of the spread of the virus and to protect citizens. In our area, spontaneously and without prompting, WhatsApp groups sprung up to give comfort to those in need. Likewise, there was a flood of encouraging text messages as the Saints sought to minister and to help each other out. Without the weekly Sunday meetings and other leadership meetings, leaders sought new ways to understand and to respond to the condition of the Saints. One stake president shared how he counseled with the bishops in his stake as they reviewed together the conditions of vulnerable members who depend on the earnings of each day of work to put food on the family table. Knowing that these members could no longer leave their homes to work, they procured essential items so each bishop could be able to provide immediate help when it was needed. One member sent a picture showing his family gratefully enjoying the food provided to them. There are many examples of an overwhelming spirit of Christlike love and compassion that welled up in the hearts of the Saints in our area to minister to and support one another at a difficult time for everyone. To each and every one of you, I say, thank you!
The spirit which this pandemic has inspired in many of us will be much needed in establishing the foundation of the Africa Central Area as a strong center of faith in the Church. The coronavirus is still very much among us.
Speaking of circumstances such as ours, President Russell M. Nelson, our ever hopeful and enthusiastic prophet, taught in his opening message of the April 2020 general conference:
“Though today’s restrictions relate to a virulent virus, life’s personal trials stretch far beyond this pandemic. Future trials could result from an accident, a natural disaster, or an unexpected personal heartache. . . .
“The Lord has told us that ‘if ye are prepared ye shall not fear’ . . .
“Our ultimate quest in life is to prepare to meet our Maker. We do this by striving daily to become more like our Savior, Jesus Christ.”1
A year earlier, at the April 2019 general conference, in his address in the general priesthood meeting—“We Can Do Better and Be Better”—he expounded on how we can strive daily to become like the Savior:
“When we choose to repent, we choose to become more like Jesus Christ! (3 Nephi 27:27). …
“Daily repentance is the pathway to purity, and purity brings power. Personal purity can make us powerful tools in the hands of God. Our repentance—our purity—will empower us to help in the gathering of Israel.”2
He continued, “It is time to put on the full armor of God so we can engage in the most important work on earth. It is time to ‘thrust in [our] sickles, and reap with all [our] might, mind, and strength” (D&C 33:7). The forces of evil have never raged more forcefully than they do today . . .
“Your family needs your leadership and love. Your quorum and those in your ward or branch need your strength. And all who you meet need to know what a true disciple of the Lord looks like and acts like.”3
And thus, my dear brothers and sisters, may each one of us do our part that the gospel of Jesus Christ may sink deeper into our own hearts, that we may have power to invite and to help others to do likewise, that the Lord may find in us effective instruments to hasten His work in our area in the coming months and years.
Joseph W. Sitati was sustained as a General Authority Seventy in April 2009. He is married to Gladys Nangoni; they are the parents of five children.