"For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light..."

LDS Church in Africa

by E. Dale Lebaron

Members of the Eket Branch in Nigeria (1984). Courtesy Ann Laemmlen Lewis.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been a presence in Africa since 1853, but for the first 125 years it was established only in southern Africa. Applications by the Church for admittance into central Africa in the 1960s were denied, but those in 1978 were approved, and growth of the Church there has been impressive.

From 1853 until 1978 most of the work of the Church in Africa was with European immigrants and their descendants in South Africa and in Northern and Southern Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe, respectively). In June 1978, when the First Presidency announced the revelation extending the priesthood to all worthy male members of the Church, the way was opened for the Church to extend its full program to all the nations of Africa. Missionaries were sent to Nigeria and Ghana at the request of many local people who had already studied the Church scriptures and literature and had organized themselves into units that they unofficially called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church missions were later organized in Zaire, Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Ivory Coast, and Mauritius and Reunion islands.

The establishment of the Church in Africa began at a special Church conference in Salt Lake City in August 1852, when President Brigham Young called 106 men to leave their wives in charge of their families, homes, farms, and businesses and go on missions to various lands of the world to proclaim the restored gospel. Three were called to go to South Africa: Jesse Haven, William H. Walker, and Leonard I. Smith, with Elder Haven assigned to preside. Leaving their families in the care of God, they arrived at the Cape of Good Hope on April 18, 1853, and set about to establish the Church in South Africa, encouraging the converts to "gather to Zion" in Utah. The missionaries faced heavy opposition from the local clergy and indifference to their message among the people generally; fewer than 200 people accepted baptism in the two and a half years they served.

One of the first converts in South Africa in 1853 was Nicholas Paul, a thirty-year-old builder who aided and protected missionaries and let them use his home for meetings. He became the president of the first branch of the Church in Africa, which was organized in his home in Mowbray (Cape Town area). The 1853 missionaries also organized a branch of the Church in Port Elizabeth. When they returned to their families in America in 1855, other missionaries from America and South Africa were called to replace them. Between 1855 and 1865, 278 converts to the Church emigrated from South Africa to Utah.

No LDS missionaries served in South Africa from 1866 to 1903, and the Church grew slowly. Missionaries returned in 1903 and served until 1940, when they were withdrawn because of World War II. During those years 230 missionaries had worked in South Africa. Since the return of LDS missionaries to South Africa in 1944, the Church has grown steadily there and also expanded to other areas of Africa.

In addition to the efforts of foreign missionaries, much of the growth of the Church in Africa has resulted from the service of local members. Johanna Fourie instituted the Primary program for teaching the children in 1932 and spent the rest of her life (thirty-eight years) guiding and building this program throughout South Africa.

In 1954 President David O. McKay became the first general authority of the Church to visit South Africa. The first LDS Church stake in South Africa was organized in Johannesburg in 1970, with Louis P. Hefer as stake president. That stake was divided into two stakes in 1978. In 1972 Church seminaries and institutes of religion were introduced into southern Africa. All African countries in which the Church is established now have these programs. The added week-day religious training of the youth has increased local missionary participation. In 1973 President Spencer W. Kimball pronounced a dedicatory prayer upon the land of South Africa which included the promise that wards and stakes would dot the land and a temple would be built there. New stakes were created in Durban (1981) and Cape Town (1984). The first black African stake was organized in 1988 in Aba, Nigeria, with David W. Eka as its president.

Johannesburg Temple
The Johannesburg South Africa Temple is the first LDS temple in Africa (dedicated 1985). In the dedicatory prayer, President Gordon B. Hinckley prayed for blessings on this nation and that its leaders be inspired "to find a basis for reconciliation" among its people. Courtesy Marjorie Woods.

Church growth in Africa since 1978 has been much higher in percentage than in the rest of the world. The major challenge is no longer to gain converts but to prepare local priesthood leadership. And as the Church continues to expand into sub-Saharan Africa, it must face the challenges of poverty and illiteracy. In addition to contributing to famine relief programs, the Church is helping its members in Africa to learn and implement the principles of self-reliance and independence.

The Church has always tried to teach the gospel in the language of the people. As Afrikaans is an official language in South Africa, many missionaries sent there have learned to speak it. The Book of Mormon was published in Afrikaans in 1973, and the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price in 1981. The Book of Mormon has also been translated into several African languages: Efik (Nigeria, 1983), Kissi (Kenya, 1983), Malagasy (Madagascar, 1986), Akan (Ghana, 1987), Zulu (South Africa, 1978), and Shona (Zimbabwe, 1988). Local members have helped make these translations possible, such as Pricilla Sampson-Davis, a retired schoolteacher from Cape Coast, Ghana, who translated the Book of Mormon, LDS Hymns, and other Church publications into Akan. Translations into additional African languages continue in process.

One of the most significant events in the History of the Church in Africa was the dedication of the temple in Johannesburg in 1985, which has made it possible for the members to receive locally all the ordinances of the Church and to perform them in proxy for their deceased ancestors. The first temple president and matron of this temple were Harlan W. and Geraldine Merkley Clark. Although the work of the Church in Africa was slow and localized from 1853 until the 1980s, Elder Alexander B. Morrison of the seventy stated in 1987: "The gleaning and gathering of the children of God in Africa is just beginning. In the words of the Prophet Joseph, it will go forward "boldly, nobly, and independent, till…[the truth of God has] swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done"' (p. 26).


Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve presides at the creation of the Aba Nigeria Stake in 1988, the first stake of the Church in Nigeria. Left to right: Lazarus and Sylvia Onitchi, Elder Maxwell, Eugene Nwagbara and his wife Eugene Nnenna, Stake President David W. Eka and wife Eka-Etta, Ephraim S. and Patricia Etete, Elder Robert E. Sackley of the Seventy, and his wife Marjorie Sackley.

Helen Bassey Davies Udoeyo, Relief Society President of the Eket Branch, knitting, with her scriptures and Relief Society handbook on her lap (1985).




Brigham, Janet. "Nigeria and Ghana: A Miracle Precedes the Messengers." Ensign 10 (Feb. 1980):73-76.

LeBaron, E. Dale. "Gospel Pioneers in Africa." Ensign 20 (Aug. 1990):40-43.

LeBaron, E. Dale. All Are Alike unto God. Salt Lake City, 1990.

Lye, William. "From Burundi to Zaire: Taking the Gospel to Africa." Ensign 10 (Mar. 1980):10-15.

Mabey, Rendell N., and Gordon T. Allred. Brother to Brother: The Story of Latter-day Saint Missionaries Who Took the Gospel to Black Africa. Salt Lake City, 1984.

Morrison, Alexander B. "The Dawning of a New Day in Africa." Ensign 17 (Nov. 1987):25-26.



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