Sunday, January 15, 2012

LDS in Nigeria 4: 1980-1984

There were a relatively large number of articles in the magazines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about the newly opened missions in Ghana and Nigeria between 1978 and 1981, thought it slows somewhat after that.

This article from the March 1980 Ensign provides an interesting primer for African history and culture. Complimentary throughout, it makes a number of points that development practitioners are still trying to convince people of. There is a lot of good in it, particularly impressive given the change in culture since then.

An interesting line from a News of the Church article, May 1981, from the second missionary couple to return from Ghana and Nigeria:
“The Nigerians are very family oriented,” explain the Olsens, “and when we talked with them about genealogy, temple work, and family history, [District] President Inmpey became very excited. He took some sheets home and brought them back filled out. He took a month’s leave from his work as technician at Enugu’s post and telecommunications department and visited all of the villages where his ancestors had grown up, interviewing his relatives and filling out his sheets.”
Pres. Inmpey's conversion and family story are in the article.

The News of the Church in June 1983 reported on Church welfare assistance being sent to Ghana after Nigeria canceled the visas of some 1.2 million Ghanaians, resulting in "a severe food shortage." At that point there were 1000 members of the Church in Ghana. Half was used primarily for the members in Ghana, with the other half going to the general public regardless of religious background.

That same issue of the Ensign contains a story told by Elder M. Russell Ballard - today one of the Lord's chosen apostles, but then one of their assistants, a President of the Seventy - about his visit to Nigeria in August 1982:

By assignment, Elder Derek A. Cuthbert [newly called member of the Seventy whose calling was to supervise the Africa missions] and I went to Ghana and Nigeria. There we traveled for approximately ten days visiting the branches of the Church in these countries. We have a small number of members of the Church there. In the little community of Aboh, Nigeria, on an early morning, Elder Cuthbert and I joined about one hundred members to break ground for the first chapel to be built in Nigeria. We sang the only song most of the Saints knew, which was “I Am a Child of God.” I fought away the tears as I heard one hundred recently baptized black members of the church, with their eyes glistening, their heads held high, singing from the bottom of their hearts, “I Am a Child of God.” The thought surged through my mind: Oh, Heavenly Father, bless them to know that they really are.
When the corrupt and brief-lived civilian government was overthrown in a coup in 1984, the Church reported that none of its more than 2000 members or the 9 missionary couples were harmed. By September, the Church reported there were over 4000 members in Nigeria and Ghana together.

Part 3, Part 2, Part 1.