Sunday, November 4, 2012

LDS in Nigeria 1993-94: Footholds and Princes

Scarcely a month went by in 1993 without some mention of the Nigerian members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in some Church magazine. Letters from Nigerian youth and missionaries to the youth magazine, The New Era, come up particularly regularly. I'll record only a few of the more interesting ones:

A June 1993 Ensign article (the magazine for adults) talks about different ways the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has gained a foothold in different countries to spread the gospel. It mentions how various church pamphlets and reading materials helped open the way in Ghana and Nigeria, and how ethnic minority immigrants have also played important roles in introducing people to the gospel. Another article in May 94 surveys a large number of stories of early saints in Africa, including Bro. Obinna I shared earlier and Bro. Nwafor:
Dr. Clement Nwafor, for example, was introduced to the gospel by Reuben Onuokoa, the father of one of his patients. Dr. Nwafor is the chief medical officer for more than one million Nigerians and is a prominent and popular citizen in the Aba, Nigeria, area. When Brother Onuokoa took his daughter to Dr. Nwafor for a medical examination, he told Dr. Nwafor that, despite his titles and positions, he still lacked one thing: “serving the Lord who has brought you into this universe.” 
Not long after that bold declaration, Dr. Nwafor accepted the gospel. “I felt like a new person,” he said. “I felt like somebody who was born again.” Less than six months after Dr. Nwafor’s baptism, he was set apart as a high councilor when Elder Neal A. Maxwell organized the first West Africa stake in Aba, Nigeria, on 15 May 1988.
A July 1993 Ensign article about the 150th anniversary of Relief Society service starts with an example of some LDS women in Aqua Ibom in western Nigeria constructing a road to make it easier for the women and children to fetch water.

Picture cloth of African villageIn August 1993, another article recounts the history of the Church's beginnings in Ghana and Nigeria. It also has several works of art by LDS members in west Africa. For instance, this is a cloth painting drawn by a member who sold such paintings to finance his mission to Sierra Leone. In addition to the story of Bro. Obinna, the article includes this interesting background:
Simultaneously, between the years of 1959 and 1978, some Latter-day Saints lived in West Africa and worked on business or educational projects. Among those who became unofficial goodwill ambassadors were Virginia Cutler, a Brigham Young University faculty member who helped establish a home economics program at the University of Ghana, and Barnard Silver, who, with his wife, Cherrie, managed a cane sugar agro-industrial complex in the interior of the Ivory Coast. And Merrill J. Bateman of Provo, Utah, now a member of the Seventy, taught at the University of Ghana and later worked there. The friendships these people and others developed in West Africa eventually helped the Church acquire official recognition there.
Merrill J. Bateman later became President of BYU while I was a student there and after that joined the Presidency of the Seventy.

In October, the New Era contained this advice on fasting from a missionary service in Nigeria:
You say you’ve tried fasting and didn’t get much out of it. Elder Ifiok E. Okon, a  Aba Mission, offers some good advice. “Fasting is for spiritual upliftment,” he writes. “Just as faith without works is dead, fasting without a positive attitude towards it is dead and brings us no rewards.”
If you've been impressed I can be here so long without once mentioning a Nigerian prince, here is one. The April 94 Ensign highlighted the testimony of Ejikeme Egwuatu Enyii-Ineh, the son of the king of Imo (an Igbo state in southern Nigeria). He visited Salt Lake City in 1990 on a business trip and toured Temple Square. He spent the next year while working in Chad trying to find out more about the Church, but couldn't. When he returned to Salt Lake City in 1991, he stayed with a cousin who had a friend from the Ivory Coast who told him he was LDS. This is called Small World Moment: a Nigerian prince working in Chad met a fellow from Cote d'Ivoire in Salt Lake City. Oy. Anyway, the friend invited him to church.
After attending the meetings, Ejikeme [said] ... “The type of reception I received convinced me it was really the true church of God.” ... During the next week, Ejikeme listened to all the discussions. “God bless whoever gave him a tour of Temple Square a year ago,” Sister Smith [the bishop's wife] said. “He accepted the gospel long before he received the lessons.”Ejikeme was baptized on 7 September 1991, and in the week before he left, he received the priesthood, blessed the sacrament, and went to the temple to do baptisms for the dead. “This must be what it’s like to be in heaven,” he said upon entering the temple.
Several members of his family had been baptized by the time of publication.

More of my writings on LDS in Nigeria can be found here.