A new day begins with a blessing upon its nation and its people
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BANGUI, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
On a heavily forested hillside overlooking the capital city of Bangui, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve offered a prayer of dedication and blessing upon the country and people of Central African Republic.
The prayer was offered Monday, Oct. 29, on Gbazabangui hillside overlooking the Ubangui River — a major tributary of the Congo River — a few degrees north of the equator that is the original site of the Bangui people.
Central African Republic, which has a land area of about 240,000 square miles and a population of nearly 4.5 million, is surrounded by Chad on the north, Sudan on the northeast, South Sudan on the east, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo on the south, and Cameroon on the west.
Dedication of a land is a priesthood ordinance performed only by an ordained apostle as directed by the First Presidency. Elder Holland pronounced the moment of dedication as a turning point for the small branch of members and all the country. He promised a new day for the people as the gospel light fills their land.
Elder Holland was accompanied by Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy and his wife, Sister Kathy Clayton, and Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Seventy and president of Africa Southeast Area, and his wife, Sister Ruth Renlund. Democratic Republic of the Congo Kinshasa Mission President Brent L. Jameson and his wife, Sister Lorraine B. Jameson; and Bangui Branch President Roger Langue and his wife, Sister Sophia Langue, also attended.
Elder Clayton told the Church News that after a few comments were made by some of those in attendance, Elder Holland "offered a truly heavenly prayer blessing the land, blessing the people and providing for the establishment of the Church there on a solid foundation over time."
Elder Clayton added, "It was one of the most beautiful and spiritual moments of my life. When the prayer ended, everyone felt a subdued reverence for the occasion. There was no talking."
That afternoon, Elder Holland and the others met in a special devotional with about 150 people, members of the Bangui Branch and some of their friends.
"We had a delightful meeting with them," Elder Clayton said. "They were filled with eager anticipation to see Elder Holland — that was clear — and so delighted to meet and shake hands with a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.
"They had provided several rows of little chairs in the very front for the children. ... They put the children right up front where they could sit at his feet. It was really beautiful."
Elder Holland spoke directly to the children, describing in simple terms the love the Savior has for each of them.
The building in which the branch meets couldn't accommodate everyone; many sat outside to hear the words of an apostle.
"They had been there an hour or more before we arrived. I believe they would have stayed five hours," Elder Holland said in a conversation with the Church News. "The little children were so attentive.
"What I've said about Africans in general, I say about these people: It strikes me that what life and circumstances have not given them materially the Lord has made up for spiritually. These really are devoted, spiritual people."
Of the meeting in Bangui, Elder Holland said, "I was so moved by their faith. These are believing people. They accept the gospel when they hear it — it is in their bones. They have genuine faith. They will walk scores of miles to attend meetings and perform their duties. It isn't superficial. It isn't a fleeting thing with them. They just believe. The thing I come back with from Africa is the spirituality and faith of the people who have so little materially."
Elder Holland spoke of Bangui Branch President Langue, a lawyer who trained in France, practiced law in the United States and then returned to Central African Republic. "He kept saying, with tears in his eyes, that he couldn't quite fathom that a member of the Quorum of the Twelve had come all that way and sought them out in their interior African world, in the jungle, in the isolated communities that they are. He couldn't get over the fact that we would come and find them, that their little handful of members mattered. That was touching to me. I said, 'Of course you matter. Of course we will find you.' It was a great day."
The dedication of the land of Central African Republic was one of many activities during Elder Holland's visit in the Africa Southeast Area, Oct. 19-30.
Accompanied by Elder Clayton, Elder Holland participated in priesthood leadership training and other meetings. The first priesthood leadership conference was held Oct. 20 in Johannesburg, South Africa, with priesthood leaders from seven stakes, one district and several mission branches. Elder Renlund and his counselors in the Africa Southeast Area presidency — Elder Ulisses Soares and Elder Carl B. Cook, both of the Seventy — also participated.
On Oct. 27, the visiting Brethren instructed priesthood leaders in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, where priesthood leaders from six stakes, one district and several mission branches attended from four countries: Republic of the Congo (also known as Congo-Brazzaville), Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon and Central African Republic.
"We gave training on a lot of priesthood principles," Elder Holland said. "These priesthood leaders are as trained in the protocol and the standard procedures of the Church as anyone in a North American stake, a European stake or anywhere else. Their handbooks are dog-eared, they've read and studied them so much. Part of it is their loyalty. They want to do it right. They want to be taught. They're ready to be taught."
Special stake conferences were held in Johannesburg on Oct. 21 and Kinshasa on Oct. 28.
Also during his time in South Africa, Elder Holland met with missionaries, youth and young adults, and government representatives and the media.
The sisters in Johannesburg and Kinshasa were invited to conferences where Sister Clayton and Sister Renlund participated. "Some 1,300 women attended each of these conferences," Elder Holland said.
LDS Business College certificates
On Friday, Oct. 26, Elder Holland presented to 58 men in Kinshasa certificates from LDS Business College after they completed requirements in building construction trades. The men received their course work and practical experience at the stake center in Kinshasa. Courses were taught by Elder George Billings, a full-time senior missionary, and supervised by a Church member, Erik Van Hauvermat. Each graduate received tools of his trade for future use.
Elder Holland reminded the graduates that tools for their construction courses — square, plumb and level — provide a motto for life. "Be square with your neighbors, plumb with heaven and level with yourself," he admonished.
Elder Clayton also spoke to the graduates, reminding them to build a firm foundation for all structures they create, as well as in their lives. Referring to Helaman 5:12, he counseled them to build upon the rock of Christ.
Elder Renlund also addressed the group. He quoted counsel of President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, regarding things they can do to walk out of poverty: pay tithing, become more self-reliant, care for the needy and render compassionate service. These principles bring blessings of safety, peace, beauty and prosperity, Elder Renlund said.
The meeting was conducted by Georges A. Bonnet, Africa Southeast Area Director for Temporal Affairs. He reminded the graduates that as trainees and graduates of this program, they represent, first, the Savior; second, the Church; third, their families; and, fourth, themselves.
This is the third group of graduates from the training program. A contractor in Kinshasa who builds meetinghouses for the Church frequently offers employment to graduates of this course.
During Elder Holland's visit, more than 16,000 people were taught, encouraged and edified.
Elder Holland said he wanted members everywhere in Africa — in the cities and in the remote areas — to know of the grandeur and greatness of the Church.
"Some of them might not travel or see much beyond their own locations and borders, but even those in the most remote locations, in the smallest branches where they get to meetings only on foot, are part of something truly glorious," he said. "I tried to give them a feel for the scope of the Church and the love the Lord has for them, the love the prophet and the Brethren have for them. I think they felt that, they sensed that.
"I often use Paul's teachings to the Corinthians, that every member of the body of Christ is cherished, that the eye can't say to the hand, 'I have no need of thee.' We're all members. We get the word 'members' from that metaphor. We're all part of the body of Christ.
"I wanted them to know that they matter, every single, solitary, one of them. God knows their names. He knows their circumstances, and their wants and wishes."
— Ruth L. Renlund, Gerry Avant and Marianne Holman