ABA, Nigeria In this populous West African nation, travelers are routinely greeted with, "You are welcome."
And it's sincere. Nigerians welcome you to their country, their cities and their homes. Their warmth and generosity of spirit are only matched by their thirst for gospel learning. In fact, in just 27 years since the first 19 members were baptized here, membership has grown to more than 70,000 comprising some 60 percent of the 120,000 members in West Africa.
Many are first-generation Latter-day Saints. Those who are second-, and some third-generation, can trace their membership to a father, mother, grandfather or grandmother. They are the children of pioneers. Instead of such familiar pioneer names as Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt and Heber C. Kimball, these pioneers are Anthony Obinna, David Eka and Ime O. Eduok.
"I have no doubt that the Lord has moved upon Nigeria to bless the land and reveal His progress and blessings and reclaim His people of the goodly land," Elder Olukanni, an Area Seventy and second counselor in the Africa West Area, said while on the grounds of the new Aba Nigeria Temple.
In the shadow of what is now the second temple in West Africa (the first, Accra Ghana Temple, was dedicated in 2004), Elder Olukanni surmised that the new edifice, dedicated by President Gordon B. Hinckley on Aug. 7, 2005, would bring a "healing to Nigeria."
Nearly six months have passed since that humid day in Aba. In that time, some 900 people have received their living ordinances. West African missionaries are now able to attend one of two temples prior to going on their missions. And families are being sealed to their ancestors. (Please see Aug. 13 and Aug. 27, 2005, Church News issues for articles on the temple dedication and on the first baptisms in Nigeria.)
Looking back to 1998, when President Hinckley first visited Nigeria, Elder Olukanni, in recent correspondence, reflected on the dream his Latter-day Saint countrymen and women held in their hearts of a temple one day in their midst. He recalled members carrying temple recommends without the hope of ever going to the temple. In fact, the story is told of two women walking 18 miles to receive their temple recommends with no hope of going to a temple. (Please see November 2003 Ensign, p. 13.)
Reflecting on the dedicatory prayer of the temple, in which President Hinckley prayed, "Bless this nation that it may rise in strength and freedom among the nations of Africa," Elder Olukanni spoke of more peaceful protests in a country once rocked by political and religious strife.
"Surely the Lord remembers all nations, bringing forth His word unto them. 'He denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female, . . . Jew and Gentile,' " Elder Olukanni added, quoting from 2 Nephi 26:33.
The lives and faith of today's Nigerian Latter-day Saints reflect Elder Olukanni's words, that the Lord has "moved upon Nigeria to bless the land." In this country of 130 million people, you find Latter-day Saints in all walks of life. They are business owners and scientists, they serve in government positions and reach out in community service. They are mothers and fathers.
They are people such as Loveday Iheanyi Nwankpa, president of the Aba Nigeria Stake and a member of 17 years. An agronomist by profession with a master's degree from Imo State University in Owerri, Nigeria, President Nwankpa is known for his quiet and sincere demeanor. Yet he once stood in front of a mob and deflected them, at the peril of his own life, from a man the mob had been chasing. The man escaped peacefully and nothing came of the incident. Years later, near the same spot, he watched a temple built in his city. And he served as chairman of the temple committee.
Sitting in his home with his wife, Love Nwankpa, the stake president recalled how his father in 1988 brought a copy of the Book of Mormon to his home. "Initially, I did not welcome the missionaries," President Nwankpa recalled, smiling. But his wife, who, along with his father, embraced the gospel, urged him to read the book.
"One day I picked it up and started reading. As I read, I felt that there was something in this book which I needed to know. Finally, I decided to invite the missionaries and receive the discussions."
He and his family of five children never looked back. "My children are exemplary, especially," he said. He related how a few years ago, his daughter, Lady, then 15 and now 19, was attending a prestigious government school away from home. When President Nwankpa heard Church counsel that children should stay close to their parents, he withdrew her and found a school she could attend from home.
"Why should you do this?" friends and neighbors asked, referring to the prestige of the former school. "You have this and you want to throw it away."
Lady Nwankpa answered for her father. "That's what the prophet said my father should do. My father has done this and I'm happy with that."
For years now, President Nwankpa said, members in his stake of 3,980 have been preparing, as have members in the other 22 stakes in Nigeria, to go to the temple. "Every ward and branch has a family history consultant, and we make sure that family history classes are functional in all our wards and branches."
And with most family histories in West Africa being oral histories, that has been a challenge. Just ask Uchechi Roseline Onyekwere, the 23-year-old director of family history research for the Aba stake. Working with family history missionaries from the Nigeria Port Harcourt Mission, she learned how to estimate dates of birth and death and how to use Personal Ancestral File and TempleReady. As of the temple dedication, she had 150 names in the stake prepared, including 10 of her own, while helping members in 16 wards and branches.
It's this family focus and her faith that sustained Cecelia Kanu-chukwuma through the darkest period of her life. A member for three years, Sister Kanu-chukwuma of the Umugasi Ward, Aba Nigeria Stake, received the unexpected news that her husband had died on a business trip, leaving her to rear their five children alone. Any expressions of sorrow are met with, "It's OK The Church is here for me."
Her diligence has paid off in more than one way. Today, she owns a construction and transportation company, and she sits on the national Mobilization and Finance Committee. During the temple open house, Sister Kanu-chukwuma arranged for tours for more than a dozen employees and political friends.
"When I pay an honest tithe, everything goes well," she added, simply defining her life.
The faith of Latter-day Saints in Nigeria is aptly described by Elder Olukanni: "The country will be blessed, there will be a healing in the land and perhaps cleansing. We know the work of God is rolling on majestically. We are, indeed, living in interesting times."
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