The small, white, two-story meetinghouse in Senegal — where the Church is in its infancy and where a handful of Latter-day Saint converts gathered on just four rows of chairs — felt familiar to Elder Ulisses Soares.
Although located on a different continent and conducted in a different language than his native tongue, the meeting reminded the new apostle of his youth in Brazil.
“It was interesting, when I was attending that branch conference I felt like I was in my branch from when I was a boy,” he said. “And [the Senegal] branch is bigger than the branch I attended. Our branch had 30-35 people where I grew up, so seeing the beginning with 120 attending branch conference was something else.
“You can see the future,” he said. “The little branch I attended [in Brazil as a boy] became three stakes. I can see a similar future in Senegal.”
Elder Soares’ visit to Senegal was only one of the stops on the itinerary of Elder Neil L. Andersen and Elder Soares, both of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Bishop W. Christopher Waddell of the Presiding Bishopric.
The three Church leaders — accompanied by their wives — traveled throughout the Africa West Area from May 19-28 — attending some meetings together and some apart — to share a message of hope and encouragement to the Church members living in Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana and the Ivory Coast.
“The Church is growing and becoming a great people of faith and righteousness because of the good people there,” Elder Andersen told the Church News.
“The members here were excited and spiritually uplifted by [the Church leaders] presence and warmth,” said Elder Terrance Vinson, a General Authority Seventy and Africa West Area president.
Elder Soares’ visit to Senegal occurred almost a year to the day after Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles offered a prayer of dedication on the West African nation on May 22, 2017.
“When I arrived there on Sunday it was branch conference,” said Elder Soares. “There are two branches, and we had a wonderful time seeing how a little branch that was opened [not long] ago when the country was dedicated … has flourished into two branches. We had 120 people attending the meeting.”
The country has come “out of darkness into the dawning of a new day,” just as Church leaders said it would during the country’s dedication.
“The branch presidents are local people — wonderful people — converts who are from other parts of the West Africa Area,” said Elder Soares. “It’s amazing to see how people are embracing the gospel of Jesus Christ there.”
Elder Andersen, who was accompanied by his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen, began his travels in Abuja, Nigeria, where as well as meeting with members and missionaries in the Nigerian capital, he participated in the sixth conference on law and religion in Africa, titled “Law, Religion and Human Flourishing.”
“I talked about how you have to create laws that allow people to have freedom of thought,” he said. “I talked about how religious freedom strengthens honesty and trust in society and how religions help families flourish.”
After the two-day conference, Elder Andersen and Sister Andersen joined Elder Soares, Sister Rosana Soares, Bishop Waddell and Sister Carol Waddell in Accra, Ghana, where they met with missionaries, mission presidents and members of the Church.
When they were at the Ghana MTC Elder Andersen spoke of the “powerful feeling evident from the outstanding nature of those just beginning their missions.” Elder Andersen added that the leaders were very impressive wherever they went.
“It was pretty clear to me — these people are working so hard to establish the Church in Africa, and they have the vision to establish the Church,” Elder Soares said.
While visiting the Ivory Coast, Bishop Waddell was able to participate in a devotional with young single adults. “What surprised me was that we had over 1,900 in attendance, with some traveling up to three hours to attend. ... They were hungry to hear the gospel and to feel the Spirit. It was a humbling experience for me, and I was grateful to see so many remarkable young single adults with desires to follow the Savior,” said Bishop Waddell. “The future of the Church is in good hands with young men and women of that caliber.”
Elder Larry S. Kacher, a General Authority Seventy and counselor in the Africa West Area presidency, said the members feel closer to the Church when leaders visit their area. “They feel a sense of belonging, realizing that the senior leaders would come so far,” he said. “Not one, but two apostles.”
Local Area Seventy Elder Anthony M. Kaku said that visits from Church leaders encourage the members to stay faithful.
“Members feel connected to those they sustain at every conference as prophets, seers and revelators and to see and shake hands with them in person was very important to them,” he said. “When Church leaders visit, it encourages members to do all they can to continue to do the right thing. They want to be obedient to what they hear from the Church leaders, it builds their testimonies of the Savior and His work and they feel they are not forgotten.”
Elder Marcus B. Nash, a General Authority Seventy and member of the Africa West Area presidency, said, “The mantle of an apostle is uniquely powerful, and each of these brethren carries the mantle wonderfully well. Each blends the mantle with his own constellation of talent, gifts, attributes and personality.”
Elder Nash accompanied Elder and Sister Soares during their visit to Senegal. “The Saints felt the love of Christ through this special witness of Christ and genuinely rejoiced,” he said. “Elder Soares spoke in French, which was a blessing to the people.”
A few days prior to the meetings with the members in Dakar, Senegal, a young single adult woman walked past the front of the rented chapel, stopped, and entered. She told the branch president “she felt that she needed to come into our building in order to learn about how to have more peace and happiness in her life,” Elder Nash said. “She attended the meetings, met Elder Soares, and literally beamed with joy. The tapestry woven through these days is one of joy, peace, love and truth. Very edifying to all involved. ...
“Sister Andersen, Sister Soares and Sister Waddell were a substantive, spiritual presence in each setting and meeting throughout the week. They contributed in every way, lifting and edifying those around them.”
The timing of the trip meant that the leaders were visiting Africa just days before the 40th anniversary of the priesthood revelation. The leaders said that although the day is significant for the Church, the focus of Church members in Africa is on the beginning of the Church in their nations.
“The people of West Africa are deeply spiritual and live by faith,” said Elder Nash. “Most live in challenging circumstances, and the light of the gospel brings hope, peace and order to their lives. They are attracted to it and see the hand of God in bringing the Church to them. They sustain the apostles as prophets, seers and revelators — the Lord’s authorized representatives — and listen to them as such.
“In the 40 years subsequent to the revelation on priesthood, the Church in West Africa has grown from virtually zero members and zero stakes to over 300,000 members and soon to be 100 stakes, and with strong attendance at sacrament meeting. The Saints in West Africa rejoice over the blessings available to them through the Restoration of the gospel, including the revelation on the priesthood. Rather than ruminate over the past, these Saints are more moved by the gratitude to rejoice that the Lord has brought the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and the blessing power of His priesthood to them.”