LDS Church members in Zimbabwe thrilled Wednesday to hear their church's leader and expressed hope for a temple in their country someday.
Reginald Jopseh Nield and his wife, Iris, were in the party that met church President Gordon B. Hinckley when he arrived at the Harare airport Wednesday afternoon. "When he hugged me at the airport this morning I wanted to cry," Nield said, adding that a visit by the prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is something he thought he would never see here.Harare resident Philip Mathemera, a church member for almost two years, said word already has gotten around that President Hinckley announced plans on Monday for the church to build a temple in Accra, Ghana, which would be the church's first African temple outside of South Africa. Mathemera hopes the church's 5-month-old program to build small temples among more remote church populations means Zimbabwe also will get a temple soon.
Land was bought years ago, Nield said. Identifying it as a temple location was his idea, not the church's. He bought the 5 acres, and the church later bought it from him. The mission home and a chapel sit amid lush landscaping on the property with plenty of room left for a temple, local members hope.
Top government officials were invited guests at the LDS Church conference Wednesday, the fourth in President Hinckley's African tour.
The minister of defense even offered his car to President Hinckley to ensure the visiting church leader would be comfortable during his stay.
"He said, `He can't go in your Peugeot; he's got to go in my Mercedes,' " Nield said of Defense Minister Moven Mahachi.
The Nields were born and raised in Rhodesia and are among the few white citizens who didn't flee during the 1980 war that led to the country's independence and name change to Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe's independence followed the 1978 announcement by the church that black males would be eligible to hold the priesthood, which had a profound effect on the expansion of the church in Africa.
"In 1978 came the revelation, 20 years ago, concerning offering the priesthood and every other gift of the church to every worthy man. I want to give testimony here that that was inspired, that that was a revelation from God. I was there," President Hinckley said. "I was an eyewitness to it in the House of the Lord when President (Spencer W.) Kimball knelt in prayer before all of us, and all of us with him, and spoke to the Lord concerning the good people of the Earth who had been denied. How grateful we are."
Zimbabwe's church membership of about 6,000 is small enough that individual congregations have not yet been organized into a stake. But church members here are hoping news of the organization of a stake will come soon.
President Hinckley spoke Tuesday in Nairobi, Kenya, to church members from Kenya, Ethiopia, Somolia, Uganda and Tanzania. Some had traveled up to three days on buses to reach Nairobi.
President Hinckley's speaking tour continues through Friday with South African stops in Durban, Johannesburg and Capetown.