A tour that began in Nigeria, where no LDS Church president had ever been, ended in Cape Town Friday where the church's deepest African roots were planted.
The first LDS missionaries arrived in Cape Town in 1853."Almost everything we do makes history," church President Gordon B. Hinckley said of his African tour. He has traveled in Africa before as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But he is the first as church president to hold meetings with the membership of the church in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Zimbabwe.
The tour comes at the 20th anniversary of the announcement by the LDS First Presidency that all worthy males were eligible for the priesthood. A previous church practice that allowed blacks membership in the church but did not allow them to hold the priesthood was changed by what is accepted in the church as the revelation on the priesthood.
The revelation dramatically accelerated the church's activity in Africa's sub-Saharan midsection and west coast. Entire congregations in Ghana and Nigeria whose worship was patterned after the LDS Church were baptized when LDS missionaries arrived in their homelands for the first time in 1978 and 1979.
During a meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, President Hinckley recounted the history of the 1978 revelation and later told of its impact.
"That was a revelation from God. I was there. I was an eyewitness to it in the house of the Lord when President (Spencer W.) Kim-ball 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 have been denied. How grateful we are," he said.
"I have had that testimony reconfirmed in my heart on this trip as I have met with you and many others that all are alike unto God. We are. I repeat, we're all of a great family."
In an interview Thursday between meetings in Johannesburg, South Africa, President Hinckley said that in 1978 he would not have been able to imagine the growth he has seen this week while touring Africa. "I think no one could have. And it'll keep growing," he said.
For instance, in the well-known black township of Soweto, near Johannesburg, scene of race riots as South Africa moved toward the demise of apartheid, 350 people joined the church during the past year. New church buildings are fully utilized by the time they can be built.
Growth in the church in western Africa prefaced an announcement President Hinckley made Monday that a temple will be built in Harare, Ghana's capital city. The 3.6-acre site is near the foreign embassies, including the American embassy, in Harare.
A major theme of President Hinckley's as he moved from country to country was the responsibility priesthood holders have to treat their wives and children kindly and with respect. Abuse makes a man unworthy of the priesthood, he said.
Obedience to the church's law of tithing was another of President Hinckley's topics in meetings with church members, and education was another.
The church is organized in 29 African countries.
"This has been a historic week," said Elder Jeffery R. Holland, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve who is traveling with President Hinckley. "There is something grand and glorious happening in this land," he said of the church's progress in Africa, and of the progress of African nations in general. "It's not just the Latter-day Saints who will be blessed."
President Hinckley closed the series of African conferences with an apostolic blessing poignant on a continent where poverty is so wide-spread. "that heaven will smile upon you, that there will be peace in your hearts and your homes. That there will be food on your table and clothes on your back and a roof over your head."