When LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley announced plans to build a temple in Ghana during his visit to Africa in February, he reaffirmed the faith's 20-year old "revelation from God" extending the church's priesthood to worthy black males.
In an emotion-packed tour through much of the continent, President Hinckley told African church members repeatedly that their numbers would continue to swell.What no one knew at the time was that a few of those conversions would happen in the heart of Mormonism - and within only a few months of his visit to Africa.
Yet in what is arguably the most Caucasian area of the entire church, members of the Bountiful Orchard LDS Stake gathered Sept. 20 to see 11 native dancers from the African nation of Togo baptized. They are among the first known converts in their country, which borders Ghana to the east.
Now, as these new members join their counterparts worldwide in preparing for the church's 168th Semiannual General Conference in Salt Lake City this weekend, many who watched the conversions say the fruits of President Hinckley's predictions are being manifest - in a way few would have ever dreamed.
In Utah to perform as part of Bountiful's 10th annual Sum-mer-fest celebration, held mid-August, the dancers picked up more than the usual cultural exchange as they shared their talents with residents. Their visit to Bountiful followed participation in a similar festival held the previous week in Rexburg, Idaho, where the dance team members first heard about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
As is the custom with Bountiful's annual festival, foreign participants are housed in the homes of area residents, giving both the dancers and the hosts an opportunity to better understand each other's culture.
Intrigued by the warmth and hospitality of their hosts in both locales, several members of the group began asking questions about the LDS Church and reading the Book of Mormon. A tour of Temple Square was arranged, and as interest grew, French-speaking missionaries from the church's Utah Ogden Mission were summoned.
"The Bible tells us that you should not hide your candle under a bushel," says Desire Koffi T. Abbey, through an interpreter.
"We're being shown the way and the light. Why would we want to just hide it in our pockets and keep it to ourselves? We must show it and share it with everyone," he says.
Known to his hosts simply as Koffi, he has become one of two spokesmen for the new converts, who will be among the first Latter-day Saints in Togo when they return home.
Doug Barnes, a Bountiful resident who helps translate for the group, says phone calls to church officials in Africa confirm that there are about 25 members in Togo who meet weekly in a private home for services. There is no organized branch of the church there.
"They've asked us to help them locate the address so they can find it when they go back," Barnes said.
Pascal Kovi Dadzie, known as Pascal to his hosts, says he and his friends "didn't know anything about the Mormons" when they came to the United States several weeks ago.
But he says his own thirst for understanding about how LDS beliefs intertwine with the Bible make him anxious to share what he has learned. "I want to help develop and establish the church in Togo. I want to tell people who don't know about the Book of Mormon, and how it helps clear up many passages in the Bible."
All of the new converts have long been practicing Christians, "a very praying, deeply spiritual people," Barnes says. Though about 70 percent of Togo's population profess indigenous religious beliefs, about 20 percent are Christian. While those might be daunting odds to some, Barnes says the new converts "know that with their faith in God and a lot of prayer, they will be successful."
Coit and Dawna Holt, who have hosted the group in their home for at least a month, say they got involved because Dawna was in charge of arranging host families for all of the dancers involved in the festival for the past eight years.
"This year, she only took responsibility for one nation, and that was Togo. When they decided to stay longer than the festival run, and the host families were unable to keep them any longer, they all came over here," said Coit Holt, who is also helping the dancers obtain visas to work in the United States and spread their culture.
What's it like to have 11 extra people in the household for an extended period of time - particularly when most don't speak any English?
"It's great," said Coit Holt. "We've got mattresses laid out in a couple of different rooms - basically the women sleep upstairs and the men sleep downstairs. The first day they got here they found all these pictures of Christ, and they took them and put them over their beds."
Dawna says the group members are all anxious to share in household chores, and the women enjoy cooking and sharing their native foods. "We're just all one big happy family," she says, standing at the top of the stairs directing human traffic. "We might not speak the same language, but we communicate just fine."
While the whole experience is an unusual one for everyone in the Holt household - and for Bountiful-area church members as a whole - no one sees it as more providential than Elder John Kin-grey.
Originally scheduled to complete his two-year LDS mission in mid-September, Kingrey hadn't taught even one lesson in French, the way he'd dreamed of doing as a young boy - until the end of August.
Called to the French-speaking France Marseille Mission, Kingrey had spent years studying French in high school and further prepared for his foreign assignment at the Missionary Training Center in Provo. But medical problems early on rerouted him to Utah.
Though he hadn't had a chance to use his French language skills in two years, Kingrey enjoyed his Utah experience and applied for a six-week "extension" to continue proselyting. He was scheduled to return home to Dayton, Ohio, earlier this week after teaching and baptizing the 11 French-speaking Togo natives.
"I definitely see the hand of the Lord in this one. After about a year here, I'd given up hope of ever using my French. Now I know what the Lord knew all along."
Morning 10 a.m.
Afternoon 2 p.m.
Priesthood 6 p.m.
Morning 10 a.m.
Afternoon 2 p.m.