Violence forces closure of Nigeria's LDS temple
LDS officials have closed the church's Nigerian temple due to violence in the surrounding area and moved temple workers away from the church compound there.
It is uncertain when Mormonism's most visible structure in that West African nation will reopen.
"The safety of our temple visitors and workers is always our first concern," LDS spokesman Scott Trotter said Wednesday. "Incidents of violence in recent months in the area where the temple is situated are not necessarily related to the temple but could put church members at risk."
The mid-June closure came in response to an e-mail from a temple worker describing how four gunmen armed with AK-47s shot holes in the Aba temple's guardhouse.
Mormon missionaries began proselytizing in Nigeria in 1978, shortly after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discontinued its ban on black male members holding the priesthood. By 1998, more than 12,000 members came to hear LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley speak in Port Harcourt. They lined the streets in nearby Aba to catch a glimpse of the man they consider to be a "prophet, seer and revelator."
Two years later, Hinckley announced the building of a temple in Aba and then returned for its dedication in August 2005. LDS leaders chose the temple site, in part, because most of the members lived nearby. But the large, expensive temple sitting amid extreme poverty created the impression that Mormons were wealthy.
That was an unfortunate message, given that the oil-rich Niger Delta region also is the site of escalating violence from ethnic groups targeting foreign corporations for their share of the profits. Any Americans could be mistaken for oil company workers, who have been the targets of scores of hostage takings since the start of the fighting.
In 2007, four LDS missionaries were abducted from their apartment and held captive for four days. The motive was not fully known, Quentin L. Cook, now an apostle but then of the First Quorum of Seventy and executive director of the LDS Church's missionary department, said at the time. The captors likely believed they had abducted oil company workers for whom they would collect ransom, then quickly realized they had made a mistake.
The church paid no money, according to LDS apostle M. Russell Ballard, but did give the captors $810 to pay for the four men's food, lodging and care during their captivity.
It did then move its American missionary couples to other areas of Nigeria or Ghana.
Today, LDS membership has soared to 88,374 in Nigeria. The country of about 150 million is half Muslim, half Christian. Of approximately 350 young LDS missionaries serving in Nigeria, none is American and most are African.