LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson assured throngs of Kenyan Mormons that they share the pioneering spirit of faith with Latter-day Saints who settled Utah’s Salt Lake Valley nearly two centuries ago.
“You perhaps don’t think of yourself as pioneers, but you’re just as much pioneers here now as Brigham Young and his associates were following the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith in the 1800s,” Nelson stated during his global tour’s stop Monday in the East African nation’s capital of Nairobi.
In comments also broadcast to Mormon congregations throughout Kenya, the 93-year-old Nelson also remarked that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ “membership in the continent of Africa is about the same as it was for the whole church [as when] I was a boy.”
In 1924, the year Nelson was born, Mormon membership was barely 600,000; today the LDS Church reports worldwide membership at more than 16 million.
There are more than 578,000 Latter-day Saints in Africa, according to the church’s website, and about 14,000 of them are Kenyans. The late LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson announced plans in April 2017 to build a temple in Nairobi, the nation’s first.
Nelson, accompanied by his wife, Wendy, and apostle Jeffrey R. Holland and his spouse, Patricia, made the first stop of their 11-day globetrotting trip April 12 in London. They arrived in Kenya on Monday after a weekend visit to Jerusalem was cut short due partly to rising tensions in the Middle East.
Holland, declaring that he believed Kenyan Mormons had “prayed a temple here,” encouraged them to gather their family histories in anticipation of the day when they will be able to perform proxy baptisms and other sacred rites for their ancestors.
“The announcement has been made and the work is yet to be done,” Holland said, “but I’m sure it was your faith and your devotion that the Lord would smile on you.”
Among Kenyan Mormons greeting the LDS leaders was Solomon Luvai of Nairobi, a member since 1994.
“Today is a great day to have the prophet be with us,” he said, according to an LDS Church news release. “You know, most of the time we just see him in pictures and on tapes, but this time it’s still a great day to see him face to face.”
Mercy Makau, a 12-year member of the faith, hosted Nelson and company in her home earlier Monday. “It never occurred to me in my wildest dream,” she said, “that I would be able to even be near the prophet, considering that I’m in Kenya.”
Nelson, who succeeded Monson in January, expressed his gratitude and gave the Makau family a photograph of the governing LDS First Presidency, which consists of himself, first counselor Dallin H. Oaks and second counselor Henry B. Eyring.
Nelson and his entourage next visit Harare, Zimbabwe, to participate in a devotional meeting with local LDS leaders, members and missionaries. From there, the tour continues on to Bengaluru, India; Bangkok, Thailand; Hong Kong; and Hawaii.