This blog covers the years 2014-2016 when we (the Robisons) were at the Ghana MTC. To see the blog covering the period 2016-2018 click on this link:

Sunday, June 1, 2014

How did the Church begin in Nigeria?

Anthony Obinna, 1988

In Nigeria the restored gospel took root spontaneously in the two decades before it was formally preached in that country. From the 1950s on, some Nigerians learned about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through magazine articles and acquired Church literature. Groups of people began meeting unofficially in the Church's name.

Through the years, some of them wrote to Church headquarters requesting missionaries. Glen G. Fisher, returning from service as South Africa Mission President, visited Nigeria in 1960 and reported that the groups were sincere. Attempts to send missionaries, however, were thwarted because visas were unavailable.

The 1978 revelation on the priesthood, allowing all worthy males of any race to hold the priesthood, was the catalyst for the start of missionary work in Nigeria. In 1978, two couples were sent to Nigeria as special representatives of the Church's International Mission. The first baptized member was one of those who had waited many years for the coming of the missionaries.

In 1987, less than 10 years after the Church's establishment in Nigeria, membership approached 10,000. In January of 1997, when the Africa Area of the Church baptized its 100,000th member, membership in Nigeria had reached 30,300, the highest of any nation in the Africa Area.
In February 1998, 12,000 members met in Port Harcourt at a regional conference presided over by Gordon B. Hinckley, the President of the Church.

One of the earliest African converts and pioneers was Anthony Obinna in Nigeria. 

He related the following story that occurred in the late 1960s: “One night I was sleeping and a tall man came to me [in a dream], took me to one of the most beautiful buildings, and showed me all the rooms.” In 1970 he read an article in an old 1958 Reader’s Digest titled “The March of the Mormons,” which included a picture of the Salt Lake Temple. “It was exactly the same building I had seen in my dream,” he said. Brother Obinna wrote to the Church for LDS literature.

In 1978, when the Obinna family learned of the revelation on the priesthood, they wrote to the First Presidency: “We are happy for the many hours in the upper rooms of the temple you spent supplicating the Lord to bring us into the fold. We thank our Heavenly Father for hearing your prayers and ours. … We thank you for extending the priesthood, … to prepare us to receive every blessing of the gospel.” When the missionaries arrived in Nigeria, they found many people prepared for the gospel as a result of Brother Obinna’s teaching and leadership. The first LDS chapel built in Nigeria is near the Obinnas’ home in Aboh Mbaise, of the Imo State.

When the first LDS missionaries arrived in Nigeria in 1978, there was very little need for proselytizing. For more than thirty years, Nigerians who had encountered the Church in one way or another had been writing Salt Lake City requesting literature and missionaries. When those missionaries came, they found multiple congregations eager to be baptized virtually the day they arrived.

Anthony Obinna had been writing Church headquarters for several years by the time Rendell and Rachel Mabey and Edwin and Janath Cannon sought him out a week after their arrival in Nigeria in November 1978. The two senior missionary couples set off in a cab from Port Harcourt with only a general idea of their destination. Like many in Nigeria, Obinna lived in a numberless house on a nameless street, but the missionaries knew his village, county, and state from the letters he had written. After a three-hour ride including several stops to ask for help, they turned down a road lined with banana and palm trees that ended at a small church.

“Near the roof in blue letters were painted the words, ‘Nigerian Latter-Day Saints,’” Rendell Mabey later wrote. He found one set of doors labelled LDS and another labelled Missionary Home. "It was a curious experience encountering the name of our own church," wrote Mabey, "where no missionary had ever before set foot.”

The missionaries found the area filled with people, but not Obinna. Upon learning who their visitors were, Obinna’s son went in search of his father while the missionaries explored the church.  The Mabeys admired the small chapel with its neat blue door and shutters, then explored the classroom which doubled as an office in the other half of the building. In the classroom, the program for the next day's services were already carefully written up on a blackboard. A copy of the Doctrine and Covenants and several copies of the Book of Mormon were available for student use, and shelves were stacked with old issues of the Ensign and Church News.

It took a couple of hours for Obinna, who had built up this place over thirteen years of waiting, to arrive and finally shake hands with someone prepared to bring him the LDS Church in full.  Indeed, Obinna taught the gospel to his family and had amassed a congregation of seventy-one members by the time the Mabeys and Cannons arrived five months after President Spencer W. Kimball announced a revelation removing the priesthood restriction that had long been an impediment to missionary work in West Africa.


Patience Rewarded

When Anthony Obinna arrived to greet the missionaries on that November day in 1978, his demeanor was serious, even thoughtful.

Elder Mabey was struck by how “solemn, gentle, and dignified" Obinna was as he entered the small church, “as though an overt display of enthusiasm at such a moment might be almost sacrilegious. Our eyes, however, were moist. We all felt movingly the richness of God’s Spirit.”

Said Obinna, “It has been a long, difficult wait, but that doesn’t matter now. You have come at last.”

Yet even Obinna’s patience had its limits; when Mabey told him there were other congregations the missionaries needed to visit and estimated that it would be six weeks before they could return to perform baptisms, Obinna’s waiting was done.

“’No, please,’ he said quietly,” Mabey later wrote. “‘I know that there are many others, but we have been waiting for thirteen years.’ His eyes were filled with longing. ‘Please, if it is humanly possible—go ahead with the baptisms now!’ For a few seconds we merely sat there looking into each other’s eyes. ‘Are most of your people ready?’ I asked at last. Anthony nodded emphatically. ‘Yes—absolutely yes! They know, as I do, that the gospel has been restored, but we must have guidance and direction. Let us baptize those strongest in the faith now and teach the others further.’ The Spirit was very strong, the man’s goodness and testimony clearly evident. ‘In that case,’ I said, ‘we will conduct the baptism as soon as possible.’”

The men decided on a date just three days away,  and on Tuesday, November 21, 1978, nineteen Nigerians were baptized in the Ekeonumiri River. Anthony Obinna was first.  The photo below was taken at that baptism and has become an icon in African Mormon history.


A branch was soon organized for the new converts, with Anthony Obinna as its president, his brothers Francis and Raymond as his counselors, and his wife, Fidelia, as Relief Society president.7
After many years of waiting and hoping, Obinna penned a different sort of letter to Salt Lake soon after his baptism.

Obinna served faithfully in the Church for many years, and in 1989 was sealed to Fidelia in the temple during a visit to Logan, Utah, where their son was living. Obinna died in 1995, leaving a legacy that was not limited to the dozens of family members to whom he had brought the gospel.
“The seed of the gospel which you sowed will grow into a giant tree,” he wrote to Rendell Mabey when his time in Nigeria was nearing its end. “The Church in Nigeria will surprise the world in its growth. The number of baptisms, confirmations, and ordinations you performed in this country show only a beginning.”

In January of this year, Elder Bednar sent us a New York Times article showing that the projected population of Nigeria would surpass China by the year 2090.  Nigeria continues to be a country rich in potential growth for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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