Are There Missionaries In this Town Now?

Are There Missionaries In this Town Now?

This was a story shared with me by the missionaries who were sent to open up a new area where the Church had had no official presence. The Nigeria Benin City Mission includes part of a region called the South-South part of Nigeria, popularly known as the Niger Delta. The area was known for its hosting of major international oil companies and was a hotbed for militancy.

In May 2014, the Church sent its first missionaries to officially start proselyting efforts in the South-South neighbouring towns of Oghara and Sapele. The first group of missionaries was made up of a mixture of fresh ones from the MTC and more experienced ones. In their first weeks in the area, with no accommodation, the missionaries had to be commuting daily from Benin City to Oghara and Sapele. This commute took about thirty minutes each way. 

Two incidents happened to the missionaries that helped them to know that the Lord had gone ahead of them to prepare the way. On their very first day at Oghara, they were standing by the road side looking for a taxi when one stopped beside them and instead of asking where they were going, and without waiting for them to indicate where they were going, simply asked, 'Are there missionaries in this town now?'. To say the Elders were amazed was an understatement. They quickly engaged the taxi driver in a conversation and learned that he was a member who had not been privileged to partake of sacrament for over 6 years since he moved to Oghara and was amazed to see the young men in white shirts and ties. He did not initially believe what he was seeing and only moved closer to see if they were wearing black name tags. He really helped in identifying some less active members in town but moved away before the branch could be formally organized. 

The second incident happened within that same week but this time in Sapele. The missionaries were moving around talking to people and getting a feel of the town. They were concerned about finding a river where they could conduct baptisms as well as a place to meet. The second issue was solved with the help of their newly-found member friend and others who managed to secure a temporary place for them in a public school. What remained now was finding a river. They were just walking around when they saw a naval facility with a natural pond that was perfect for baptisms. The only imperfect thing about it was that it was naval property and due to the militancy in the Niger Delta region, and the regular attack on military facilities, the military is suspicious about uninvited members of the public.  The elders were afraid to go too near the barricade gate with its stern looking and gun-toting naval officers. But something was drawing them to the gate and the pond and their mouth was salivating over this untouchable, yet desirable facility. They were inside the barracks and walking boldly towards the pond before the military men could stop them. They were already close to the pond when one of the officers started walking menacingly towards them. That was when they realised their foolishness. They were ready to run for their lives, but had nowhere to run to and had resigned themselves to fate, when they heard, for the second time that week, a voice behind the menacing officer question, 'Are there LDS missionaries in this town?' They stopped in their tracks and walked back, as they told me, boldly and nobly. With the dignity they lost while thinking to run away, they returned to the security gate to say YES! Through the help of this officer, that pond became the baptismal font until the Church was able to get a small chapel and build a font. This officer was a member of the Church but had been less active for years. Though he did not return to activity in the Church, he facilitated the use of the pond and even helped to secure a changing room for the elders. He served in Sapele until shortly before the Church got a chapel rented and he was transferred out of the town. 

On the 13 of July 2014, the Oghara-Sapele branch was formally organised in a public school in Sapele and the members meet in two separate places in the towns of Oghara and Sapele. 

Truly has the Lord promised that He would go before our face (D&C 84:88).