A faith that began in upstate New York is taking its message to the four corners of the earth. With nearly 320,000 members, Africa is one of the fastest growing places in the world. Though the geography may be different, Church members in Africa and elsewhere are bound together by a devout belief in Jesus Christ that manifests itself in their lives.
Growing Up Under Apartheid
Dominic Tshabalala’s daily existence was one of walking in fear. Constant violence and hostility surrounded him as a small boy. “It did not engender love or trust or stability or faith in humankind,” recalls Dominic.
That dismal view of life was the result of Apartheid, said Dominic, an official policy of racial segregation involving political, legal and economic discrimination against nonwhites that took place in South Africa from 1948 to 1994.
Police attack dogs were trained to single out his race, said Dominic, and often young boys and men in his neighborhood were rounded up into police vans never to be seen again. The “armed struggle” against Apartheid was talked about on street corners, in homes and in open fields in the segregated black township where he lived. “We were expecting the day would come when someone would give you an AK-47 [automatic assault rifle] and all you would do is shoot. . . . It was assumed that everybody would participate.” Dominic says he is grateful that day never came and that he never has held a gun.
Dominic never knew his father and was allowed to visit his mother only three times a year because she worked as a servant for a family in Johannesburg, about two and a half hours away from his home. Black Africans were not permitted to venture inside the city without a traveling pass, just as whites were not permitted to go to black townships. He said it was only through the good graces of his mother’s employer that he was granted visits with her at all.
Dominic’s bleak world began to change for the better at the age of 12 after witnessing something astonishing during one of the visits with his mom. White female or “sister” missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were given the permission by his mother’s employer to teach her about their faith. Upon conclusion of the lesson, Dominic says, they lovingly embraced her. Dominic had never seen that type of affection generated from a white person toward someone of darker skin. “You don’t understand how big that was, how amazing it was to see that — how shocking. It went against everything society had taught me.”
Dominic says each time the missionaries visited that week with his mother he felt something that he didn’t understand. “It was very foreign but felt good. It felt safe; I felt wanted.” He says he later understood that feeling to be the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit.
He was baptized and started attending church and was again amazed by the acceptance he felt. “They taught the same thing to me as the white boy sitting next to me at church. That broke a lot of boundaries for me. That said to me in my heart and mind that we are equal.”
More opportunities opened up to Dominic through the help of Church members. He was able to attend high school, a privilege not often given to children of his race, served a two-year mission for the Church, attended college, married in the Church’s Johannesburg South Africa Temple and has five children. He has served in many callings in the Church, including as the lay leader of his congregation. His current calling is that of National Director of Public Affairs for South Africa.. He currently works as an employment manager helping others find jobs.
Dominic looks with humility and gratitude at all that he has achieved. They are achievements that in his early life of strife and despair were not possible to comprehend. “The Church rescued me, truly, truly rescued me,” he said, “just like many other boys.”
Philibert Rasolo has spent years studying the Bible and searching for a meaningful religion to call his own. After 27 years of looking for a faith in his home of Madagascar, he became discouraged and vowed to end his quest. Instead, Philibert put all his energy into building a large brick house — three stories — much too large for his family that occupied only the top floor. Philibert said it would prove later to meet a need he had not yet imagined.
During that time, Philibert’s daughter Zarlice brought home an unusual religious book while on break from her studies at the university. At first Philibert was not dissuaded from his original vow to cease his search for religion, but he remembers being drawn toward the pages of the Book of Mormon. “I felt like the book was calling to me,” he remembered.
Unable to ignore his feelings, he began reading the Book of Mormon and had a realization. “The Bible and the Book of Mormon complete each other mutually,” said Philibert. “It [the Book of Mormon] speaks about how to be happy and not be in misery.”
Philibert wanted to know more about the church behind the book, but did not know where to find it. He wrote a letter simply addressed to “The president, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Antananarivo,” the capital city of Madagascar. The letter eventually found its way to the Church’s mission home in Madagascar, about 175 miles from Philibert’s remote rural village of Fokontany Andalona.
By the time Mormon missionaries arrived, Philibert and eight members of his family were ready to be baptized into the Church. The baptisms took place in a river near his village on 16 June 2009. “I am happy he joined,” said his daughter Tsiresy. “His spirit is open. I can see that the Church has sent divine help to the family.”
Initially there was no meetinghouse in Philibert’s village, but the home he felt compelled to build so large turned out to be ideal for Mormon worship services. Philibert is currently the lay leader in his congregation and has been instrumental in its growth. Now a new meetinghouse is being built to meet the needs of more new members.
The Soccer Coach
Solomon Eliya Tumane of South Africa loves soccer. The 29-year-old spends countless hours coaching young men in the Hurricanes Football Club who share his passion for the sport. But his players noticed something even more important in their coach’s life than soccer.
“Every week he used to come [to practice] with scriptures,” observed 17-year-old Siyabulela Manyakanyaka. “We could see the scriptures and Church magazines in his bag, so we started asking questions, and to answer he would read to us,” said 17-year-old Thapleo Benjamin. The players soon learned that Coach Tumane came to practice from a religion class where Mormon college students studied the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “The players surprised me one day,” recalled Coach Tumane. “They said, ‘We need to visit your church.’” The coach says that’s a day he will never forget because he wanted them to “go on the right path.” The coach visited each boy’s parents one at a time to receive their approval before agreeing to the request of his players. After attending Coach Tumane’s congregation, five young men from his team were taught by missionaries from the Church and baptized.
Since becoming members of the Church, the players have gained new friendships with other young men in their congregation. Their Church leaders say they are inseparable, gain support from each other and always desire to work together for good. The young men say their passion for soccer has never waned, but they now have a greater love, just as they first observed in their coach — the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Their goal is to serve full-time proselytizing missions for the Church. Nothing could make their soccer coach happier. “I was eager to teach these young ones because I love them so much. … I can’t wait for them to serve.”