I have been typing into the computer the missionary experiences of my husband's parents; LaMar and Nyal Williams. The history comes from an oral history taken by the Church History Department in 1981. My father-in- law; LaMar Williams was set apart as the Presiding Elder in Nigeria during the early 1960's by Pres. David O. McKay. In 1980-1981; he was able to serve with his wife Nyal as missionaries in Nigeria and Ghana. There have been many stories of Missionary Work in Nigeria; but this story is one of the first.
As I have been typing this history; I have felt the spirit so strongly and shed tears over the stories he told about the Nigerian people that he met with. So today, I thought I would share a story of his first trip to Nigeria.
Our first meeting was held on Sunday morning. I gave the Godhead lesson, the apostasy, restoration lesson, and the Book of Mormon lesson from ten o’clock till twelve o’clock in a little chapel that was just packed with people. Several Congregations had come together under the direction of Reverend Udo-Ete.
After I gave the lessons and explained the gospel to them, I told them that I had been sent by President McKay to see if the people were sincerely interested in joining the Church, if they wanted the Church. I told them that I felt that I should explain to them our teachings and beliefs, to see if they could accept them. And I stressed the fact that we wanted to know if they were sincere in applying for membership in the Church.
I told Reverend Udo-Ete it was time to close the meeting, as it was twelve, and our meetings are two hours long. I asked him to have a song and to have someone pray because they had turned the meeting over to me. When I got there I was the presiding authority, so to speak. I heard some native conversation for a moment, and then he turned to me and said, “We don’t want to close the meeting. We have people here who want to bear their testimony.” There was a row of little children on either side of me, one and two years of age, sitting there for two hours, and it was hot—it was 40 degrees north of the Equator and they were perspiring, but not making a whimper, some of them were asleep. He said, “We want to continue with the meeting.” And I thought, “If they’re willing, I am.” So we listened for the next three hours to testimonies, till three o’clock, one person after another standing up bearing testimony of the Church and of the gospel. ( Be aware that he had been corresponding with these people for some time. He had also sent pamphlets and other reading material to them over a few years time. They had ask the Church for missionaries to come and teach them the Gospel of Jesus Christ.)
I’ll never forget one elderly man who stood up in the center of the congregation with slightly gray hair, wearing a white shirt and a rose-colored piece of wrap-around cloth, instead of trousers, bare footed, a large man. He said, “I am sixty-five years of age, and I am sick. I’ve walked sixteen miles to be here this morning. I want you to know that I’m sincere, or I wouldn’t have done this. I haven’t seen President McKay and I haven’t seen God, but I have seen you and I’m going to hold you personally accountable to go back to President McKay and tell him that we are sincere.”
When the meeting was over, I was taking some photographs out in front of the little chapel of some of those who had attended. I’d heard that some of them had walked quite a distance. I saw seven little mothers, each with a baby in their arms, the oldest ten months, and a group of little children about eight years of age and younger, down to about two years of age, around these mothers. I asked Reverend Udo-Ete about the little group and asked him if I could take their picture. And I did. I asked him where they lived, and then he told me this; “They got up at four o’clock this morning and walked here to this meeting.” It was now four o’clock in the afternoon and they must walk back. He said, “They won’t get home until ten o’clock tonight.” I noticed they had a little basket with two loaves of bread in it, and that’s all the group had to eat for that entire day. I discovered that by the time they got home, they had walked fifty-two miles to be to that meeting.
I saw a little mother with a little twelve-year old girl. Well, she might not have been twelve, an undernourished little girl, and a little baby less than a year and a half old. I doubt if the baby could walk. I asked about this little girl, because she was rolling up a scarf and placing it on her head. She then picked up a wooden bench that was about five feet long and put it on her head. I asked Reverend Udo-Ete, “What is she taking one of the church benches for? Where is she going to take it?” He said, “Well, that isn’t a church bench. That’s their bench, and they’re going to take it home with them, because they were afraid there wouldn’t be a seat for them, so they packed this bench to the chapel.” And I said, “Can I get their picture?” so I took a picture of this little mother with a baby and the little girl with the bench on her head. I said, “How far do they live from here?” He said, “Thirteen miles.” Now that little girl had packed that bench twenty-six miles on her head while her mother carried the baby. They had no other way to travel to this meeting.
As I discovered these things about these people, what had happened to these people and the sacrifices they were willing to make, I decided that they were sincere, or they wouldn’t do this. As I went with various groups during that six weeks period of time, I came back with recordings and pictures of hundreds of people who were sincere about the church to report to President McKay.
LaMar wasn't able to stay long enough on his visits to Nigeria in the early 19 60's to have the church officially recognized in that country. Since the late 1970's the church has been growing rapidly there. In this area of Africa there are now two temples one in Nigeria and another one in Ghana.
Please take a moment to watch the following video; you will be glad you did. It may take a moment to come on.
You can read more about the Saints in Africa today here: Unto All The World: Emerging With Faith In Africa.