SIERRA LEONE, Africa — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints created a new stake early Sunday morning in Sierra Leone, holding significance not only as the first stake in this western African nation but also as the 3,000th stake in the church worldwide.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve organized the Freetown Sierra Leone Stake.
"It is part of the latter-day miracle, evidence of our 'marvelous work and a wonder' that the Church has grown to the point where its 3,000th stake is in far-off Sierra Leone," Elder Holland told the Church News in a telephone call from Sierra Leone.
"What is particularly poignant for me is not only that this historic stake is created in a distant land for a people who have only relatively recently had the gospel brought to them but it is also created in a war-torn and tragic land where there has been so much bloodshed, so much violence and vice in an earlier time."
Elder Holland said the creation of the Freetown Sierra Leone Stake signifies the impressive way in which the gospel of Jesus Christ is spreading spread worldwide, "particularly to a place where it is so dearly needed, where they have so little and have had so much of tragedy. It is a wonderful statement about what the gospel does in a wounded world, why we take the church to all people, what it means to them to find it, embrace it and see it change their lives."
He said it is remarkable that a stake — regardless of its status as the 3,000th worldwide — has been created in Sierra Leone. "The Church is relatively new in this country," he noted.
The church's official beginnings here trace back to 1988 with the formation of the Wellington Freetown Branch. However, its roots in Sierra Leone reach back further. Several people played key roles in bringing the gospel's message to the country, among whom were Michael Sumalia Samura, Bai Sama Sankoh, Christian L. George, Elizabeth Bangura and Monica Orleans. Each joined the church in other countries and returned to Sierra Leone to share their new-found faith with relatives, friends and others.
Samura, who was baptized in the Netherlands in 1981, Sankoh, who joined the church in Spain in 1986, and George, who became a convert in Germany returned to Sierra Leone. Unbeknownst to each other, they wrote letters to LDS officials, asking for the church to be established in Sierra Leone. Elizabeth Bangura and Monica Orleans, who were baptized in Ghana, became influential in the spread of the gospel as they settled in Sierra Leone and told many people about the church.
On May 6, 1988, Liberia Monrovia Mission President J. Duffy Palmer and his wife, Sister Jocelyn Palmer, arrived in Freetown to welcome two days later the first missionaries called to serve in Sierra Leone: Elder Claire J. Fisher and Sister Ilene Fisher, and Elder C. Erwin Waite and Sister Colleen Waite.
The first converts, 14 in number, were baptized on June 11, 1988, at Atlantic Beach, Lumley.
Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve, traveling with his wife, Sister Jeanene Scott, visited Sierra Leone and, standing with a small group of Latter-day Saints on Leicester Peak, dedicated the land on May 18, 1989.
The new stake, which has a membership of about 2,250, is made up of eight wards: Belliar Park, Congo Cross, Dwarzak, Freetown, Goderich, Hill Station, Lumley and Mount Aureol.
At the time of the creation of the stake, there were four districts in Sierra Leone: Freetown, Freetown East, Bo and Kenema, the latter of which was formed on Nov. 25 as a division from the Bo District. (Bo remains a separate district in which reside some 3,000 Latter-day Saints who look forward to the day when Bo will become its own stake.)
Patrick Swarray Jr was sustained Sunday morning as president of the Freetown Sierra Leone Stake. Abibu S. Charles was called a first counselor and Theophilus Minna as second counselor.
Elder John B. Dickson of the Seventy and president of the Africa West Area, described the members in Sierra Leone as "a very faithful, friendly people that have great capacity. They love the Lord and have no trouble expressing their belief in God, no matter what their religious affiliation might be. The church is growing very rapidly, but carefully, under the direction of Sierra Leone Freetown Mission President Richard P. Roggia."
He said when the members learned the first stake was to be created in Sierra Leone, they were "very excited and many were moved to tears."
Elder Dickson added, "This has been much more than just having sufficient numbers to have a stake. They have worked very hard to be a consecrated, covenant-keeping people.
Elder Holland said, "As with everything in the gospel, there are blessings layered on top of blessings in such a day as this. It is wonderful for the institutional church that we are spreading to ever-more distant frontiers. But it is also wonderful for individual people in those individual countries where the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is being so cherished and so revered. In this latter-day light everything is seen more clearly, more hopefully and more beautifully."
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