By STEVE JENSE
With Thursday ending Black History Month, it’s the perfect opportunity to bring to light the efforts of one BYU religion faculty member to inform the LDS community about the history of the LDS Church in Africa.
Dale LeBaron, associate professor of church history, is writing his second book about his first-hand experience with the explosion of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Africa.
Serving as LDS mission president in 1978 over the only mission in Africa at the time — Johannesburg, South Africa — LeBaron witnessed the rapid growth that occurred with the revelation by LDS President Spencer W. Kimball allowing blacks to receive the priesthood.
“The restoration of the priesthood was basically the restoration of the gospel for the people in black Africa,” LeBaron said.
He said the 1978 LDS Church population in Africa was about 11,000 — all of who were white. But today there are over 96,000 African Latter-day Saints, nearly 90 percent of who are black.
He said during the 20 years preceding the 1978 revelation, there were more inquiry letters coming to Salt Lake City from Nigeria and Ghana requesting information about the LDS Church than from everywhere else in the world combined.
“These people were so receptive to spiritual things that whenever they came in contact with LDS members in European countries many would just immediately recognize that it was true,” LeBaron said.
He said the Africans would return to their hometowns to share what they had learned about the LDS Church. Soon there were congregations springing up all over Nigeria and Ghana calling themselves “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
“It was just like popcorn popping up,” he said.
The LDS Church is now registered in 27 of the 50 sub-Saharan African nations, LeBaron said. Membership is even skyrocketing to the point that in some areas the church has established a quota limiting the number of baptisms each month.
“It’s so that we don’t outgrow ourselves,” he said. “They need to have enough time to develop leadership.”
In years past LeBaron has given presentations and lectures at BYU during Black History Month about his experiences in Africa.