Mary Spear and Dr. Dale LeBaron, Religion
On August 24, 1985, after months of preparation and anticipation, the Johannesburg South Africa Temple was dedicated. Prior to this, the closest temple for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Africa had been the London Temple. The dedication of the Johannesburg Temple marked the culmination of many years of faithful prayer and sacrifice. However, attendance at this temple, the only one on the African continent, remains desultory. This raises two questions. First, what motivated the Church leadership to build a temple in Johannesburg? Second, why are the members not taking advantage of this great blessing?
The answer to the first question is simple, and yet profound. The Lord inspired them. With the revelation in 1978 extending the priesthood to all worthy males of the Church, the gospel of Jesus Christ was spreading more rapidly through Africa. The Lord loves all his children, individually, and He wants all of them to have access to the blessings of the temple. Johannesburg had the largest concentration of Church membership on the continent, making it the logical location for the House of the Lord.
The second question is more problematic—especially in light of the blessings to be gained from temple attendance. Yet, there are a myriad practical concerns which impede attendance. For those members living outside the Johannesburg vicinity, the cost of traveling the the temple is often a deciding factor. In the current economic climate, it is difficult for them to arrange the necessary time off work. Once this is accomplished, the actual traveling expenses are often far beyond their means. This is especially pertinent in the case of those members living beyond the South African borders, often in so-called Third World countries.
In an effort to cut some of these costs, many wards and stakes arrange annual temple trips, enabling members to share the financial burden. For most, this annual trip is the only opportunity they have to enjoy the peace ad serenity found inside the temple. Naturally, there are those who sacrificed and suffered much for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of attending the temple to make sacred covenants. One example is that of Sister Beatrice Vilakazi. Sister Vilakazi is totally crippled with Rheumatoid Arthritis, to the extent that even sitting in a wheelchair for more than 15 minutes causes her to become faint from pain. Surely if anyone had an excuse not to be able to attend the temple, it was her. But Sister Vilakazi was not going to allow her disability to deprive her of the blessings of the temple. She drove the long drive from Natal to the temple lying prone on a mattress in the back of a minivan. Her opportunity to attend the temple was further complicated by construction, making the only entrance to the temple the stairs from the underground parking. Priesthood brethren carried Sister Vilakazi up the stairs in a wheel chair—a very uncomfortable ride, but she then was able to attend the sessions in the temple, participating as much as she could from her prone position. She has returned to the temple twice since her original visit in 1993.1
Yet perhaps these stories are so remarkable precisely because they are so exceptional. Why are the members of the three stakes in the vicinity not attending the temple? In the Book of Mormon, Alma laments the numbers of people who died, because they would not look to God and live.2 They perished, “because of the easiness of the way.” I believe this to be the root of the problem.
Of course, there are practical impediments to deter members from regular attendance, but these difficulties are not insurmountable, as the members themselves admit. A common cause for concern is that the roads in the Johannesburg area are considered unsafe, especially for someone driving alone after dark. This is a valid concern. Perhaps car pooling would provide an alternative to driving alone, as well as persuading more people to attend. The Church has attempted to provide some security for cars, by providing gated parking under the Temple.
Related to this, parents who might otherwise attend the evening sessions are reluctant to leave their children at home. Finding a babysitter for the length of time required to travel and participate in a session can be problematic. The Young Women Organization in the Sandton ward volunteered to babysit at the Chapel on Thursday nights, but the hour and a half provided is not sufficient time. However, parents agree that finding a babysitter would be possible with a little more effort.
Perhaps part of the reason for this is that, after fighting their way home through rush hour traffic, people would rather relax at home and have dinner than go back out to brave the traffic again. The last session is at 7:00 pm, making it a mad scramble to get home and changed and to the temple. Such hurry tends to dispel the spirit of temple work. The temple has recently changed its hours, adding in particular Saturday afternoon sessions. Hopefully, this will eliminate many of the babysitting, travel safety, and time issues that keep so many away from the temple.
Elder Boyd K. Packer wrote, “The house of the Lord, bathed in light, standing out in the darkness, becomes symbolic of the power and the inspiration of the gospel of Jesus Christ standing as a beacon in a world that sinks even further into spiritual darkness.”3 I believe that if the members could grasp the reality of this statement, and exercise the requisite faith and commitment, they would receive the blessings promised by President Hinckley. The knowledge that the temple grounds are a sanctuary, a piece of “Holy Ground” in Africa, seems to be enough of a reason to have built the Johannesburg South Africa Temple.4
- L. Bibb and S. Bibb, Johannesburg South Africa Temple 1985-1995, (1996)20-22.
- Alma 37:46, Book of Mormon, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
- Ensign, Temples of the Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints, (1988)8.
- Special thanks to Lionel and Sheila Bibb for the use of their booklet Johannesburg South Africa Temple 1985-1995. Special thanks also to the many members who gave their opinions and findings for this paper.