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Church History in the Africa Southeast Area

Church History in the Africa Southeast Area
In 1830 at the time of the organization of the Church, the Lord told Joseph Smith, “Behold, there shall be a record kept among you…”  President Thomas S. Monson, commenting on this scripture, said:
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This mandate has been fulfilled and will continue to be honoured.  From the very beginning the church has taken most seriously the guardianship of its history.[1]

This mandate has been fulfilled and will continue to be honoured.  From the very beginning the church has taken most seriously the guardianship of its history.

Oliver Cowdery was the de facto record keeper for the Church in the early days, flowing out of his role as scribe for the prophet. Soon the prophet would officially assign him to keep the records of the Church. Thus he became the first Church historian. He was the second elder of the Church and was instructed by the Lord to “build up my church, and my gospel, and my rock”.[2]

In the fall of 1830, Oliver Cowdery embarked on a mission to the Lamanites. In his stead, John Whitmer was appointed “by the voice of the Elders to keep the Church record,” Whitmer wrote. “Joseph Smith Jr. said unto me you must also keep the Church history.” [3]

John Whitmer was comfortable transcribing Joseph Smith’s revelations, but hesitant to embrace the unfamiliar role of historian. He told Joseph, “I would rather not do it,” but agreed to accept the assignment if the Lord willed it, in which case “I desire that he would manifest it through Joseph the Seer.” [4]

John Whitmer was therefore the second official Church historian. His assignment was limited at first, but it grew as the Lord added more responsibility, directing that the elders abroad were to send in an account of their stewardships. He was also instructed to travel widely to gain knowledge and understanding about the Church and its members.[5]

Since then, the role of the Church historian has grown. Now, in a time when the Lord is hastening His work, Church history is being expanded internationally.  The establishment of a Church History Centre at the offices of the Africa Southeast Area in Johannesburg, South Africa, is evidence of this expansion.

The role of the Church History Department is to collect, preserve and share history of the Church that will enable members to “see what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers”.[6]  A records preservation center, contained within the Church History Centre, houses local historical records in a controlled environment designed for long term storage. Here we have a growing collection of records of units, leaders and members of the Church in a variety of forms.

One of the “golden plates” of the South Africa centre is the Clive Nichols collection. This collection contains one of the most comprehensive set of records, compiled by an avid, self-appointed historian, over many years.  “We were delighted to receive the donation of the entire collection for the Church”, said Taunia Lombardi, full-time missionary sister in the Church History Centre.

The Church History Department in the Africa Southeast Area now has one full-time employee, a missionary couple and 33 called volunteers serving in 15 countries.  The work of collecting historical records is progressing at an unprecedented pace and will continue to expand.

Members of the Church are invited to visit the Church History Centre when they come to the temple or distribution center in Johannesburg. You never know! You may find yourself in Church history.


[1] Thomas S. Monson – Dedication of the Church History Building

[2] Doctrine & Covenants 18:5

[3] John Whitmer, History, 1831–Circa 1847, Karen Lynn Davidson, Richard L. Jensen, and David J. Whittaker - Quoted by Brian Reeves, 2013

[4] Ibid

[5] Doctrine & Covenants 69:5-8

[6] Title page of the Book of Mormon