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Establishing the Church in Gabon

Establishing the Church in Gabon

   For many years the Church had been trying to get recognition in Gabon so it could establish branches and send in missionaries, but over and over their applications had moved through the approval system and then simply stopped.

   In 2012, the Church advised the Africa Southeast Area Legal Office that Church recognition in Gabon was “now a priority.”  Jeff Clayton, the Area Legal Counsel, was tasked with getting things moving. He felt such a spiritual burden over the issue that he began to pray mightily for guidance. He and his assistant, Elder Dave Larsen, asked their children and grandchildren to “fast and pray for Gabon,” and President Holland put Gabon on the Temple prayer roll of the First Presidency and Apostles.

   Then Brother Clayton had two impressions: first, “Find the people who have been prepared to help,” and secondly, “Stay there long enough.” So with only one appointment available in Gabon, Brother Clayton booked the hotel for Elder Larsen and himself for a whole week. Then they invited Bishop Gaetan Kelounou of Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, to accompany them, since the bishop had relatives in Gabon.

   Gabon had been a French colony, so the Area Legal Office put together a French packet of information about the Church to take with them. Then they contacted the mission president of the Kinshasa Democratic Republic of Congo Mission, President Jameson. He knew of a few members in Gabon that had been baptized in France or in the Congo, and he advised those members of a sacrament meeting to be held the next Sunday in Libreville, the capital city of Gabon. They also contacted two stakes in Paris, France that had many members who had emigrated from Gabon and still had contacts with the government there. They were trying every way they could think of to “find the people who have been prepared to help.”

   The two Church attorneys and Bishop Kelounou arrived in Gabon on a Saturday and attended a Sacrament Meeting the next day in a large, empty house Bishop Kelounou's sister had provided. The spirit was so strong during the meeting that Brother Clayton, a previous bishop, stake president, and mission president, was deeply impressed and felt the Spirit as strongly as he ever had. As the meeting concluded, he felt fully edified, even though he understood no French. After the meeting, they collected the names and contact information for everyone there. Those names turned out to be essential for the Church's application for recognition that week.

   Monday began the difficult task of moving through government bureaucracy. However, miracle after miracle smoothed their way. Their previous application was located, even though the files were not computerized and the application was several years old. The packet of information they had collected opened hearts and doors for them. The member list was sufficient to complete the additional data the Ministry of the Interior needed. Suddenly, on Wednesday morning things just stopped. Their application was “still under consideration,” but no one was contacting them. They were afraid they would have to make yet another trip.

   Brother Clayton and Elder Larson decided to fast and pray all of Wednesday, and again they felt they should stay. On Thursday they returned to the Ministry of the Interior and just sat there, essentially refusing to leave. After more than an hour's wait, they were promised that they would receive the approved application that day, so they returned to the hotel. Sure enough, by the end of the day, a representative from the Ministry brought the approved Provisional Recognition for the Church in Gabon. The Church now had permission to formally organize a branch, send in missionaries, and conduct church business. Though it was a provisional recognition, it was a start, a start the Church had been trying to get for more than eight years.

  When their families were told of their miraculous experiences, Elder Larson's grandson wrote to him exclaiming, “When I grow up, I want to go to Gabon on my mission!”

Taken from an oral interview with Jeff Clayton and David Larson given on November 29, 2012.

Taken from an oral interview with Jeff Clayton and David Larson given on November 29, 2012.