When Kenneth and Muriel Armstrong grew up in South Africa in the 1940s and 1950s, the national government and the predominant church were essentially the same, so joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was viewed by many as a betrayal of the country. Consequently, the Church was very small and was mostly an American-style church. The branches were usually run by missionaries, the members taught square dancing to raise money for building funds, and the districts held Gold and Green Balls.
Brother Armstrong grew up attending Primary and participating in the youth programs. He knew and loved the gospel, so when he found and married Sister Armstrong in 1962, they determined to be sealed in the temple, refusing to buy a house until they had been to the temple first. They saved their money for five years in order to pay for the ten-day journey by ship to the London Temple, where they and their two children were sealed.
The few members in South Africa worked hard to establish the Church. Besides raising funds to build chapels, the members in Springs, where Brother Armstrong was the first branch president and then Bishop, actually built the pews and the podium that are still used today. As Brother Armstrong recalls, people didn’t damage the chapels when they had helped build them. Members thought, “I painted that wall, so you’d better not mark it.”
When the Springs chapel was completed, the branch was deeply in debt. President Armstrong and his counsellors fasted and prayed to know how to get out of debt. Then he went to his congregation and asked them each to contribute a month’s salary to the branch to eliminate the debt. The members accepted the challenge, and within six months, the branch was out of debt.
Brother Armstrong worked in the automotive industry, doing public relations for several major automobile companies. When he retired, he decided to start his own public relations firm. But just as he was getting started in 1993, then Apostle Thomas S. Monson called Brother Armstrong for an interview. He asked Brother Armstrong to serve as the South Africa Cape Town Mission President. Having never served a mission because of the national laws when he was growing up, Brother Armstrong blurted, “Are you sure?” Elder Monson reassured him that the call was from God.
In 2004, President Armstrong was asked to be President of the South African Missionary Training Centre, with no counsellors. For four months, the only time the Armstrongs left the MTC was to go to the shop. However, although they were overwhelmed with the needs of the newly-called missionaries from all over Africa, they successfully taught them how to represent the Church in their appearance, their behaviour, and their knowledge of the gospel.
In November 2010 the Armstrongs were asked to serve as the Johannesburg Temple President and Matron. Even though they were worried about the heavy responsibility this calling would entail, after their interview with President Uchtdorf, they knew it was the Lord who had called them. After numerous spiritual and sacred experiences in the temple, Brother and Sister Armstrong now declare, “We have learned to know without a doubt that the Lord is in control of His house…. We are very grateful for the opportunity to serve in the temple.”
Excerpted from an interview with Kenneth and Muriel Armstrong.