SALT LAKE CITY , Utah — Out of curiosity, Andrew Zillale stopped an American couple on a street in Tanzania , inquiring why they were in Africa . Little did he know then that this chance meeting with missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1993 would lead to him becoming a modern-day Mormon pioneer.

When Zillale met senior missionary couple Keith and Claudia Davis from Victor, Idaho, he was intrigued by what they said about the Mormon belief concerning eternal families. Having lost his mother while he was a teenager, he wanted to know more.

Andrew Zillale provides real-time interpretation of general conference sermons for Swahili-speaking attendees at the meeting and others watching by satellite in Africa and elsewhere. © Geoffrey McAllister

“I asked them,” Zillale says, “was there any way I could see my mother again?” The Davises told him, “Absolutely.”

Their first scheduled meeting with Zillale was an opportunity for him to ask why the Americans were in Tanzania , a country of approximately 35 million people where the Church was unknown. He met with the missionaries over the course of the next five months.

Zillale says the hardest part of those five months was reading the Book of Mormon in English, as a Swahili translation was not yet available. Fortunately he knew enough English that he understood many passages, and those he did not understand he would underline and have the Davises translate and explain at their next meeting.

When Zillale was baptized, there was only one Latter-day Saint branch for the entire country. He was just one of a handful of Tanzanian members. When Zillale was 19, the branch president asked him to serve a full-time, two-year mission for the Church.

The request came as a surprise because he did not know he could be a missionary. To him, missionaries were “special” and “came from other countries.”

In 1995, Zillale was assigned to the mission based in Nairobi, Kenya. 

After his mission, he began helping translators at Latter-day Saint world headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, translate Church material into Swahili — an effort that would allow his fellow Tanzanians, as well as those in other Swahili-speaking countries, to read the scriptures in their native language.

Today, Zillale is living in Idaho Falls , Idaho , having just completed a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University-Idaho, and his wife Harieth, also a Tanzanian convert to the Church, is currently working on hers. Once Harieth finishes her bachelor’s degree, Zillale hopes to attend Brigham Young University in Provo to earn a master’s degree.

After the degrees are in hand, the Zillales hope to return to Tanzania .

Since Zillale currently lives in the United States , he travels to Salt Lake City every April and October for the Church’s general conferences to interpret sermons into Swahili. His voice is carried via satellite to the chapels where the now four Tanzanian congregations gather to hear counsel and instruction from the Church’s leadership.

“Sometimes I sit with my wife and say, ‘What if the Church had not come to Africa ? Where would we be now?’”

For the Zillales, the pioneering journey is just as important as the destination.

This article was prepared by the LDS Newsroom at lds.org.