Since the beginning of time, mankind seems to have had inborn desires to make sounds of music and express its natural forms of rejoicing with musical instruments, singing, and dancing.
When God created the earth, He looked down and said, “It is good.” Africa was part of this good earth. When Adam populated the land with his children, many of his descendants made their home in Nigeria. Such is the beginning of “The Day of Rejoicing” in Aba.
For almost a year, the youth of the Church in Nigeria prepared and practiced for this moment. They were ready. Their primary reasons for this day of rejoicing were here — the temple was completed and their Prophet had arrived.
Drums of different sizes were heard softly at first. Gradually the sounds reached a crescendo as a parade of eighteen flags appeared — two flags each representing the nine countries in the Africa West Area were furled to commemorate this joyous occasion.
Excitement ran high as “Arise” (the Nigerian national anthem) was sung by a male quartet from Owerri Stake. Chikodi Modestus Ojini, Ikechukwu Inmpey, Nwadike Onyekachi, and Etoh Godwin ignited patriotism in the hearts of performers and audience alike.
Thus began the story of the culture of West Africa, told in song to the accompaniment of drums and dancing. Sounds of the youth choir singing “How Great thou Art” set the stage for the “Farming Dance,” which was performed by Aba Stake Youth Dancers with dramas on each side of the stage. A “Hunting Dance” presented by the Owerri Stake followed, pulsing the crowd with four different kinds of drums. The youth of Port Harcourt Stake celebrated the conclusion of a successful year with their interpretation of the “Fulani Herding Dance.”
Nigeria has many rivers and borders the coast of the ocean. Fishing became necessary to supply the needs of the village, and the youth of the Port Harcourt West Stake illustrated the fishing lifestayle with their the “Ala-mingi Cultural Dance.”
As the wealth of the land became apparent, jealousies developed. Tribal conflicts were portrayed by the youth of Umuahia Stake, who performed the “Bende War Dance” to depict preparation, actual war, and the celebration of a victory.
The advent of the early Christian missionaries was remembered by a youth choir of several hundred voices. They sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” to recognize the contribution of these early Christians who brought the news of Jesus Christ to Africa at the same time that many were searching for the answers to their spiritual yearnings.
But this day of celebration would never have occurred if missionaries of another faith had not come to Africa to tell the people about the fullness of Christ’s restored gospel. The news carried by these Latter-day Saints missionaries was represented by a presentation called “Talking Drums.” Talking drums are a tradition in Nigerian history. In 1978, talking drums told of the arrival of two missionary couples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in West Africa. It was only fitting that this portion of the celebration be presented by couple missionaries and young elder and sister missionaries. Their talking drums recounted the history of the Latter-day Saints in West Africa, spreading the story on the stage and throughout the audience.
Eight hundred Primary children appeared on stage singing primary songs. They were led by a young Primary boy.
At the end of the celebration, the youth of West Africa presented two gifts to their beloeved prophet. One was a talking drum and the other was a carved statue of a Nigerian mother with her baby on her back. President Hinckley played on his new drum during the singing of “The Spirit of God,” bringing laughter and delight from the audience.
After the celebration ended, the participants and those who attended expressed appreciation for the temple, for the Prophet, and for the celebration itself. Dagogu Jonathan Bolcoko of the Diobu Ward, Port Harcourt West Stake, said “I am very grateful to present my culture to the Prophet. This is a day I will never forget. I pray to God to grant Nigeria a change of attitude as the Prophet steps his feet in Nigeria. I thank God for this privilege.”
Nnampi Okereke of the Amakohia Branch, Owerri Stake, agreed, saying, “I was very excited to perform today for the Prophet. I could scarcely believe this day was finally here, and President Hinckley was sitting right in front of the stage. I feel that good blessings have come to Nigeria. I feel delighted that I will be able to be baptized for my grandfather, who has passed away — and others of my ancestors.”
Several members remarked on how the day changed their lives, even before the Prophet arrived on African soil. Doris Akpan of the Port Harcourt West Stake said, “This temple has already changed my life by helping me in the aspect of dressing, modesty, being humble, and respecting the law of chastity.”
Otuokwun Ataije of the Diobu Ward, Port Harcourt West Stake, added, “Every time I look at this Temple I think of preparing myself more spiritually in order to be worthy to go inside.“
Kingsley C. Kalu – Umungasi Ward
“I feel very good when I am participating in this event. It affected me greatly and makes me want to work harder. I has changed my spirit to watch the Prophet. I feel so blessed and it makies me want to be like President Hinkley.”
Nnamdi Richard Chikezie of the Abayi Ward, Aba Stake, said, that watching the temple being built “has actually changed my life spiritually and physically. It has made me to stop my bad behaviors. I loved the presence of the Prophet here in Aba. I enjoyed showing him our dancing. Being in this program has actually removed shyness from me.”
And James Toby Glory of the Drobu Ward said that participating in the celebration “has changed my life. I have a greater desire to learn more spiritually now. I am so happy to have this temple.”
Cornerstone and Dedication
Although the cultural event preceding the temple dedication was inspiring for all who witnessed it, the temple dedication itself was event that everyone had long been praying for. More than 7000 members of the Church crowded into the temple and the Aba Nigeria Stake Center in four dedicatory sessions on August 7, to participate in the dedication.
The men were dressed in their white shirts and ties, while the women wore beautiful dresses with coordinated head-dresses. Even the young boys were in suits and white shirts and the young girls in colorful Sunday dresses.
They started to gather early in the morning a couple of hours before the first session began. Many remained after the dedication of the temple to continue to enjoy the spirit that permeated the air.
On Saturday prior to the dedication, President Hinckley met with members of the media to answer questions about the Church.
The dedication of the Temple was of national interest in Nigeria. Newspapers, radio, and television reported on the Open House, Cornerstone Ceremony, and Cultural Event.
During the first dedication session, President Gordon B. Hinckley and President Sheldon F. Child joined other leaders to officiate at the cornerstone ceremony. The contents of the cornerstone box had been neatly placed into the box in an earlier meeting. The contents included books by President Hinckley, scriptures, a hymn book, a history of the Church in Nigeria, newspaper and magazine articles about the Church in Nigeria (including the temple open house and dedication), and other pieces of memorabilia.
Members from the congregation were called to help President Hinckley seal the box. Among those asked to participation were Izoma Emmanuela Nwobi, eight years of age, and her brother Chukwndi G.M. Nwobi, age ten. Izome expressed her feelings by saying, I felt very happy and warm inside. I was also a little frightened.”
Chukwndi expressed himself saying, “I was very excited and could feel the spirit. I was so close to the Prophet.”
The cornerstone choir numbered well in excess of 100 well harmonized voices. They were excited to be able to participate in the cornerstone ceremony. Okereke E. Chimwe, a
member of Owerri Branch had a big smile on his face as he spoke, “I feel delighted to sing for the Lord. I felt the celestial spirit of the Lord and so much holy spirit in the temple.”
There were choirs for each of the dedicatory sessions, and each choir was well prepared to sing their praises to God in the Temple.
Seventeen-year-old Nnenna Lynda Anyanwu excitedly said, “It is the happiest day of my life to be in the presence of the Prophet and my God. I heard something whisper to me that truly this is a true Prophet of God. I wish he would stay so that I could have this feeling with me for the rest of my life.”
The waiting lines were long for each of the sessions, but nobody seemed to complain. On this long-awaited day, nothing could dampen the joy. Many members had traveled several hours to arrive at the temple. Nigerians from America, England, Peru, and other parts of the world traveled to Aba to be able to participate in the dedication. Former mission presidents and other missionaries returned to Nigeria for this significant occasion. Early church pioneers were there to celebrate this magnificent occasion that they had believed would occur someday. It was a time of quiet rejoicing with family and friends.
Damian and Margaret Uchegbu expressed the feelings of many Nigerian families about having the opportunity to be sealed as a family, “We do not even know how to express the feelings we are having right now. We are changed people. We know this is the House of the Lord and what we have done is eternity. What a heart full of gratitude we have for the Lord on this day.”
Members were eager for the temple to open. Many came prepared to stay until they had the opportunity to do their own temple work. Many others came prepared with family history, so they could do the temple work for their deceased ancestors. Missionary couples were prepared to help get everything in order. Rather than looking toward their own needs, everyone seemed eager to help everyone else.
When you have waited for years for the opportunity to go to the House of the Lord, waiting a little longer only increases the duration of the joy.