While the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Uganda is young — organized in the early 1990s — nearly 7,000 people in this East African nation have already joined the global faith.
“Missionaries are baptizing [new members] almost every Sunday,” said Ugandan Jimmy Carter Okot, president of the Kampala Uganda Stake (a stake is similar to a diocese). “The Church is growing rapidly and the members are very faithful.”
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Membership growth throughout the world is a challenge, but it’s a challenge the Church doesn’t mind having. “People are looking for a solid anchor in a world of shifting values,” said Gordon B. Hinckley, former Church president. “They are welcomed as new converts and are made to feel at home. They feel the warmth of the fellowship of the Saints.”
President Okot and others spend their time teaching congregational leaders how to care for the needs of the members and for their neighbors who are not Latter-day Saints. The stake leaders teach how to strengthen members of the Relief Society, the women’s organization, and to provide guidance to youth in the Young Men and Young Women groups and to children ages 18 months to 11 years in what is called Primary. The task is to help the young leadership understand the scope of their responsibilities and to perform them.
Only a 10-year member of the Church, President Okot said his path to membership began as he walked past a construction site of a new church building. There he noticed a sign: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Visitors Welcome.” Eager to know more, he listened as the full-time missionaries taught about Jesus Christ.
President Okot later spoke with two female missionaries. They expressed their fervent belief in the Book of Mormon as another testament of Jesus Christ. He gained strength from their testimony. President Okot recalled, “When they shared their feelings about the Book of Mormon, immediately I had a very strong and powerful feeling.” He continued with the missionary lessons and was baptized the next week.
A decade later, President Okot has matured in Church leadership, having served as a full-time Mormon missionary, a lay leader of multiple congregations and now as a stake president.
“I’m grateful to witness the Church flourishing; everyone has a part to play,” explained President Okot. “As a stake, we are able to solve our own challenges.”
Ugandan Latter-day Saints attend six wards (congregations) and five branches (a smaller congregation) in the villages and communities of Kajjansi, Mengo, Mutungo, Ntinda, Seeta, Entebbe, Kabowa, Kololo, Makindye, Mukono and Nsambya. They all comprise the Kampala Uganda Stake, which was created in January 2010 as the first stake in Uganda.
The local congregations operate on the strength of the members and their leaders. Every duty in the congregation is handled by members, including the weekly worship service. The organization of the Church and its leadership operate the same around the world. Enter a meetinghouse on a Sunday in the United States, Italy or Africa and you will find congregations singing sacred hymns, offering gratitude through prayer, partaking of the sacrament of bread and water in remembrance of the Savior’s sacrifice and sharing their beliefs.
“Our chapels are not all constructed with the same design features,” said Church apostle Elder L. Tom Perry in a worldwide conference. “However, each one centers on the mission of our Savior. They are buildings dedicated for the purpose of worshipping Him.”
The Church in Uganda has come a long way, President Okot concluded. As the leadership understands the doctrine of the Church and gains experience, they are strengthened. “The Lord is blessing us; He hasn’t left us alone."