Cornelia, a Mormon woman originally from Zimbabwe, shares the remarkable story of her conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a little about the growth of the Mormon church in Kasane, Botswana.
(pictured in center of photo above)
This is my story about how the Church came to Kasane but for me, it certainly did not start in Kasane….
I was not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when I moved to Botswana after my two year working holiday in the UK. My parents had moved to Botswana after being forced off our farm in Zimbabwe, so I decided to follow them there. It was during a holiday break back to Zimbabwe just after the move that I met up with three wonderful friends (Reeve Nield, Laurette Maritz and Cecilie Lundgreen) and what was meant to be an afternoon visit on a golf course turned into two weeks of spiritual stirrings. This fortnight at the end of January 2005 changed my life thanks to my three missionary friends and their wonderful example. I returned to my parents in Maun Botswana with a burning in my chest, still questioning my feelings and faith. The next two months in Maun were the hardest months I have ever experienced.
I moved to Kasane on the 24th of March 2005. Kasane is a small town in the North eastern part of Botswana; the next large Botswana town is 400km away. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe is an hour (70km) away and Livingstone Zambia is 1 hour away (+/- 70km). It is a busy little town full of holiday makers come to see the Chobe National Park. I found my way here by what most would call chance, I know that Heavenly Father had it all planned and I just followed the feeling that I got…not realizing completely then that they had come from the Lord.
At the time I moved, I was still not a member, but I had such a burning in my heart that I new exactly what I wanted. It was perfect. I flew back to Harare a few days before; everyone understood my situation and my urgency. I was baptized on the 8th of May 2005 in the Highland Harare Ward in Zimbabwe. What a great day and a wonderful experience. That is a great story in itself….
The first year in Kasane was the hardest. I seemed so far away. There was no church in Kasane. There were no other members in Kasane at that time to my knowledge. I struggled spiritually and emotionally, but the emails and the many, many text messages and the odd phone calls kept me going.
I remember one particular day I was struggling so much. I had to take a work colleague to the hospital, and while I was waiting for her, I was wondering around and there standing empty in the corner of the room was a wheel chair. Curiosity and boredom got the better of me so I started to play with the wheel chair, and when I turned it around as though I was going to push it, there on the back of the chair stood the words “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” It had been donated by the Church — the Church must know about his little town out in the edge of nowhere! I think if it weren’t for the other thirty people sitting in the same room I would have cried and cried. That is when I knew: I was not alone.
I have had family and friend members from the Harare Highlands Ward visit over the past five years, and it is always wonderful to have them in my home here in Kasane.
It was towards the middle of 2009 that a friend from Utah introduced me to her college understudies who were studying at the University of Botswana in Gaborone at the time. These four young ladies wanted to visit the Chobe National Park as well as Livingstone and Victoria Falls, so I offered them a place to stay. Knowing that they were studying through a university in Utah, one of my first questions to them was “are you Latter-day Saints”? Turns out three of them were. Well we just chatted and chatted. They told me of a couple who just got married and who would be moving to Kasane, well I was so excited. They called me while I was doing shopping; I immediately asked them if I could meet them and rushed to where ever they were — I was so excited. [Editor’s note: photo added below] We started meeting regularly, having Family Home Evening and playing games. What a change in the way a town feels. It was awesome to have fellow Church members close by.
Our party soon grew as we discovered there was an older gentleman living in a place about 20 km out of Kasane, and another brother who was being transferred to Kasane for work. Once we had three families here, we decided to speak out. I spoke to my bishop [congregation leader] in Harare and another brother spoke to his bishop in Gaborone. It wasn’t long before we received a response from the Mission President in South Africa. I was on my way to Harare for a short break at the beginning of April when we were asked what church resources we had in Kasane. So while I was in Harare I made it my mission to go to the Distribution centre [store for LDS Church materials] and get whatever I could and whatever was available and whatever I could fit in my car to take back to Botswana so that we could make it all happen.
[Edited] On July 22, we’ll share Cornelia’s account of the first Mormon Sacrament Meeting that was recently held in Kasane.