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Ex-rugby star helps LDS make impact in Zimbabwe

Mention the name of Reginald Nield among LDS Church members in southern Africa and the stories begin to flow about "Reg," the former rugby star whose broad smile and dynamic personality give you no chance but to like him.

Mix the ambassadorlike qualities he and his wife, Iris, possess with humanitarian efforts driven by the church and its members and it's easy to see why the church is building a strong reputation in Zimbabwe."The church in this country is accepted better than in any other countries around us,' Nield said.

Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, used to be Salisbury, the British colonial capital of Rhodesia before the nation fought its way to independence in 1980. The church has had a presence among white colonists in the nation since 1930, baptized its first black member here in 1965 and has seen much more dramatic growth since the church extended its priesthood to all worthy males in 1978.

Businessmen in Harare, both black and white, talk on cellular phones while driving their Mercedes, but the gulf between rich and poor is very wide.

Deseret International, a Provo-based humanitarian organization run by LDS Church members and others, operates in Zimbabwe and caught the attention of the government's social welfare director, Claudius Joseph Kasere, several years ago.

He attended a meeting where the distribution of blankets and other "needed comforts' was being planned. Medical care is also part of the organization's humanitarian mission, and Kasere saw and understood the organization's religious underpinnings.

"From that time I began to believe in the power of the Lord - you can do much more than you can with your own power,' Kasere told the Deseret News after hearing church President Gordon B. Hinckley speak in Harare Wednesday. He attended the meeting, along with Zimbabwe's Secretary of Defense Moven Mahachi, at Nield's invitation.

"Deseret International has become almost a household name because of its dental work, (surgeries on) club feet, dental palate work; it's among the best that we have," Kasere said.

LDS Charities, the church's official humanitarian aid organization, recently sent representatives to Zimbabwe and is awaiting a permanent government charter. The organization will add to the foundation Deseret International has established. Church missionaries in Zimbabwe also spend a portion of their time working with the humanitarian aid organizations.