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New General Authorities: He grew in gospel as Church spread throughout Africa

SHARE New General Authorities: He grew in gospel as Church spread throughout Africa

Just after the June 9, 1978, First Presidency announcement extending the priesthood to every worthy male member in the Church, a young Christoffel Golden entered an LDS branch in his native South Africa.

"There was a free-flowing of tears among members hugging each other and just rejoicing in the fact that the Lord had seen fit in our day to provide the blessings of all the ordinances of the gospel to all of His sons and daughters irrespective of their background," he said.

Still the young man had no idea then just what the news would mean for the Church in Africa — home then to about 3,000 members living mostly in South Africa.

Recently, however, the newly called member of the First Quorum of the Seventy attended another Church meeting on the continent. This time Elder Golden looked over a congregation of all-black faces and marveled at the fulfillment of Daniel's Old Testament promise. Indeed, he said, the African continent — where within 20 years of the priesthood revelation the Church had units in some 26 nations — was one example of "a stone cut without hands" that "became a great mountain and filled the whole earth." (Daniel 2:34-35.)

He has seen that growth firsthand since his March 17, 1973, baptism — as a full-time missionary in South Africa, as a bishop and stake president, and as an Area Authority Seventy and Church Educational System area director serving in the Africa Southeast Area presidency.

"Africa's day has arrived," he said. "The gospel is for all people."

Christoffel Golden, Jr., was born June 1, 1952, the first of Christoffel and Maria Golden's five children.

Typical of many South African children, Elder Golden spent his early days playing cricket and rugby and learning of Jesus Christ from the Bible. Then one day missionaries knocked on his family's door and his mother invited them back; the teachings of the Church seemed to mesh with the Goldens' Christian background.

"Right from the first lesson we had a sense that what was being taught was true," Elder Golden recalled.

Elder Golden, then 20, took a Book of Mormon with him to a military training camp. There he said a prayer, opened the scriptures and read the first verse of 1 Nephi. "A powerful witness came to me," he said.

The Goldens became so delighted with the Church and its teachings that they soon invited neighbors to their missionary discussions. Instead of embracing the gospel the way his family had, Elder Golden's neighbors "had precisely the opposite response to the message," he recalled. "They were antagonistic."

For the first time, Elder Golden found himself defending the missionaries and the Church. Within a few months he was baptized and would spend the rest of his life building and defending the kingdom in his nation.

The resolve to defend the Church was strengthened when Christoffel met Diane Norma Hulbert — a optometrist whose parents joined the Church before she was born. After she served a mission, also to South Africa, the couple married in Johannesburg; three days later they were sealed in the London England Temple.

During their early years of marriage, Elder Golden was a part-time student and worked to support his young family. "I worked late into the night and studied early into the morning," he recalled. In addition to school work and family obligations, Elder Golden served as bishop, often receiving a call from a ward member in the middle of writing major exams. The time taught the family early to balance priorities and deal with challenges.

After graduation, Elder Golden moved to Paris for six months, leaving his wife and children in South Africa. "When I came back I made a commitment to myself— no one would get me to be separated from my family again for that period of time."

Today, Elder Golden's favorite hobby is spending time with his children. The family enjoys visiting local game and nature reserves or botanical gardens, where they view the beautiful African animals and flora. "It is almost a spiritual experience because it brings you so close to the Lord and His creations," he said.

Over the years, Elder Golden has had opportunities to leave South Africa. At one point in his career he was offered a lucrative promotion that would require a move to Paris. The financial benefits would have been substantial. However, the Goldens felt impressed to remain in Africa and continue to serve the Lord there.

"We didn't even go into details. I simply said, 'No thank you,' " he recalled. "At the time I remember our managing director saying to me, 'You know, you surprise me.' I said, 'There is nothing to be surprised about.' The decision was very apparent to me that we ought to stay and build up the kingdom."

In 1996, he would make another change, leaving the optics company he founded to work as a CES area director. But he never had any regrets.

"I wish I had gone into CES 20 years earlier," he said. "I just love working with the youth."

While traveling the African continent for CES, he has seen stories that would make most Church members cry. He has seen real sacrifice, like the young seminary teacher in rural Zimbabwe who would wake at 3 a.m. each day and walk to each of his almost 30 students' homes, asking them to follow him to seminary.

Today the Goldens are looking forward to continuing their efforts in Africa. They look back on the 1978 priesthood revelation and marvel at the miracle they have seen unfold before their eyes.

"I didn't think [the members] could have seen how fast the gospel would grow in Africa and how the people would just accept it so readily and the changes it would bring into their lives," said Sister Golden.

Elder Golden added, "The African people are such spiritual people, so humble, so intelligent, so teachable, so desirous to do what is right. It is really a most wonderful thing to be among them and to teach the gospel to them. Really for us, being among them is one of the most choice experiences of our lives."

E-mail: sarah@desnews.com