“А Supervisory Type of Thing”: the Establishment and Impact of the Latter-Day Saint Mission in Postcolonial Southeastern Nigeria


David Dmitri Hurlbut


This article analyzes the challenges that confronted the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) in establishing its official mission in southeastern Nigeria following the 1978 Priesthood Revelation, and the impact of its mission strategy on the religious and daily life of Nigerian adherents. The emergence of unofficial LDS congregations in Nigeria between the late 1940s and 1970s required the LDS Church to abandon its traditional mission focus on proselytization, and instead develop a strategy of supervision–a strategy geared towards appointing and training local church leaders, teaching adherents to be proper Latter-day Saints, and integrating congregations in the administrative hierarchy. Using documentary records and oral histories archived at the LDS Church History Library and L. Tom Perry Special Collections, this article highlights the reciprocal impact of cross-cultural encounters and the shortcomings of the LDS Church’s missionary training programs.


Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mormonism, Religion, Christianity, Southeastern Nigeria




1. Prior to 1978, the LDS Church prohibited Black members from holding the Priesthood–the power and authority that God has bestowed on men. Before the priesthood revelation, Black men could not be fully-fledged church members, since men must hold the priesthood in order to perform ordinances and act as leaders within the LDS Church. Until 1978, Black men could only join the faith, receive patriarchal blessings, and enter the temple to perform baptisms for the dead. This policy was ended in June 8, 1978, when LDS President Spencer Kimball received his Priesthood Revelation. On the Priesthood Revelation, see, D. Dmitri Hurlbut “The LDS Church and Problem of Race: Mormonism in Nigeria, 1946-1978,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 51, no. 1 (2018): 3. On the Priesthood Revelation, see Edward L. Kimball, “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood,” BYU Studies 47, no. 2 (2008): 5–78.
2. Rendell N. Mabey and Gordon I. Allred, Brother to Brother: The Story of the Latter-day Saint Missionaries Who Took the Gospel to Black Africa (Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1984), 8.
3. Mabey and Allred, Brother to Brother, 9.
4. Mabey and Allred, Brother to Brother, 12.
5. For the 1946 letter from O.J. Umondak, an Ibibio man who lived in a village outside Uyo in the Eastern region of Nigeria, see Minutes of the Apostles of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, vol. 4 (Salt Lake City, UT: Privately Published, 2010), 420, Americana Collection, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah (hereafter LTPSC).
6. Hurlbut “The LDS Church and Problem of Race,” 1. See also James B. Allen, “Would–Be Saints: West Africa before the 1978 Priesthood Revelation,” Journal of Mormon History 17 (1991): 207–47; Newell G. Bringhurst, “Mormonism in Black Africa: Changing Attitudes and Practices, 1830–1981,” Sunstone 6 (1981), 15–21; E. Dale LeBaron, “Mormonism in Black Africa,” in David J. Davies, ed., Mormon Identities in Transition (London, UK: Cassell, 1996), 80–86; Gregory A. Prince and Wm. Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City, UT: University of Utah Press, 2005), 81–94; Russell W. Stevenson, For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism, 1830–2013 (Draper, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 73–104.
7. Throughout this essay, I will use the adjectives “Mormon,” “Latter-day Saint,” and “LDS” interchangeably.