Recently returned from serving an eighteen month mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in sub-Saharan Africa, Sharon and Robert Berg of Pearland, Texas were full of enthusiasm for what they witnessed in the lives of African people.
As Assistant Area Directors of Public Affairs in the Africa Southeast Area headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, , the Bergs supervised national Public Affairs Directors in 23 African nations, from the D.R. Congo to Madagascar and Namibia. “The strength and dedication of the African people is amazing,” said Robert.
Sharon explained one of the objectives of their training was to increase service. “There are lots of Mormon Helping Hands projects. Each year countries come up with sustainable projects to carry out throughout the year, with the culmination in August. Projects varied from cleaning streets and communities, building homes, working on hospitals, police stations, and schools,” she said. The websites africase.lds.org and mormonnewsroom.co.za put participation at 268,449 man hours with 52,641 participants in 2016 across the area.
Another of their objectives was to increase self-reliance. The continent has been in a severe drought, with water being a precious commodity. The Bergs traveled to three well sites, known as bore holes. “It was incredible to see how they dig them down by hand, and the gratitude of the villages that received the blessing of water. The village is required to come up with a certain amount of money to place in a fund for maintenance. They are also trained on how to repair and maintain these wells, “Sharon added.
“We would provide training and say to them, ‘This is your show’,” Robert said. The African people have a passion for social media. Almost everyone has a smart phone. “They will be out in the fields with their phones,” Robert chuckled.
The public affairs system was able to publicize a Church initiated program called “Helping Babies Breathe”. “The mortality rate of newborns has vastly improved thanks to this program,” Sharon stated. “Another big initiative is the Wheelchair Program, which provides those in need with wheelchairs, including training on how to repair and maintain the chairs. Again, in an effort of self-reliance we saw lives and hearts changed,” she added.
The Bergs also helped build bridges of understanding and trust between national administrations and the Mormon Church and its workings, including the desire to travel between countries for temple and missionary service. Robert explained, “We would sponsor government officials to visit, and give them a tour so they could see and ask questions. They would leave saying, “I can see you live your religion.’” The Bergs found these visits to be rewarding, and friendships were forged with immigration officials of different faiths which they still hold dear.
The Bergs were one of 6,015 retired couples currently serving as Mormon missionaries. They did so at their own expense and were not paid while serving. “Neither of us has ever worked so hard in our life,” Sharon said. It was also the most amazing experience they ever had. “I still stay close to them through media. Some of them have come to visit us,” she added.
Photos by Robert Berg.