After Mathias Eguko joined the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Nigeria in 1995, he badly wanted to serve a mission for his new faith. But with a wife and a young daughter, it seemed it would be many years before Eguko’s dream could come true—until work took him and his family to the neighboring country of Benin two years later.
The Church was not organized in Benin in 1997, but a small group of Saints—five or six members led by an American expatriate, Lincoln Dahl—met weekly to read scriptures and partake of the sacrament in Dahl’s home in Cotonou. But in late 1997, Dahl was transferred back to the United States, and with his departure the future of the Church in Benin was uncertain.
It took Eguko some time to find Dahl’s group; for two months he returned to Nigeria most weekends to participate in Church services, and even took to carrying copies of the Ensign around the local market in hopes of finding fellow Saints. But after writing a letter to the Church and learning of Dahl’s group, Eguko joined the fledgling body of Saints just in time to fill Dahl’s shoes.
“At the time I got to Benin, [Dahl] had just about three weeks to leave, so he saw my coming as his prayer being answered by Heavenly Father,” Eguko later said. “The Lord really had prepared everything. He was about to leave, and the Lord just brought me and I took over and I was so happy.”
Meetings soon transferred to Eguko’s home, now comprising four members and six investigators. Just over a year later, in January 1999, Benin was opened to missionary work. Eguko was set apart as branch president of the group at Cotonou, and by the end of that year, 40 people regularly attended meetings there.
Many of the earliest members in Benin were English-speaking Nigerians, while others were French-speakers from Benin, so meetings had to be conducted in both languages. As the group outgrew Eguko’s sitting room, he arranged to hold meetings at the Nigerian Embassy school where he worked.
Later, the members found a space they could rent for their meetinghouse. It would still be years before the Church would obtain legal recognition from the government in Benin, and, thus, several years before proselyting missionaries could be assigned to the African nation.
“The missionaries would call from Lome [Togo] and teach the discussions,” Eguko recalled, “but we were not allowed to be baptized because the Church wasn’t legal. So, it was just anybody that strayed into the building that had the discussions. So we waited. We waited for a whole year. Nothing happened. We kept on going to the offices and nothing happened.”
A series of senior missionary couples worked tirelessly to obtain legal recognition for the Church until, finally, in March 2003, Eguko received an official phone call.
“It was about 8:00 p.m.,” he remembered, when they called and said that he “should come to the meetinghouse.”
Eguko, along with his wife, did so and opened the building for six government officials. They rummaged through the building, looking at documents, copies of the Book of Mormon, and anything else they could find. They asked Eguko questions about the Church and his role in it. Chiefly, they wondered what this Nigerian had to do with the Church and why he wanted so badly to bring it to Benin.
“I told them, ‘The Church is established almost everywhere in the world,’” Eguko later said. “They said, ‘What’s your interest?’ I said, ‘Well, my interest is for members, for people in Benin to love God, to know how they can change as they love God. I want to be able to let the people know that God loves them. That’s all.’”
Just a week later, Eguko received a phone call from the minister of interior telling him there were some papers that needed his signature.
“I was so thrilled,” Eguko said. “I was really happy. Legalizing it meant a lot. It meant that missionaries could now come. It meant that the Church will now formally be recognized by the government. My happiest day was being called to collect that from them and I announced to members. And everybody was so very happy.”
Members who had long been praying for the Church to become a legal institution in their home country rejoiced at the news. Proselyting missionaries were soon assigned to the nation, and today there are three branches of Saints in the tiny country of Benin.
“I see going to Benin as a kind of mission,” Eguko said. “I don’t know what led me to it. The Lord just prepared it. Looking back, I see that the Lord has prepared the ground. He has prepared the people. He just wanted me to be a part of that. And I’m so happy that I was given the opportunity to be part of that history.”