Country reports on the LDS Church around the world from a landmark almanac. Includes detailed analysis of history, context, culture, needs, challenges and opportunities for church growth.
By David Stewart and Matt Martinich
Area: 112,622 square km. Located in West Africa and occupying a strip of land between Nigeria and Togo, Benin runs from the Atlantic Ocean in the south to Burkina Faso and Niger in the north. Tropical climate occurs in southern and central areas, with northern areas pertaining to the semi-arid Sahel region. Terrain principally consists of plains, with some hills and small mountains in a few locations. Sandbanks are common along coastal areas and there are no natural islands, harbors, or river mouths. Hazardous weather conditions generated by Harmattan winds is a natural hazard in northern areas. Environmental issues include deforestation, desertification, fresh water scarcity, and wildlife poaching. Benin is divided into twelve administrative departments.
Population: 9,325,032 (July 2011)
Annual Growth Rate: 2.911% (2011)
Fertility Rate: 5.31 children born per woman (2011)
Life Expectancy: 58.61 male, 61.14 female (2011)
Ethnic groups native to southern Benin pertain to the Guinean ethnic family whereas ethnic groups native to northern areas generally pertain to the Central Bantoid ethnic family. The Fon, Adja, and Yoruba live in the southern departments of Benin, which are the most density populated in the country. The Bariba reside in northern areas. Population density decreases as you go north towards the Sahel.
Languages: Fon (16%), Gbe dialects (11%), Hausa (9%), Ede dialects (6%), Yoruba (5%), Baatonum (5%), Aja (4%), Gun (4%), Fulani (4%), Gen (1%), Ditammari (1%), other or unspecified (31%). French is the official language. Fon is the only language with over one million native speakers (1.4 million).
Literacy: 34.7% (2002)
The Kingdom of Dahomey occupied southern portions of present-day Benin from the seventeenth century to the end of the nineteenth century. Trading posts were established by the Portuguese, French, and Dutch for the slave trade during this period. The French and the kings of Abomey signed treaties establishing French protectorates in major cities and ports during the late nineteenth century. France established Benin as a French colony by 1900. Additional territory was annexed in the north during the early twentieth century and in 1958 the colony was granted republic status within the French community as the Republic of Dahomey. Independence occurred in 1960 and the country was renamed Benin in 1975. Several military coups occurred in the 1960s and early 1970s which culminated in several government changes, the establishment of a dictatorship, and the implementation of communist and socialist policies. These reforms ultimately failed and resulted in a change to a democratic government in 1991 under pressure from other democratic nations. In 1991, Benin became the first Africa nation to have a peaceful transfer of power to a democratically elected president. Democratic elections have occurred in recent years although accusations of electoral fraud persist.
Tribalism and religion are the primary influences on Beninese culture. Indigenous religions are commonly practiced, such as Vodoun (Voodoo). French colonial influence introduced French as a language for government and interethnic communication; indigenous languages are widely spoken. Music and literature are cultural achievements. Corn, fish, fruit, rice, vegetables, and chicken are the most common foods. Alcohol and cigarette consumption rates are low. The government has outlawed polygamous marriages since 2004 but continues to recognize polygamous marriages recognized from before the ban.
GDP per capita: $1,600 (2010) [3.38% of US]
Human Development Index: 0.492
Corruption Index: 2.8
Among the poorest countries in the world, over a third of the population lives below the poverty line. The economy is agriculturally driven, with cotton being the chief crop exported. During the past several years the government has made efforts to privatize the economy and government-controlled infrastructure to attract foreign investment. Benin continues to struggle to meet basic utility needs to expand the economy and improve living conditions. The literacy rate is very low and challenges efforts to develop a greater body of skilled workers. Services generate 52% of the GDP whereas agriculture and industry generate 33% and 15% of the GDP, respectively. Clothing, food processing, construction, and cement are major industries. Common agricultural products include cotton, corn, cassava, yams, vegetables, palm oil, nuts, and livestock. China, India, the United States, and France are the primary trade partners.
Corruption is perceived as widespread. Benin is vulnerable to money laundering due to poor enforcement of financial regulations. Illicit drugs destined for Western Europe are frequently trafficked through Benin.
Vodoun (Voodoo): 17.3%
Denominations Members Congregations
Celestial Church of Christ 466,252
Jehovah's Witnesses 10,687 162
Seventh Day Adventists 5,083 14
Latter-day Saints ~600 3
Christianity is the largest religion in Benin, accounting for 42.8% of the population. Many of the Fon and Yoruba follow Christianity. Over half of Christians adhere to the Catholic Church; the rest identify with various Protestant and African Christian churches such as the Celestial Church of Christ. Islam is the second largest religion in Benin, claiming 24.4% of the total population. Vodoun is practiced by 17.3%. Christianity is most prevalent in the south whereas Islam is most prevalent in the north and often ethnically based.
The constitution protects religious freedom which is upheld by the government. The practice of religious belief is determined by the constitutional court, which protects the right of free speech regarding religious affairs. Major Christian and Muslim holidays are recognized national holidays. Religious groups must register with the Ministry of the Interior and receive tax-exempt status. There have been no reports of the government denying registration for any religious groups in recent years. Religious instruction is not permitted in public schools, but several religious groups operate private schools.
Cotonou, Porto-Novo, Godomey, Parakou, Bohicon, Djougou, Abomey-Calavi, Abomey, Nikki, Natitingou.
Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregations.
One of the ten largest cities has an LDS congregation. 23% of the national population resides in the ten most populous cities.
When civil war erupted in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1998, an LDS senior missionary couple was transferred from the Democratic Republic of Congo Kinshasa Mission to Benin and Togo in hopes of legalizing the Church in both countries. Elder and Sister Langevin baptized the first convert to the Church in Benin later that year. The Church obtained legal status in Benin in 2003. At the time one group operated in Cotonou. Benin was initially assigned to the Ivory Coast Abidjan Mission and was reassigned to the Ghana Cape Coast Mission in 2005, the Ghana Accra Mission in 2007, and the Cote d'Ivoire Abidjan Mission in 2008. Elder David A. Bednar dedicated Benin for missionary work in 2007. Seminary and institute were both functioning by 2008. In 2011, the Benin Cotonou Mission was organized to administer Benin and Togo. In late 2010, non-African missionaries serving in Cote d'Ivoire were evacuated to Benin and Togo.
LDS Membership: 600 (2010 estimate)
At the end of 2004 the Church reported 11 members in the entire country. Membership in Benin increased from 95 at the end of 2005 to 253 by the end of 2008. LDS membership officially reported by the Church for 2009 and 2010 appeared incorrect as the Church reported 201 and 229 members respectively and only one congregation whereas full-time missionaries reported approximately 300 active members and three branches by year-end 2010. Membership totals for Benin's two other LDS branches likely accounted for an additional 400 members in 2010. In addition to Beninese members, the Church in Benin also includes Togolese and Nigerian members who reside in Cotonou. In 2010, one 15,542 was LDS.
Wards: 0 Branches: 3
In 2003, the first LDS branch was organized in Cotonou. At the end of 2008, the Cotonou Branch was divided to create two new branches. In early 2011, there were three branches operating in Benin (Akpakpa, Gbedjromede, and Menontin) which reported directly to the Cote d'Ivoire Abidjan Mission.
Activity and Retention
92 were enrolled in seminary or institute during the 2009-2010 school year. Convert retention has been moderate to high. Full-time missionaries in late 2010 reported that nationwide active membership was approximately 300, or 50% of total church membership.
Languages with LDS Scripture: French, Yoruba, English
All LDS scriptures and most church materials are available in French. The Book of Mormon, two church proclamations, and a handful of primary, Relief Society, missionary, and priesthood materials are available in Yoruba. The Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith is available in Ewe, Fon, Fulani, and Hausa. Gospel Principles is available in Ewe, Fulani, and Hausa.
LDS branches meet in renovated buildings or rented spaces.
Health and Safety
The risk for infectious diseases is very high. Common diseases include typhoid fever, hepatitis A, bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, malaria, yellow fever, meningococcal meningitis, and rabies. HIV/AIDS infects 3.2% of the population.
Humanitarian and Development Work
LDS humanitarian and development work has been limited to a single Measles initiative project. Full-time missionaries fulfill weekly service hours in their areas.
Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects
Latter-day Saints benefit from full religious freedom from the government and no reported instances of societal abuses of religious freedom. Foreign missionaries regularly serve and missionaries and members alike may freely proselyte, assemble, and worship.
Low literacy rates and poverty are challenges which limit local member self-sufficiency in leadership and economic self reliance but also provide opportunities for LDS humanitarian and development projects which can meet these needs in the general population and also raise public awareness of the Church, provide finding opportunities for full-time missionaries, and offer opportunities for local members to introduce friends and family in need to services provided by the Church. Clean water projects, wheelchair donations, education assistance, employment workshops, and medical care are potential development and humanitarian activities which have yet to be explored by the LDS Church in Benin. Those participating in a polygamous marriage must end relations in divorce and be interviewed by a member of the mission presidency to be considered for baptism. Ethno-religious ties among some traditionally Muslim ethnic groups such as the Peulh (Fulani) creates a barrier for LDS mission outreach.
LDS mission outreach occurred only in Cotonou as of early 2011, reaching no more than 12% of the national population. Cotonou remains poorly reached by the Church at present as multiple LDS congregations were not established until late 2008 and many communities remain far from mission outreach centers, especially on the south and west of the city. LDS missionaries at times visit and proselyte in lesser-reached communities of Cotonou, but outreach remains severely limited.
With widespread religious freedom and a highly receptive population to LDS mission efforts, Benin presents excellent opportunities for expanding national outreach in currently unreached locations. Delays in opening Benin to formal missionary work until 2003 appear largely due to limited missionary resources dedicated to the region and complications receiving government recognition. Delays in expanding national outreach is primarily attributed to limited LDS mission resources dedicated to the region, the plateauing of LDS missionary manpower worldwide in the 2000s, and the several mission boundary changes since 2000 involving Togo and Benin. Past missions which administered Benin have included three or more nations within their boundaries and most mission resources were dedicated to the nation in which the mission was based. It is likely that information about local membership and leadership in Benin has not been properly passed on to succeeding or newly transferred missionaries, mission presidents, and regional leaders. Benin's geographic separation from missions it has pertained to over the years has likely resulted in inadequate training and emphasis placed on the retention of converts. Furthermore when Benin was under the jurisdiction of missions in Ghana, missionaries would have to learn French and local African languages if transferred to the country. This would complicate mission presidency members travelling to Benin and providing training and assistance if they did not know French or African languages spoken in the Cotonou area.
The amount of mission resources allocated to Benin in the late 2000s was comparable to Togo notwithstanding the LDS Church in Togo reporting twice as many members, two additional congregations, and a functioning district in early 2011. New proselytizing areas opened regularly in Cotonou in the late 2000s and early 2010s. The organization of the Benin Cotonou Mission 2011 will facilitate the opening of additional congregations in the Cotonou area, the establishment of mission outreach centers in currently unreached cities, and provide mentoring and support for the fledging body of local priesthood leaders.
Member Activity and Convert Retention
The LDS Church in Benin provides an excellent example of how rapid membership growth does not always correlate with low convert retention and member activity rates as the Church blossomed from a single congregation of 11 total members in 2004 to approximately 300 active members out of 600 meeting in three congregations in late 2010. Successes in achieving moderately-high rates of convert retention appear linked to avoiding the overstaffing of LDS congregations with full-time missionaries and the opening of additional congregations in late 2008. Successes in convert retention are also manifested by the number of members enrolled in seminary and institute increasing from 65 during the 2007-2008 school year to 92 during the 2009-2010 school year. Local members appear enthusiastic about member-missionary work which has contributed to growth and convert retention. Distance from church meetinghouses may have contributed to convert attrition in Benin and warrant the establishment of additional congregations.
Ethnic Issues and Integration
Ethnic violence and conflict has been less apparent than most African nations notwithstanding the high degree of ethnic diversity. At present, LDS missionaries have not reported ethnic integration challenges at church. Potential for ethnic integration challenges exists and deserves careful observation by church leaders and stress by local and mission leaders to deemphasize ethnic differences at church through sharing common beliefs and values.
Low literacy rates create serious challenges for developing self-sustaining local leadership but provide the opportunity of extending LDS literacy classes designed to meet illiteracy needs among members and nonmembers. Literacy programs can be an effective finding and retention approach. The Church is currently unprepared to meet the needs demanded by the high degree of linguistic diversity as most local languages have no LDS materials available and the few languages with translations of materials have only one or two LDS resources. Low literacy rates reduce the urgency of translating additional materials in local languages if most are unable to read proficiently. Missionaries report that church meetings are supposed to be conducted in French, but oftentimes members speak in Fon, Fongbe and English at church. Language-specific congregations may be organized if the number of active members speaking differing languages warrants it and if qualified leadership is available. Languages in the greatest need of LDS scriptures and a wide selection of basic proselytism materials include Fon and Gbe.
As of 2009, 10 full-time Elders were serving as missionaries in the country in addition to a senior couple who also administers to Togo. In the late 2000s, the first Beninese members began serving full-time missions. Stressing weekly church attendance, personal religious habits like scripture reading and daily prayer, and participation in seminary and institute may increase the number of local members serving missions, reduce reliance on foreign missionaries to staff Benin's missionary needs, and generate a larger body of potential church leaders over the medium term.
All three branches were led by local members in early 2011. The number of active and qualified priesthood holders remained too limited to merit the organization of a district as of early 2011, but a district will likely be organized in the near future. The organization of the Benin Cotonou Mission may create challenges fostering self reliance among local leaders due to close proximity to mission headquarters. Increasing the number of missionaries assigned to Benin commensurate to increases in congregations may provide a greater safeguard reducing the likelihood of potential member overreliance on full-time missionaries. Limited numbers of returned missionaries have reduced the available body of priesthood holders with church administrative experience, which may delay the organization of additional congregations.
Benin is assigned to the Accra Ghana Temple district. Crossing two international boundaries to reach the temple is a challenge for many although members in Benin benefit from closer proximity to a temple than most in Africa. Temple trips appear to be held irregularly and in small groups or on an individual basis. There are no realistic prospect for a temple closer to Togo for the foreseeable future.
With only 11 reported Latter-day Saints in 2004 and likely around 600 in 2010, Benin has experienced the most rapid membership growth among African nations which had no independent branches organized prior to 2003. The strength, dedication, and training of local Beninese leadership has outperformed most African nations with fewer than 1,000 members today. Unlike many African nations which had no additional congregations organized until church membership ranged between 500 and 1,000, three LDS congregations operated in Benin notwithstanding membership totaling less than 500 in 2008. No other African country has had as few members as Benin and had an LDS mission organized since the organization of the Madagascar Antananarivo Mission in 1998.
Most outreach-oriented Christians have maintained a presence in Benin for decades but have experienced limited growth compared to other African nations. The Seventh Day Adventist Church experienced steady membership growth during the 2000s but the number of churches only increased from 11 to 14 notwithstanding Adventist membership more than doubled. Over the past decade Adventists generally baptized between 200 and 400 new converts annually. Jehovah's Witnesses claimed 10,687 members, operated 162 congregations, and baptized over 500 new converts in 2010.
Both Adventists and Witnesses have experienced limited growth compared to other nations with comparatively-sized populations. The Benin-based Celestial Church of Christ bares many similarities in teachings and doctrines with missionary-minded denominations and continues to grow despite the death of its founder in the 1980s and controversy concerning leadership succession.
Prospects for future growth appear highly favorable in Benin as demonstrated by rapid membership growth and sustained local leadership development since 2004, the establishment of an LDS mission in 2011 to service Benin and Togo, increasing numbers of local members serving missions and preparing to serve missions, greater political stability than most African nations, a highly-receptive population to the LDS Church, and high likelihood of additional cities opening to missionary work nearby Cotonou due to close proximity and their large populations. Branches in Cotonou will likely be organized into its own district in the near future and additional congregations may be organized in Cotonou and additional nearby cities.
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