Bountiful couple to help LDS Church with legal issues in Africa

Sep 29 2011 - 8:04am

BOUNTIFUL -- You don't have to explain to Jeff and Marge Clayton why members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sometimes are afraid to serve in South Africa, where the couple has been asked to go for at least three years.

With safety issues such as the need to keep away from open water and from touching items on the street, Marge admits to feeling like she wanted to stay away from the area herself.

"I said 'I'll go anywhere with you but Africa,' " Marge told her husband when first invited with him to a meeting at church headquarters where they would be asked to go. "In hindsight, I wish I'd said 'I'll go anywhere but London.' "

But when asked to go to Africa, Marge admits her heart melted right away.

"Without hesitation, we agreed to do that," she said. "I felt very confident. ... For some reason, it's been the easiest call. It was a clean-cut decision."

And when the two visited Johannesburg, South Africa, for a few days this month to see what they would be doing and with whom they would be associating, Marge admits she hadn't ever felt more assured of anything in her life.

"They are very happy people, full of faith," she said of the church members she met. "They go to great lengths to serve in their callings.

"Fifteen percent of their income goes just for their travel to get to church. ... They are simple people but intelligent and they want to improve themselves."

And they were inspired by 15 couple missionaries, all older than themselves, who were serving in the area.

"They are so happy and so pleased to be serving there," Marge said. "We thought 'If these couples can do it. We can do it.' "

Now that she's seen the area and received some of the training she'll need to survive there, Marge said she understands that safety in Africa, like in anything, depends on obedience to the laws predicated by the situation.

"If you obey the laws of health and safety, you will be OK," she said.

Jeff has been asked to finish his law career in South Africa as a lawyer for the church.

Currently an attorney at Callister, Nebeker & McCullough in Salt Lake City, Jeff has been scrambling to re-assign his clients since Aug. 18 when he was asked to make the change.

The couple expects to leave in early November, as soon as the two each receive their visas.

At 64, Jeff said he considers the assignment as the final leg of his career.

"I look at it as what a great way to finish my career, to go help build the kingdom," Jeff said.

And he said his services will be much needed as he will be able to help with legal issues that arise as the church continues to grow and new facilities will be built.

"The church is really thriving there," Jeff said. "I believe I will be probably working harder than I work now."

He said his efforts will be addressing issues such as government relations, land acquisition and building regulations.

"Each country has its own laws and specifications he will have to deal with individually," Marge said.

As an indication of the kind of growth occurring in Africa, Jeff told of a recent stake conference in Kenya, where North Ogden's Steve and Julie Broadbent are serving as mission presidents.

"The stake has a 2,100-member population," Jeff said. "There were 2,500 that came. ... Obviously, those extra people would have to be investigators."

"That is unheard of," Marge said.

A former stake president in the Bountiful area, Jeff said he understands well the implications of what a conference that attracts so much participation means.

"If we got 75 percent, we were doing fabulously well," he said.

Currently, the couple serves as the Utah North area public affairs co-chairmen for the church. It's a part-time calling they've had for eight years.

Previous to that, Jeff served as a mission president with his wife in Independence, Mo., for three years.

The couple has six children and 25 grandchildren.

Although they will be too far away from home for many of their offspring, the Claytons said some of them will be close enough to visit them.

Currently, the couple has children in Russia and Spain but they've also had children living in China, Switzerland, Greece and Italy.

"We're kind of an international family," Marge said.

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