Sunday, February 19, 2012

LDS learning from Nigerians

Oct 1988 Friend - Alexander B. Morrison is a Canadian nutritionist educated at Cornell who chaired  the Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee to the Special Program for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases for the World Health Organization. He was called as a Seventy in 1987 and was serving at the time in the Area Presidency in charge of Africa. He wrote a book in 1990 about the growth of the Church in Africa. He was interviewed by the Church's child magazine, The Friend, and talks about children in Africa. Most of the stories describe what the children there do without, and yet are happy and faithful. Here he commends the children in Nigeria and Africa for their reverence:
 “I remember going to a priesthood meeting in Lagos, Nigeria, last year. There were about fifty men and boys there, all wearing shoes. Many of them do not have shoes to wear during the week, but they have them to wear to Church meetings. The priesthood holders were spotlessly clean, which is very impressive in a country where getting water is difficult. They were all dressed in the very best that they had. And they were all anxious to learn.
“The thing that amazes me about Africa is that you can go to a meeting and talk there for two or three hours, and the children will sit and listen very quietly. There’s no scuffling or punching each other, no wrestling, and no wanting to go out for a drink of water. The children don’t let their attention wander for even a second. They’re great kids and a great people."
Ann Laemmlen, an assistant editor of Church magazines, worked as a field director of the Thrasher International Program for Children in Nigeria. In a March 1989 Ensign article, she talks about how her time in Nigeria changed her ideas of what "practical Christianity" means.
I returned from Africa with a simpler definition of Christianity than I once had. To me, Christianity is charity—the highest, noblest, strongest kind of love—the pure love of Christ. It may prompt alms or benevolent deeds, but it is not the same thing as charitable works.
In other words, Christianity is not so much what I do, but how I love; it’s the process of learning to love as Christ loves. Churches are institutions where we can learn about Christ and practice being Christians. But attending church will not make me a Christian any more than sitting in a library will make me a scholar. It simply gives me the means and opportunity of learning to become a Christian.
She also describes the life of her neighbor, Ekaette, who was married as a schoolgirl to a husband 10 years older than her, Akpan. Ekaette had her first child at age 14/15, and of the 8 children she had, 5 survived.
Her family joined the Church a few years ago.
Akpan is unemployed, but he works at odd jobs and repairs things for other people. He is a proud and industrious man, a good husband and father.
Ekaette has a nice home made of reddish clay packed between bamboo poles. A thatch roof protects her family from the heavy tropical storms. Inside, the home has a hard-packed earth floor and is divided into four rooms. A covered cooking area is separate from the house.There is no electricity in Ekaette’s area of the country. Everything must be done manually. Ekaette cooks over a fire, washes clothes in the stream, and irons with an iron filled with hot coals.
Ekaette’s day begins early. She and her children must carry all the water they will need for the day from a stream not far from their home. Several times a week they must go into the bush to cut firewood. They carry it home in bundles on their heads.Most of the food for Ekaette’s family comes from several small, uneven farm plots outside their village. Ekaette grows cassava, yams, bananas, plantain, pineapple, hot red peppers, and several kinds of greens used in different soups.
Ekaette and her family are happy. They have a good life.
I realized the importance of teaching principles after I attended a Relief Society lesson at the local branch. The lesson, taken from the manual, was on keeping our homes neat and clean. An illustration in the lesson manual showed an American home that was tidily arranged and obviously well kept. Comfort, our teacher, was so unfamiliar with Western-style homes that she held the picture upside down when she showed it to the class.
Later that week, I went to Ekaette’s house and found her covered from head to toe with mud. She was beaming. Inspired by the lesson, Ekaette was cleaning her home. She had taken every single item out of the house (there wasn’t much), and she was smearing new clay mud on the walls and floor. She excitedly showed me how she had decorated the front of the house by using a darker mud along the bottom for a nice trim. It looked beautiful. Ekaette had learned the principle, then implemented it in a way that was practical for her. [She concluded she needed to be more like Ekaette, taking the things she learned at church to heart so quickly and thoroughly.
She told me once, “If you had given me money—whether it had been a hundred naira or a thousand naira—it would all be gone now. But you have given me knowledge, and no one can ever take it away from me!” In the last year or so, Ekaette, on her own with only minimal help from us, trained teachers to instruct several groups of women in different villages.
In Ekaette’s life, I have seen Christianity—or love—at work. Guided by gospel principles, she has found practical solutions to her daily challenges. And so can we.
Read the other entries in the LDS in Nigeria series.