Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Friday, July 30, 2021

A Sacrament Meeting Worth Shouting About

Sunday turned out to be one of the most exciting sacrament meetings I can recall. It was exciting because a wonderful young lady, a 16-year-old who came to America as a refugee from the chaos in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, stood at the pulpit to give her first talk and touched the entire congregation. It was especially exciting because she gave the talk in Swahili, with my wife at her side giving the English, allowing our many Swahili speakers to finally hear a talk in a language they can understand. (I almost said "in their language," but that would be a mistake. For those coming from the Congo, Burundi, or Rwanda, it's their second, third, or fourth language. One of my new friends from Africa told me after sacrament meeting that he speaks 10 languages.) I wasn't the only one excited by her talk. When she finished, there was a loud cheer from the pew behind me that filled the chapel with the joyous voice of her proud mother, celebrating her daughter's accomplishment. I clapped very quietly to join her mother in celebration. 

My wife and I helped our young friend to write her talk a couple of weeks earlier. She told her story in English as I typed. We edited it down and then practiced the Saturday before. We felt having my wife at her side could help her face the great fear she had about speaking to a large group of people, and by going one sentence at a time, English first and then Swahili, it could help her and the audience. I was very proud of my wife and her loving influence on this young lady, and especially proud of my wife when she supplied a couple of Swahili words when the girl stumbled (e.g., the difficult word for "saints," watakatifu). 

Our friend told the story of being just 9 years old when the family had to suddenly flee with almost nothing in order to escape the growing danger in their homeland. She told of crossing a dangerous border at night to evade the Congolese authorities that would force them back into the Congo, and of having to split up into small groups, apart from her father and other family members, not sure if they would ever see each other again. Once into Uganda, there were new dangers and hardships. Her father was able to resist those who wanted to split the reunited family and send them to two different refugee camps. They were blessed by the kindness of a stranger on a motorcycle who helped them find friendly police and even went out of his way to bring back food for the family. Kind Ugandan police even cooked breakfast for them. So many challenges had to be overcome, but they eventually were brought to the United States as refugees, and I am so grateful for the many people who have shown kindness and love to this large family, both in Maryland and now Wisconsin. 

She told the story of how her family began to seek God more earnestly in their lives. They attended several churches but she was confused by the differing teachings. Then a relative told them about Appleton, where he had also found a church he liked. They moved here and began attending the Appleton Second Ward. But when the missionaries challenged them to be baptized, she said no, even though others said yes, because she had heard that Americans baptize by just getting your head wet in a little bathtub, but she wanted to be baptized like Jesus, by immersion (kwa kuzamishwa). But after learning that that's how we do it, and after gaining a testimony of the Book of Mormon, she had the courage to be baptized, and reported that she has found lasting happiness through the Gospel, happiness she didn't have before. 

It was a great moment, or about 20+ minutes of great moments. And it wasn't just Mom that wanted to shout for joy. Other non-African members told me how exciting the talk was for them, too. A sharp young man from Burundi told us as we were driving him home that he loved the meetings at church that today and that "the talk" was his favorite part. 

I am so proud of the members of my ward for their support and love for the many investigators and new members who have come from Africa. 

I am also so proud of my community, Appleton, Wisconsin, a little Midwest town that was nearly all white a few decades ago and has had its own struggles with racism but has become a vibrant community where refugees and immigrants from several parts of the world have found kindness and great opportunities, and are welcome and important parts of both our church and our community. 

I feel a real need to express my gratitude to Appleton and the surrounding Fox Valley area and Wisconsin in general for their acceptance and support of the many African people who are now here. My wife and have been in many homes of African families in this community in the past couple of months, and what I see are people who are grateful for this country, grateful for the kindness of this community, and who feel safe and welcome. Their challenges are still great. Some have family members still in Uganda who may need to wait years more until they can be united again. They are working hard, often in local food manufacturing factories, but inflation is taking a toll as rising housing costs plus increasing costs in other areas are really hurting and complicating life. They will have many struggles to face in the future, but there is much to rejoice over now. I am grateful for what we share in this great community, this great country, and in the glorious, unifying Gospel of Jesus Christ for those who embrace that as well.

11 comments:

Allen Wyatt said...

Thanks for sharing, Jeff. This is awesome and makes me proud of your ward and community.

Anonymous said...

Inspiring story, thanks for sharing.

Steve

Anonymous said...

My wife and I befriended a young couple who were refugees from Congo 20 years ago after we had just been married. It’s sad that 20 years on, people are still suffering from political upheaval and unrest in that region. We should be grateful that regardless of how bad we think our political problems are here, they really aren’t that bad relatively speaking.

Anonymous said...

The sacrament meeting to shout about will be with the Q15 issue a letter to be read in all the wards telling people to get vaccinated, wear masks and show some respect for the common good. It's been a LONG time coming and there's a very good chance it will never happen because they don't dare trust their own leadership anymore.

Rev. Anne E. Derse said...

Dear Jeff - I am the Deacon at St. John’s Norwood Episcopal Church in Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Maryland, the church that sponsored this Congolese family. The 16 year old presenter sent us the link to your wonderful post. We were thrilled to see it. We are wondering whether your congregation taped the presentation, and if so, if you’d be willing to share the recording with us? The many, many people who worked to support the family would be so happy to see it! I can be reached at aderse@stjohnsnorwood.org. Blessings and thanks, Rev. Anne Derse

Anonymous said...

The Brethren have *finally* taken a stand on masks, vaccines and responsibility to the general welfare. And their church is falling apart in response.

I'd say that's something to shout about.

Anonymous said...

Jeff are you vaccinated? Any thoughts on the first presidency's urging that all get it? C'mon, weigh in.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Vaccinated? Yes I am. And my latest post offers some thoughts on the new First Presidency Message. It's a good faith effort to walk be good citizens. At the same time, I hope we can respect those who are hesitant and understand that there are a variety of reasonable factors that may be behind their concerns.

Jeff Lindsay said...

As a side note, I have to publicly express my gratitude to Rev. Anne E. Derse for reaching out to me here. I've been so happy to connect with her. She is the minister in Maryland who helped nurture and welcome a refugee family fleeing from the chaos they faced in the DR Congo. The whole congregation treated them so well. Her family, now also our friends, are deeply grateful to Rev. Anne (a Deacon and Minister for Community Engagement) and the other good people at St. John's Norwood Episcopal Church in Chevy Chase, Maryland, also serving Bethesda. It's so great to have such people in our world!

Rev. Anne E. Derse said...

Wow, Jeff, you are too kind. Connecting with this family was a great blessing for all the good people who made this connection possible. We are very glad they are thriving in Wisconsin. Thank you for welcoming them so warmly! Blessings, Anne

C T said...

What a wonderful post and tribute to the many people who have been kind to this girl and her family. Thank you for sharing it!