Each of us is a Pioneer

Today important visitors arrived in Bamako.  Brother Norbert Ounleu from Accra and Brother Matt Heiss from Salt Lake City have come to gather oral histories from our Pioneer members here in Mali.  They will be here today (Friday) through Monday to document the history of the church here and its beginnings.  We have a full schedule of appointments prepared for them.  This is an exciting time for our members here.  Their stories and experiences matter and their faith will bless others for generations to come.

2020-2-14 Matt Heiss, Norbert Onleu Visit Bamako (2)

I think about these first generation members and the significance of their conversions.  My father was the first and only member of his family to accept the restored gospel.  Because of him, my life and the lives of my children have been blessed.

Because of our first members here, blessings will flow through generations and through this country.

“It is good to look to the past to gain appreciation for the present and perspective for the future. It is good to look upon the virtues of those who have gone before, to gain strength for whatever lies ahead. It is good to reflect upon the work of those who labored so hard and gained so little in this world, but out of whose dreams and early plans, so well nurtured, has come a great harvest of which we are the beneficiaries. Their tremendous example can become a compelling motivation for us all, for each of us is a pioneer in his own life, often in his own family, and many of us pioneer daily in trying to establish a gospel foothold in distant parts of the world.”
–President Gordon B. Hinckley

Here is the first verse of one of my favorite pioneer hymns:

They, the Builders of the Nation
Hymns, They, the Builders of the Nation, no. 36

1. They, the builders of the nation,
Blazing trails along the way;
Stepping-stones for generations
Were their deeds of ev’ry day.
Building new and firm foundations,
Pushing on the wild frontier,
Forging onward, ever onward,
Blessed, honored Pioneer!

Text: Ida R. Alldredge, 1892-1943. © 1948 IRI, Music: Alfred M. Durham, 1872-1957. © 1948 IRI

2020-2-17 Interview Adama Coulibaly (5)

A Gift of Christ: Often it maketh my bones to quake

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Before leaving his disciples, Jesus promised them an incredible gift–a gift that would surpass any gift ever given. I thought about that gift in the dark pre-dawn hours on this Christmas morning as I waited in bed, listening to the prayer calls of the mosque out our window.

I thought about the reminder to pray for a long time this morning and I also thought about how LOUD that muezzin is with his microphone. We hear prayer calls several times a day, always loud and repetitive. I like being reminded, most of the time. Not so much at 4:00 a.m., but during the day it can be a nice reminder to give thanks for my blessings.

This has been an interesting Christmas season, here in Bamako. There are no Christmas lights, no Christmas trees, no decorations, no presents, and no carols being sung. The trappings of Christmas are not found here in these Muslim neighborhoods. We’ve had to create our own simple Christmas celebration.

Last night we read the Christmas Story from Luke and from Matthew. I thought about Jesus’s birth and His life and all He has done for us. I thought about how, at the end of his life he said to his disciples:

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:16-18, 25-27).

He gave us this unspeakable gift, the Gift of the Holy Ghost–to teach us, to help us remember Him, to comfort us, to protect us, and to give us peace in a troubled world.  It’s the greatest Gift ever!

The scriptures describe the voice God uses. In the account of Elijah in the Old Testament, it says:

The Lord said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. (1 Kings 19:11-12, italics added.)

The prophet Nephi had brothers who would not hear. To them, he said:

Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God. Ye have seen an angel, and he spake unto you; yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words. (Nephi 1:45, italics added.)

When Jesus visited the people on the American continent after his resurrection, his coming was announced in this way:

And it came to pass that while they were thus conversing one with another, they heard a voice as if it came out of heaven; and they cast their eyes round about, for they understood not the voice which they heard; and it was not a harsh voice, neither was it a loud voice; nevertheless, and notwithstanding it being a small voice it did pierce them that did hear to the center, insomuch that there was no part of their frame that it did not cause to quake; yea, it did pierce them to the very soul, and did cause their hearts to burn.  And it came to pass that again they heard the voice, and they understood it not.  And again the third time they did hear the voice, and did open their ears to hear it; and their eyes were towards the sound thereof; and they did look steadfastly towards heaven, from whence the sound came.  And behold, the third time they did understand the voice which they heard; and it said unto them:  Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name—hear ye him. (3 Nephi 11:3-7, italics added.)

The Holy Ghost communicates to us in much the same way–quietly. He speaks to our hearts and to our minds. He causes us to feel things or remember things. He cautions or prompts us to do or not to do certain things. He is our constant companion.

I love the description of the Holy Ghost’s communication to us in a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1832:

Yea, thus saith the still small voice, which whispereth through and pierceth all things, and often times it maketh my bones to quake while it maketh manifest. (D&C 85:6, italics added.)

This morning as I was awakened by the blaring reminder to pray, I thought about the Holy Ghost and the quiet messages I receive almost daily–Jesus’s gift to me. It’s the best gift ever. I don’t really need anything else, especially on this Christmas Day.

Christmas in Bamako 2019 “Prayer is Better than Sleep”

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I woke in the dark pre-dawn this Christmas morning to the cries of the muezzin at the mosque across the street, calling us to prayer.   These reminders come daily, every few hours, reminding us that there is a God in heaven and that we need to remember Him and worship Him.

Muslim Prayer Times
Muslim prayer times: pre-dawn, sunrise, mid-afternoon, sunset, and nightfall.

People here simply stop what they’re doing to pray.  And they don’t pray without first  preparing to pray.  Every day I see religious young men sitting on curbs or in store fronts or just on the side of the road, preparing for prayer.   This preparation is called Wudu.  They are taught that they must be ritually pure before praying.  (If since your last prayer you have urinated, defecated, passed gas, bled excessively, or fallen asleep while leaning against something, you need to perform wudu.)

I watch these young and old men washing for prayers. They use their little plastic water pots and wash their hands, then they pull up their pant legs and wash what they can of their legs, then their feet, being particular about every toe. Then they wash their heads, their ears–inside and out, their eyes, their noses (they snort in water, then snort it out), they wash the inside of their mouths with their fingers, going around their teeth, then spit out the water. They do all of this so they are clean to approach Allah in prayer. It’s really amazing to watch this preparation. I see it every day.  In places where they have no water, they wash with clean unused dirt.

If they are not near a mosque, these men (and women) find a clean place to kneel.  Most use a prayer mat or rug, rolled up and kept just for this sacred ritual.  Sometimes they pray in groups, sometimes alone.

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Bamako Prayer Time. Photo credit: ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP via Getty Images

Muslims demonstrate their faithfulness by actively honoring the Five Pillars of Islam in their everyday lives.  Prayer happens daily and is the most visible expression of their faith.

The 5 Pillars of Faith
Hajj: Pilgrimage to Mecca, Islam’s most holy site, that all Muslims must make at least once in their lifetime.
Sawm: Ritual fasting observed during Ramadan.
Shahadah: Reciting the Islamic profession of faith, called the Kalimah (“There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger”).
Salat: Daily prayers, properly observed.
Zakat: Giving to charity and aiding the poor.

Islam became the state religion in Mali in the 1300s. They say ninety-five percent of this country is Muslim.  I enjoy living in a Muslim neighborhood and country.  The people around us are religious, kind and respectful.

LDS Prayer

Members of my faith also have a strong tradition of daily prayer.  We pray just as often, but in a different way.  Prayers are most often private, but families also gather to pray together, with one member of the family praying out loud with the rest.  I pray all the time, and I try to always keep a prayer in my heart.

On this Christmas morning, I listened to the muezzin reminding me to pray.  The English translation of his prayer call is this:

God is Great! God is Great! God is Great! God is Great!
I bear witness that there is no god except the One God.
I bear witness that there is no god except the One God.
I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
Hurry to the prayer. Hurry to the prayer.
Hurry to salvation. Hurry to salvation.
God is Great! God is Great!
There is no god except the One God.
For the pre-dawn prayer, the following phrase is inserted prior to the final repetition of God is Great:  Prayer is better than sleep. Prayer is better than sleep.

I do not understand the Arabic sung and chanted by our local muezzin, but I understand the feelings of my heart, and the love I have for my Father in Heaven and his son, Jesus Christ, and I am thankful for them, especially on this Christmas Day, as we celebrate the beginning of Jesus’s mortal life.  Because of Him, I can learn how to live so that I can return someday to Their presence.

 

Thanksgiving Day in Bamako

This evening before we went to our dinner feast, I read a few more chapters in the book, Insights about Pres Nelson. This was interesting to me:

When later asked what he learned from the assignment to open the countries in Eastern Europe for the preaching of the gospel, particularly in light of the many stops and starts, failed meetings, and ups and downs, Elder Nelson replied simply: “The Lord likes effort. He could have said to Moses, ‘I’ll meet you halfway.’ But Moses had to go all the way to the top of Mount Sinai. He required effort from Moses and Joshua and Joseph Smith and from all of the subsequent Presidents of the Church. He requires effort from bishops and stake and Relief Society presidents and elders quorum presidents. There is always a test. Are you willing to do really hard things? Once you’ve shown you’re willing to do your part, He will help you.” (p. 197).

I am grateful to be here.  I am grateful for my family, for our missionaries, and for our new friends here.  We are blessed beyond measure.  There is really no place I’d rather be that right here right now.

And the Thanksgiving pizza was delicious!

2019-11-18 Dinner out