The Real Elder Price
The Real Elder Price, Part 5: The Face of the Other
Elder Henry Lisowski wrote evocatively about the death of a 5-year-old boy from malaria:
In the corner of the room was his body. Lying shirtless and lifeless on the couch, he seemed so calm compared to the chaos that reined around him. Placed on his stomach was a warm iron, prostrate, like a plea to God himself. "Don't take him from me, not yet. Let me have just a little more time with him." The iron was to slow decomposition, something that normally hits rapidly in Africa. In this way the family could at least finish their mourning before burying him.
In the center of the room were the women, the source of the tumult. Wailing, screaming, and crying, they pounded their hands mercilessly against the concrete ground, sometimes calming down enough to look back up at the child, which would drive them into an even greater frenzy. In the corner sat the boy's uncle, our age, curled into a ball and gasping for air as tears rolled down his face. And silently sitting on the front steps was the grandfather, weeping into his hands.
And so we stood with the others, guarding the family during their time of need. There were about 40 of us crammed into that alleyway, heads hung, listening to their cries.
|Elder Lisowski playing|
Elder Jared Wigginton wrote about the poverty of Samuel, a refugee:
Samuel's father, an African, was a General for the Arab-controlled government of Sudan. Having African roots in a village just east of Darfur made his father's life difficult, as his own people viewed him as a traitor. In July of 1993, his father's gas station was burned and destroyed, and his father was kidnapped and murdered. With no source of stable income and a fear for their lives as tension was growing, he and his family fled to the Central African Republic.
After four years in Kinshasa, he met the missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and decided to be baptized. Six months later, he received a phone call telling him his mother had died in Pointe-Noire, Congo. He decided to find her burial site and try to establish a new life.
On his third day here, having eaten nothing, he saw the steeple of our church. He attended the Sunday service. I was able to talk with him for a while and I took him to talk with the Branch President to see how we could help him.
My heart twinged a bit when he and President were talking in Lingala, and I watched him empty his pockets of a bar of soap in a plastic bag and a toothbrush with every bristle bent back and a deep yellow. He was showing the President everything he had to his name.
The yearning for some connection with the divine is one of our most common human experiences, and perhaps especially acute amidst poverty. A recent Mormon convert, Marceline Beri, told Elder Wigginton about her desire for peace during years of illness and abuse. He recorded her words:
|Baptism of Marceline Beri|
I knew God existed. Maybe because I was desperate, I started praying. Each time I prayed, I found myself sobbing—I don't know why. I felt a big relief. I was so dirty. Spiritually, I was weak. I could not listen to the voice of God, or hope that I could progress and get myself out of my suffering.
Margaret Blair Young is the president of the Association for Mormon Letters and has published eight books—six novels and two short story collections. Three of the novels were co-authored with Darius Gray and give the history (documented) of Black Latter-day Saints. She and Gray made the documentary Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons, which is currently under contract with the Documentary Channel and showing nationally. She has written six encyclopedia articles and other scholarly papers on Blacks in the western United States, and particularly Black Mormons. She teaches creative writing at Brigham Young University.