The Real Elder Price
The Real Elder Price, Part 5: The Face of the Other
As Beri's words show, this longing for a connection to God can be overwhelming. Africans do not shrug, curse God, and die in the face of enormous adversities. They, as do all humans, ache for meaning. And the Anglo missionaries, though their stay is brief, though they do not "become Africa" (their passports prevent that, providing a guarantee that they can leave whenever they choose), do take something of Africa back to their homes. The memories of the people abide with them.
These memories do include some rather scary people carrying AK-47s.
One of the funniest moments in The Book of Mormon Musical happens when Elder Price tries to push faith beyond his fear. He has just seen a warlord murder someone. In a parody of Maria singing "A captain with seven children—what's so scary about that?" in The Sound of Music, Elder Price sings, "A war lord who shoots people in the face—what's so scary about that?"
It may seem that Parker and Stone have gone beyond the pale with this kind of "man up" initiation for the missionary. In fact, culture shock can be violent, and I know of missionaries who witnessed murders on their first day in the field. And there are certainly warlords, revolutionaries, and refugees throughout Africa. Some even become Mormon converts. At least one revolutionary in the Congo became a missionary: Aime Mbuyi.
|Elder Aime Mbuyi|
I have been communicating with Elder Mbuyi for a year now. He is still serving his mission and is currently the Assistant to the President. English is his second language (French being his first), so I have adjusted some grammar and word choice, but will let him tell his story in his own words:
Before I joined the Church, I was in a revolutionary group. We had a camp which was like a boarding school. One of the purposes of this camp was to teach us to abandon the religious system brought by white men, and to return to the religion of our ancestors. At the camp, we lit a bonfire, sang songs, and we prayed to our ancestors. Someone called out to the ancestors and other dead ones and asked them to mingle with us. All of this was initiated by an African Catholic priest who was the leader of the camp. He also changed the way of celebrating Mass. It was no longer a Catholic Mass but a combination of Catholicism and African ancestor worship. We also watched documentaries about Patrice Emery Lumumba, the youth of Soweto and others. This ex-priest was building hate in us.
I had many destructive plans which I developed at the revolutionary camp, but I did not put them into action. The gospel changed my heart before I executed my plans.
My grandparents joined the Church in July 2005 before I came back to live in Kinshasa after spending seven years in Tshikapa, where the revolutionary camp was located. My grandpa told me about the Church just once. He said that it was a good church. It gave the youth opportunities for a good education and helped them become good citizens of the country. He said many things about the Church, but I did not show that I was interested. My mother tried to encourage me to visit the church. The next Sunday, I did. I did not inform anybody at home. I knew where the church was.
I entered. I passed the chapel and found myself in the bishop's office. I told him that I was new in the church and that I did not know where to go. He showed me a class. Afterwards, I encountered the elders and we made an appointment. I do not remember what was taught that day at church, but I remember my impressions. I was impressed by the attitude of the young men my own age who blessed the sacrament. They were like angels.
Most of my friends thought that the Church was not Christian. At first, I did not tell them I had joined it. I was ashamed. My mother encouraged to stop going to the camp meetings. She said, "Aimé, now that you have received the gospel of Jesus-Christ, I think you must stop your meetings and your organization. You have become a disciple of Christ." Her words touched my heart, and I decided to stop. I found an excuse to escape my friends. This decision helped me be focused in the gospel and ponder in my heart the message I had accepted.
|Sister Pamela Headlee with Elder Mbuyi’s Mother|
The knowledge of the plan of salvation gave my life a new orientation. But it was when I received the testimony from the Spirit that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God and consequently that this work was true that I understood that I was actually struggling against God by my revolutionary group. I had a strong conviction that anyone who aims to bring division into the world instead of peace is not from God.
Many thoughts were coming into my mind. It was not easy to give up the struggle. I thought about the purposes of the revolutionary group, but even more about what I was fighting for. Thoughts were continuing to come into my mind telling me that God was the master of everything, that He knew everything, and that He could permit everything to happen for good purposes.
I felt a strong desire to share what I knew with people. I remember when I testified of Joseph Smith to my classmates. I still remember those feelings I had. After a few weeks in the Church, I was already nicknamed "the Mormon" or " man of justice"("homme de la justice") at school.
In the same period, I learned the children's song starting with these words: "We have been born as Nephi of old." This song fostered my desire to serve the Lord and has been until now a constant source of comfort and courage to serve Him with all my heart and power.
|Members and missionaries singing in Pointe Noire, Republic of Congo|
In 2007 I was called to be the ward mission leader and started working with the full-time missionaries. This period prepared me and confirmed my decision to serve a full-time mission. I received my mission call from the Prophet on November 30th and started my mission in December 29th, 2009. I went to the Mission Training Center in Ghana.
Long before I went into the Ghana temple as a missionary, I knew that it was the House of God. Two years earlier, my cousin had come to me and told me that he had had a discussion with some people who had just been in the USA. He said that these people had told him bad things about the Church and its temples. He told me many things against the Church and especially the temple. I was troubled. My spirit and mind were troubled. I was afraid. I remembered what the missionaries told me: "You can ask God to know if what we have taught is true." I then prayed in my heart, meditated and prayed to know the truth. After a short while as I was in meditation, a feeling of peace, assurance and joy replaced the feelings of fear, doubt, confusion, and trouble in my heart. I was happy. I knew that I was headed in the right direction, and that the temples of the church are the very Houses of God. Later I testified of these things to my cousin, who finally decided to also join the Church.
When I entered in the Ghana Temple for the first time, I submitted many names of my ancestors, and ordinances have now been done for them.
I love the gospel.
Elder Mbuyi continues to serve as a different kind of revolutionary—a soldier for peace in the army of the Lord.
Through tragedy and joy, love and loss, the missionaries approach those around them (including their companions) with growing tenderness and respect. Such is the case for both the Anglo and the African missionaries. Elder Mbuyi, who will remain in the Congo when his mission ends, speaks warmly of those who walked with him as fellow citizens in the household of faith, who have now returned to their comfortable homes in North America: I love [my former companions] very much. I miss them. I am sad that I may not see them again before many years or forever.
There are no acquiescent shrugs in the final missionary days, and the song most likely to be sung will certainly not curse God or pretend that there isn't an ocean between Africa and North America. It will simply plead, "God be with you till we meet again."
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.