The Real Elder Price
The Real Elder Price, Part 4: Nightmares and Dreams
Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of essays that examines the real world of Mormon missionaries and the real Elder Price. Read the author's Introduction.
On June 12, 2010, I emailed Elder Chiloba Chirwa, telling him that I had just received a gift from his mother—a copper plate with the name ZAMBIA on it. Two days later, I got an email from Fiona, Elder Chirwa's sister: "Jacob has been ill and has passed away today. It is completely devastating, but we are staying strong and know that we will be reunited as a family again."
Elder Chirwa had lost his father. I emailed him immediately, starting with the subject line "I already know."
Now the missionary companions—this "band of brothers"—was called upon to mourn with their friend.
Elder Lisowski described the scene in the missionary apartment:
I found out the same day he did, before he ended up coming home. I tried to make the apartment as comfortable as possible and just figure out how I could help. He came in kind of shell shocked, and eventually told us what had happened. I've just spent the past couple of days sitting in his room whenever he's there. I'm not surprised that you know, either. I actually talked with Chirwa a little bit about it. "What do you think Sister Young is thinking right now?" His response was along the lines of "There's no way she knows." So I gave him a look which in essence said, "Sister Young . . .not knowing something?"
|Jacob Chirwa in a casual moment|
I was amazed at the ways I had been woven into Elder Chirwa's life, without ever having met him. Regardless of the physical distance between us, we were bound in a relationship that called upon us to care for one another. He was my brother, my son, my friend.
"It's hard for me to hold back tears right now," he wrote to me. "We should be grateful for the lives that have touched ours. I am grateful for my father. I was blessed to be his son."
As it happened, I had a gift for Elder Chirwa, though I had not anticipated it would come into use now, or that it would serve as a comfort to a grieving missionary. Months earlier, I had interviewed Jacob Chirwa via email, fascinated by his knowledge of African literature and curious about LDS art in Zambia. It took him awhile to answer my questions, because he was studying in Finland, the very place where my own father had served his mission. When he replied, he was thoughtful and direct:
I have as yet to see any form of artistic manifestation in the church around us. I have always felt that there hasn't been enough encouragement for the local artist to showcase their talent. One reason for this is the belief inculcated in the people that the only approved art manifestations are the ones coming from Utah. And so we sit to watch videos of conversion stories as our missionaries do their work. This is well and good but I feel that watching a local missionary at work in any outside place would impact our youth.
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.