Taught by My Class in Istanbul

The Accra Ghana Temple
of the Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints
(c) Mervan Newbold, 2009

Quite a few years ago, my wife and I attended services in an apartment in Istanbul with that city’s small Latter-day Saint branch.

Many of the members of the branch were Ghanaians.

It was fun.  They were, though, so tired of hearing each other talk (I guess) that they immediately asked us to speak in sacrament meeting and had me teach both Sunday school and priesthood meeting.

The latter provided me with a genuinely sobering experience.

All of the Ghanaians, so far as I could tell, were living together, pooling their very limited resources and working as truck drivers, sending whatever money they could back to their families in Ghana.

One of them asked me a question that left me feeling quite inadequate and unworthy.

He explained that either government regulations or company rules — I can’t remember which it was — prohibited their giving rides to hitchhikers.  But public transportation on their main route between Istanbul and Ankara, he said, was both expensive and inadequate, and there were always many people offering a few dollars for a ride.

The drive was long and boring, he continued.  It was nice to have company.  It helped drivers to stay awake, because, often the trips were overnight.  And people really did need transportation.  And the money was really helpful.  And virtually all truck drivers took on passengers.  The prohibition was universally ignored (as such things commonly are in places like Turkey).

Was it, he wanted to know, a sin to accept a rider and earn a couple of extra dollars to send home?

The attention of all of the men was riveted on me.  They nodded their approval of the question, and were eager for my counsel.

I felt profoundly ill-suited to advise them.  Reflecting that I probably made in a day what it might take them a month to earn, I just didn’t feel very good about criticizing them from a position of relatively extravagant affluence and privilege.  Yet, though deeply sympathetic (and secretly wanting to say “Just go ahead and do it”), I didn’t feel that I should advise them, in church, to violate rules — especially since they plainly regarded me as some sort of visiting Authority from Church headquarters.

My advice, finally, was to pray and seek the Spirit, and to do what they felt was right.  Probably a bit of a cop-out.  (I really did feel very, very uncomfortable with the question.)

But one impression lingers:  I was enormously impressed with their sincerity, their love for the Lord, and their desire to do the right thing.  It made me feel, honestly, rather inferior.  Unworthy to be purporting to teach them.

Afterwards, the service missionaries in whose apartment the meeting had been held told me about the fervent desire of these Ghanaian men to be good, and their deep reluctance to accept help without returning it.  Just recently, when one of them had become ill, they had had to come to the branch for money to buy some simple medicines for him.  The branch president gave them what they needed and assured them that they didn’t need to pay it back.  But they insisted, and, after several weeks, they very happily came in and repaid what they saw, though the branch president had not, as a loan.  It came, as I recall, to something on the order of seven or eight dollars.

“By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.  By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise. . . .  These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. . . .  But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.”   (Hebrews 11:8-9, 13-14, 16.)

Of these faithful Saints before the coming of Christ it’s reported that “They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”  (Hebrews 11:37-38.)

These faithful Ghanaian Saints somehow remind me very powerfully of their ancient counterparts, “of whom the world was not worthy.” 

It’s inspiring to know that such earnest and sincere goodness exists in the earth.



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