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The Real Elder Price, Part 2: Welcome to Africa!

Besides all the walking, Elder Price arrived in Yaounde, Cameroon in time to help with a demanding service project: cleaning and refurbishing an orphanage. Missionary labor is often simply labor.

There would be other service projects as well: cleaning a prison, painting a school, and working on wells.

Elder Price's first companion in Africa was a Canadian named Andrew Kay. Missionaries, as The Book of Mormon Musical recognizes in a song, go out "two by two." They are to protect and support one another. They also begin acting as ordained ministers—baptizing, preaching, and using "the laying on of hands" to heal or bless.

The lay priesthood is a distinguishing attribute of the LDS religion. Nearly every active Mormon boy is ordained to the Aaronic priesthood at age 12, which is comparable to a Jewish boy's Bar Mitzvah. The family celebrations in Mormonism are not as festive as those surrounding a Bar Mitzvah, but the newly ordained young man will begin serving in priestly duties, including administering the sacrament. When he is ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood, prior to his mission, he is, in many ways, an initiate into Mormon manhood. Shortly before to his departure, he will be "set apart" by a Church leader. All of his time and energy will be dedicated to God for the next two years. He is tithing his life. He will pack up and put away the emblems of his youth: iPods, skateboards, computer games.* His life has been ordained, or put in order, for a particular service and a designated time.

Missionaries working at “Green Eyes for Africa” orphanage

Within a few months of settling into his new life in Cameroon, he performed his first baptisms.

In The Book of Mormon Musical, Elder Cunningham sings "I'm going to baptize you!" as he prepares to immerse a beautiful Ugandan woman, Nabulungi. The song is rich with sexual innuendo.

There was no such innuendo when the real Elder Price had his first experience baptizing a convert. He baptized two women on that day, both much older than he: Louise and Sidonie.

Louise was late for the service, having just discovered that her purse had been stolen. Without the purse, she had no money, not even for a taxi. So she walked three miles to get to the church.

Elder Price baptized Sidonie first. He descended with her into the font. As he said the words, "Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost" and then immersed her, his MTC companion stood at the font's side, witnessing.

The dedication of a well in Pointe Noire, Republic of Congo

"The weather for the baptism was perfect," wrote Elder Price, "but as we started to say the closing prayer, there was a huge downpour. It was one of my first tastes of what the rain can do in Africa."

Just as he was learning about baptism (a ritual he would perform many times in his twenty-two months in Cameroon), he was also learning his first lessons about rain—African style. He would become an expert, as would all of the missionaries.

Elder Wigginton wrote this in a cyber café, as torrents of rain bulleted into the dirt roads outside:

Wow, I just saw a huge bolt of lightning. It must have been close because a loud crack, and rumbling thunder immediately followed. We really get thrashed out here after the rain. The mud is sticky, and red. The other day, I honestly carried about three pounds of mud between my shoes. The funny part is that as I walked up and down the quartier, the foliage and trash I could not avoid stepping on would cling to the mud. I would have plastic bags and long pieces of grass dragging behind me. Fortunately, many of our investigators' family members wash our shoes off for us while we teach. There is a lot of love that we receive between the insults (which I am starting to understand better).

Elder Seth Lee witnesses Elder Brandon Price perform his first baptism in Cameroon

Yes, they would learn about rain—and about poverty, and love, and friendship.

12/12/2011 5:00:00 AM