Carolee gave up a comfortable life in Houston to follow her husband on his work assignment to Lagos, Nigeria 2 1/2 years ago, and is still enjoying the adventure. She has especially enjoyed getting to know the wonderful Nigerian Saints. Her regular site is here.
While much of the LDS world was enjoying a day off from their regular Sunday schedule this past weekend and either gathering in church buildings to watch conference via satellite broadcast, or watching conference at home on TVs and computers, there is no effort made here in Lagos, Nigeria to gather together to watch conference live.
Even if our ward building had any internet or satellite, or even a reliable power source, the first session of Conference comes at 5 PM, and the afternoon session isn’t finished till 11 PM, much later than most people concerned about their personal safety want to travel the streets of Lagos. Even at home in our comfortable expatriate apartment, we were thwarted at first in our attempts to listen to conference, as a generator breakdown left us without power on Saturday for more than 6 hours, and my laptop battery and the UPS devices extending our power were finished by when the session started. Church in Lagos on Sunday kept to a regular schedule, with our usual first Sunday of the month Fast and Testimony meeting, with no acknowledgment of the General Conference occurring on the other side of the world. I love this meeting in Nigeria because the Saints here are so sincere and humble. I love how most who speak, even children, begin their testimonies: “Good morning, my most beloved Brothers and Sisters,” and how the congregation responds with a spoken “Good morning.” And now that I’ve been here long enough to get to know people on a more personal level and know more of the multitude of challenges they face, it makes their expressions of faith more meaningful to me.
We’ve gotten to know Ben, who moved into our congregation recently. He’s a young man, 17 or 18 years old, and is an orphan, with no family to rely on for support. He’s a very sweet young man with a friendly smile and a bright countenance and he’s always quick to notice and jump up to help people out. He hasn’t been able to receive much schooling in his life, so I was told he is not very literate. He loves the missionaries and I’m sure would love to serve a mission, (in no small part, I’m sure, due to the relief it would give him from supporting himself) but I doubt that will happen until he learns to read. Last year he was homeless, living on the street. Recently he was able to get a job as a security guard (a very low paid, low skilled profession here) which provides him some housing and income, though he says the job is not very good and life is still very difficult. I was able to get some information on an evening adult education program which has classes not far from where he lives, and I would be happy to sponsor his education there in the hopes that he would have better prospects for his future, but his work schedule right now won’t allow his attendance. In the meantime, I’m hoping that he will avail himself of the church’s literacy classes — they run a very good program here. And I’ve encouraged him to use the church’s employment resources to try to find better employment options. The church is his only safety net. He stood and bore a sweet testimony, sharing his feelings for the Church and his Savior, Jesus Christ.
Another testimony was offered by a woman I’ve gotten to know quite well with visiting teaching visits to her home. Victoria’s husband is a policeman — a very low-paid position in Nigeria. They live in police barracks, a concrete housing block, and they take pride and care in their two small rooms, with no kitchen, though they may do some cooking over a flame on the outside ledge. I hope to never see the toilet facilities shared with the barracks. They have made their living area quite cozy, with a picture of the Aba, Nigeria temple and a rug to soften the concrete floor, though the barracks themselves are something much below any standard of housing that Americans would allow. She has six children, ages 28 to 14. The three adult children live at home with their parents; their jobs don’t earn them a wage that will allow them to live on their own. They have a son on a mission in Nigeria, though they don’t have much contact with him. She says her letters have never reached him and there is no possibility for email contact. They can occasionally talk on the phone. Her husband recently left for a peacekeeping service assignment in another African country — last I spoke to her he was still in training and didn’t know yet where he would be sent. He would be away for at least six months and at the time he left in March, he still hadn’t been paid his regular salary since January. She had just returned from another trip to Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city, trying to get the pension she is entitled to from her government job, which she retired from over 2 years ago. The government still has not paid her any of her pension. She always says that they will manage somehow. She spoke about missing her husband, but expressed her gratitude for the church and said that it has made her able to face her trials and formed her into the person she is today.
Another man stood and talked about reading the message from The First Presidency in the Liahona and feeling so touched in his heart and filled with the Spirit and he was resolved to live a better life. He said “there is no wahala [the word used here for problem — it can also be used to describe a disturbance or unrest] that will keep me from returning to God’s presence.”
People here have a lot of wahalas to face, but Nigerian Saints are facing them with faith. I helped with singing time in Primary where the Primary children sang with gusto the new children’s song “I am a Builder” — a song about what they can do to help build their eternal family. The Relief Society lesson was on supporting our church leaders. The teacher asked the class how they learn of the prophets teachings and the response was that they read the Liahona. The teacher mentioned that she thought the church conference was going on this weekend and when they get the May issue of the church magazine, they would be able to read what was said by our Prophet and church leaders. I got tears in my eyes when I led them in the closing song, “We Ever Pray for Thee, Our Prophet Dear.” They sing the hymns with such fervent meaning, nodding their heads as they contemplate the words. Though most were unaware of the church conference happening that weekend on the other side of the world, and won’t learn of the spoken messages until they receive the church magazine in more than a month, they are supporting our prophet and church leaders and praying for them nevertheless. They are supporting the church with their faith and service, just as the church helps to support them in their efforts to survive and endure through life’s wahalas.