While in Africa recently, I was traveling back to Dakar with one of the other scientists. His name was Bapasal. He was dressed in the traditional African business attire of the long robe Senegalese kaftan. He spoke a tiny amount of English and I spoke no French or Woolf. We had just finished meetings in a small city about 70 miles East of Dakar. Soon the traffic heading the other direction was getting more and more congested. I ask what was going on as busses packed with people both on the inside and outside were crawling forward. He said, that Shaykh Aḥmadu Bàmba Mbàkke an Islamic holy man had been born in the city of Touba and it was the celebration of his birth in a city far to the east. I had seen pictures of Ahmadu Bamba everywhere in Senegal, in houses, on buses. He was considered a prophet second only Mohamed. They paid him great honor. I understood this. I had only to look within myself and my own relationship with my prophets to get a sense of what they felt. I have no doubt that their love and feelings of closeness to Ahmadu Bamba are as deep and as meaningful them as my own love for the prophets is for me.
However, the traffic going our direction soon deteriorated too, and frustratingly we were being stopped for 30 minutes at a time. It was getting West African hot so we rolled up the windows and turned on the air conditioning. Suddenly it stopped. It just quit, not only did it quit but everything electric in the car starting going off one at a time. We just managed to get the automatic windows down before there was no electricity at all. The car was still running, but I thought this can’t be good. Not a light was glowing on the dash board. Can a car even run like this?
The traffic worsened. Vehicles packed with people hanging from the roof to bottom inched past us going the other direction. We crawled forward, making about a mile every half hour. There was a feeling of a strange claustrophobia as the car crept forward in excruciating slowness.
I was also dying of thirst and I saw no prospect for getting any water. Not just the kind of thirsty I get sometimes during the day, but dehydrated thirsty. My mouth was dry and I was starting to see spots. Suddenly a woman appeared at my window selling tangerines for two West African Francs a bag. I bought them without haggling (which I could tell surprised her) and handed some to my companion. We slurped them down in seconds. Never in my life has wet warm fruit tasted so lusciously sweet and liquid. I ate about eight before my thirst began to slake.
Finally, after about six hours, the traffic began to clear as we got onto the massive new Chinese-made freeways that stretch ubiquitously across Africa and in short order reached the outskirts of Dakar. The air blowing into the car felt magic. We were moving! Yea! Suddenly he slowed down. I wondered why. Then we got slower and slower and I realized the car was not running and we were coasting to a stop. We pulled off the road in a shabby part of Dakar. Broken down at last. When the car stopped we looked at each other and simultaneously burst out laughing. Not a little twitter, but a full-blown, side-splitting, uncontrolled belly laugh. We laughed until there were tears in our eyes. Then laughed some more.
There was something very human in that laugh. There sat Bapasol: African, Muslim, Dressed in a Kafkan, and me: Western, Mormon, in jeans, but there was something in the situation we both recognized as hilarious, that rooted us in commonalities that stretched across numerous cultural differences. After the laugh, he made a cell phone call and we sat and watched the sunset over Dakar and waited for rescue. It was beautiful.
Differences and Commonalities.
When I look around my ward there are many differences. Political. Where we are in life. Our marital status. The number of children. Level of income. Education. Our beliefs about how the world works. However, there are commonalities. I suspect that for most of us, life has not turned out as we expected. We face heart-rending difficulties. Monumental fear and failure. Each of us. I find it strange that I cannot get to know anyone in any depth without finding that they have faced terrible things. That they have suffered heartbreak and sorrow: pain, sickness, sorrow, loss. Some have faced marriages that have failed or not materialized, children have been lost, both physically and spiritually, for some illness and accident have come upon them, many have endured sorrow and suffering. Yet, here we are together. Brought together in the worship of Christ. Gathered to partake of his healing and mercy. We are united in Christ. United. Yes. In light of this, how can we dare we judge another? How dare we measure and compare where others are on their journey of faith? We have but one responsibility, it seems to me, to love and lift each other.
But this sometimes does not happen. Elder Uchtdorf puts it this way:
“Unfortunately, from time to time we also hear of Church members who become discouraged and subsequently quit coming to and participating in our Church meetings because they think they don’t fit in.”
Can we take the commandment ‘Judge not’ seriously? The Pharisees in the New Testament always did their home teaching, regularly held their family home evenings, they were scrupulous in their daily scripture study, they were exact in their keeping of the word of wisdom (putting their behavior in a modern twist), they just were very good at keeping the commandments. Yet they missed completely the Savior of the World. Why? They misunderstood their primary duty. To love and lift others. I like to think that I would not have missed him. That if I had lived in Christ’s day, I would have recognized him. But if I have judged another by the level of their activity, their past mistakes, by the way they dress, or by how they keep the word of wisdom or in any other thing in which I hold up a measuring stick with them on one side and me on the other, I just did miss him. I have missed him more often than not I fear.
Look around your ward. Are you sure everyone feels as welcome as you do? Might there be those in our midst who do not feel welcome? Who feel like strangers. Different. Unwelcome? Based on statistics that the church keeps there are likely those within our ward boundaries those who suffer from loneliness, doubt about basic principles of the gospel, heartbreak, depression, addictions, and pain. If we do not love them who will? After all we are not so different underneath it all.