lived over 95% of my life in a country that sits astride the equator,
I have been conditioned by the furnace blast to be winter-unfriendly.
Although we were physically skinny, we gave the impression of being
large because of the layers of clothing we put on.
we visited Guilford County Health Department at 1100 East Wendover
Avenue for shots, the medics were amazed the way we peeled off shirt
after shirt just so they could get to our skin to administer the
shots we needed. Our folks who had been in the country long before us
warned that we ran the risk of contracting pneumonia if we exposed
ourselves to colds, and we took their counsel religiously.
day I went for a ride with a friend. Though the temperature was about
60 degrees, I showed up in a sweater. Not one to fail to notice and
comment on anything that looks unusual, my friend asked if I was
answered that since the weather was unstable I simply was not taking
chances as it was better to feel slight discomfort that to pick up
hospital bills if I caught a chill.
winter, winter blues make me feel like going back to Africa in spite
of all her unsightly open sores and insecurities. To my American
friends who joke about the way I dress at winter, I retort they would
die of heat stroke if they lived in Africa!
they tell me it’s all in the mind. Maybe they are right, but
I’m not so sure given the way I feel when the sun withdraws and
the skies dump snow and pelt us with sleet and black ice.
weather like this if my nose is not blocked, it drips and runs. As my
drug record at Walgreens can attest, I often queue up for Sudafed
while my demand for vitamin C spikes. I showed up once to buy Sudafed
and left my driving license in the car. It turned out I had to show
my license before I could get the drug. If I was not hard-pressed I
would not have given up the warmth in the pharmacy to get the
it was last Sunday. I was in bed with cramps and though determined
not to miss sacrament meeting, that morning I was not quite decided
to brave the cold and keep my commitment. As I lay stretching and
rolling over under an electric blanket, my phone rang. If I had
listened to my feelings I wouldn’t have picked it up.
the other end was John Furler. His wife, he said, was indisposed and
so could not teach a Primary class that morning. He apologized for
asking me at short notice, but would I please stand in for her? I was
about saying I was just as indisposed myself, but what jumped out of
my mouth was, “Sure, I’d be glad to. Can you send me the
link to the lesson?”
baffled me how sometimes I mean to say one thing but end up saying
the very opposite. Having promised I would, I couldn’t back out
of it, not after I had received a heartfelt thank you!
I managed to drag myself out of bed and searched out the lesson, I
realized I was not really doing the Furlers a favor but myself. That
morning my mood was as downcast as a low-hanging cloud. As I prepared
to teach the lesson, I felt that that early morning phone call was a
message of hope, and gateway out of my doldrums.
“Hand Cart Companies Come to Salt Lake Valley,” its
purpose was designed to inspire class members “to be like the
hand cart pioneers and endure valiantly to the end.”
lesson was something I could readily connect with. As I read, it
poignantly brought back to mind a 1961 interview in which late James
Baldwin, a famous African American writer, remarked, "You read
something which you thought only happened to you, and you discover
that it happened 100 years ago to Dostoyevsky. This is a very great
liberation for the suffering, struggling person, who always thinks
that he is alone.”
lesson dealt with the daunting challenges the Willie and Martin Hand
Cart Companies faced in their migration to the Salt Lake valley and
their fortitude as they fought their way through horrendous storms
and frigid weather. These were ordinary folks who tied their
happiness to a purposeful goal. Resolute in commitment to remain true
to their core values no matter what the vagaries of the weather threw
at them, they migrants forged on with faith in every footstep.
as many succumbed to death by hunger, frostbite and fatigue, yet they
sustained their leaders.
who survived the exacting thousand miles trek and endured to the end
left behind models of unbending faith. While investigating the Church
19 years ago, I was swept off my feet by the iron-clad determination
of the suffering migrants not to turn back on their faith.
found their action compelling because I lived in a country where the
failure of leadership woefully failed to tap the undoubted talents
and abundant resources of the land and thereby encouraged drift and
I re-read the story of the migrants, of volunteers like Ephraim Hanks
and the three youth who braved all odds to serve others, something
resonated and validated my family’s decision to join the
Church. The entire story of the migrants apart, what I found most
engaging is the testimony of one of those who survived the trek.
in a Sunday school class where someone in a thoughtless moment
criticized leaders who ordered the journey, the old pioneer had this
I was in that company and
my wife was in it. … We suffered beyond anything you can
imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever
hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? Not one of
that company ever apostatized or left the Church, because everyone of
us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we
became acquainted with him in our extremities [difficulties].
I have pulled my handcart
when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I
could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and
seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only
that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through
it. … I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the
cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was
pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels
of God were there.
Was I sorry that I chose
to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life
since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a
privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in
the Martin Handcart Company (quoted in David O. McKay, “Pioneer
Women,” p. 8; emphasis in original).
for Sister Furler that Sunday reinforced my gratitude to belong with
a heritage this old man spoke of. I too have had my “cart”
pulled by unseen and unknown hands. I have encountered and felt the
unqualified love of many Ephraim Hanks have received with humility
but profound gratitude the uncommon intelligence that faith in the
savior and in his restored Church indeed moves mountains and make the
desert to flourish in a very literal and practical sense.
Imo Ben Eshiet was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Raised in his village, Uruk Enung, and at
several cities in his country including Nsukka, Enugu, Umuahia, Eket and Calabar, Eshiet is a
detribalized Nigerian. Although he was extensively exposed to Western education right from
childhood in his country where he obtained a PhD in English and Literary Studies from the
University of Calabar, he is well nurtured in African history, politics, culture and traditions.
Imo is currently a teacher in the high priests group in the Summit Ward of the Greensboro North