"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
June 26, 2012
Huge Challenges and Opportunities to Bless
by Imo Eshiet

"There are huge challenges over there," my kindergarten daughter's teacher remarked, unaware these were the very demons that had exercised my mind from childhood.

My wife, Livina, and I had just made a presentation on Africa to a class full of kids my daughter's age. We shared with them stories about Africa from a slant contrary to popular imagination. We narrated folktales, sang, and even regaled them with dances.

From the looks on their faces, the way they danced and sang with us and asked for more information, we knew we had ignited a powerful interest in their fertile minds. We knew, without doubt, their parents would know no peace if they did not google up Africa and be ready to talk about it to their kids in the days ahead.

Outside the earshot of the students, the teacher shared disturbing experiences she had when she was working to build an orphanage for girls in Swaziland. Her work to help raise those abandoned children, she said, was frustrated by traditions as hoary with age as the continent itself!

Much as I appreciated the long, hard road she traveled to an Africa where we, its children, dread to live and flee in droves, my mind, however, was not on the harrowing challenges she recalled. How could it be? Of what use was it telling a man about challenges he was born into, lived and knew intimately for a good half of a century?

I had even tried to act on those challenges and had come to know the brutality James Baldwin possibly meant when he wrote that, "To act is to be committed and to be committed is to be in danger." So my mind was on where it has always loved to be -- the opportunities to teach and bless as she had attempted to do. These were places my thoughts preferred to dwell, and I had not yet done enough thinking of solutions to allow myself the luxury of being worn out by the challenges.

And so today I am not thinking about the challenges, gargantuan as they actually are out there. No I am not thinking of internecine conflicts so commonplace in my homeland that they have ossified global sensitivity to them.

I am not thinking of environmental degradations visited by multinational corporations with the eager conspiracy of African leaders in a hurry to suck out easy money from the bowels of the resources-rich continent. Though these disasters would take scores of years and billions of dollars to clean up even with the best of intentions, I am right now not thinking about that.

I am not even thinking of millions of children so famished that their skins are stretched taut around their scrawny frames and they look as if there were born mummified some five thousand years ago!

I am not worrying about malaria and diverse others plagues, including high maternity and infant mortality rates.

I am not thinking about countries that are so minerals-rich yet so uncreative they cannot deliver basic services to their horribly neglected peoples or maintain derelict infrastructure left behind decades ago by the colonial powers.

I am not worrying about the runaway and breakneck corruption there, because Transparency International is doing a fine job documenting these for history. Since these countries are permanently bursting the charts of this global watchdog, why should I take on the burden of worrying when I know that is not good for my blood pressure?

I am not inclined to suicide or to a martyr complex.

My thoughts tonight focus on the new glimmers of hope, even the uplifting power and inspiration for change the Church is engendering to restore faith in a land troubled and left forlorn by history, ecology and human traditions that no longer serve the needs of the times.

There wasdeficit a time when it suited Africans (as indeed the entire world) to relegate the ideas and energies of their womenfolk to the kitchen. In Africa, women helped in raising strong families -- a sound and sustainable practice, no doubt. But to restrict them to baby-rearing to the point that except in few matriarchal societies such as the Akans, the Ashanti, some Tuareg tribes and the Efiks they had no voice in public or state matters robbed the people of enormous human currency and vitality.

In a world that is fast-tracking the unlocking of knowledge and the empowering of minds without discriminating against gender, the Church has brought to its African converts a new and far more rewarding appreciation of women -- especially in a marriage relationship.

Husbands and wives are companions in a partnership where none is superior or subordinate to the other. Both play divinely appointed and complementary roles at home. This has a profound effect on African families as several untenable traditions of our ancestors begin to unravel. The situation where men lolled at home while their wives and children toiled it out at farms is changing.

Latter-day Saint families who live in the country in Africa now have husbands who do not stroll leisurely with knives under their armpits while their wives groan under the burden of babies on their backs and bundles of firewood on their heads. Rather, both relate and learn to share and participate in family tasks in ways that enable the spirit to work powerfully in their homes.

Since the purest distillate of the religious instruction they receive from the Church is that intelligence comes not only from hearing but in doing the word of God (that is, following the footsteps of the Savior), a new cadre of leaders is rising to fill the leadership deficit that has long bedeviled progress in the enormously endowed continent.

One of the greatest blessings of the restored gospel is the power in the priesthood. Early Christian missionaries who came with the colonial powers to Africa did so with everything except the priesthood -- the power to act in God's behalf in everything pertaining to the salvation of His children. In the yawning absence of this awesome power, secret combinations and Gadianton activities flourished.

With the awakening of Church converts to the awful situation as the true gospel gains ground, the all-pervading lacuna is loosening its grip on the land. For this renewal, ancient seers foretold that the Lord has power to cause "stones to shine in darkness, to give light unto men, women and children" (Ether 6 : 3 ).

Leaders groomed in the Church learn to be accountable for their actions as they serve in various priesthood capacities and in missions. Tapping into the Church's legacy of service and commitment, they learn how to magnify callings and to render service without the pull of self-interest.

They learn how to budget and how to handle sacred funds responsibly. They learn transparency as a powerful antidote to pandemic corruption.

As they apply their knowledge of the gospel in church government, the spillover effects are felt in their homes and communities. Africans have huge issues, yes, but they also have faith to rewrite their narrative as a continent bedraggled by disease, poverty and state failure, to one radiating with vigor and endless possibilities for good.

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About Imo Eshiet

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 Carolina Stake.

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