"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
December 11, 2012
The Spirit of Prophecy and Revelation -- A Personal Testimony
by Imo Eshiet

Celestina Akonmma, second daughter and last child in our increasingly empty nest tugs at my heartstrings for several reasons. At conception doctors wanted her aborted because of some factor in the mother’s blood. At each birth, my wife needed to take a certain vaccine if she hoped for another baby.

But as is scandalously common in my country, the vital drug was not available at her last delivery thus foreclosing the possibility of another pregnancy, or so the doctors thought. One of the bizarre contradictions in the twisted choices my nation makes is that while the cabal ruling it imports the latest cars and jets rolling off assembly lines in the U.S., Europe and Asia to drive on dirt roads and fly from derelict airports, the majority yet lack the essentials it needs for basic survival. And so when Livina conceived, it seemed the wise thing to do was to get rid of the pregnancy.

However, a priesthood leader thought otherwise. In his prayer, he was inspired to promise both mother and child safety. He added that our testimony would be strengthened at the birth of the coming child. Citing the scriptures, he assured that if we kept the laws of the Church more glory would be added to the kingdom which we had received.

His words injected hope in our hearts and greater love for the unborn child. Early in my conversion I learned to trust, against all odds, the unique power in the priesthood. Though the “natural man” in me frustrated my arriving at the state of “nothing doubting” required so that whatever we asked of the Father in the Son’s name may be granted, yet I had seen the astonishing change that faith in the restored gospel brought to our family life.

Beyond my personal experience, I had witnessed the stunning power in the priesthood memorably demonstrated when our district embarked on a service project. Concerned that recreational parks, turnarounds and city gates were going to seed, public spirited members obtained permission from city authorities to renovate them.

Though many saints there are low income folks just struggling to survive, in spite of their privation they hold on strongly to their faith and love for the Lord. It was so heartwarming seeing these humble folks donating time, skills, labor, money and items to give a facelift to a city that was previously well groomed but now mussed. Through their selfless sacrifice several rundown infrastructures received new life.

One of the target projects was the city main gate. Because of its peculiar aquatic environment, Calabar gives the impression of an island. Almost surrounded by rivers and the Atlantic Ocean, it is connected to the rest of the country only by a single-lane road which splits into a dual carriage as it leads into the city. The gate located just at the point where the road is dualized had been hit by hard times and became shabby.

After several hours of hard work, the saints gave it a resplendent look and the saints were visibly happy. But they were to be reminded that earthly joy, as a famous Nigerian dramatist remarks, “has a slender body and breaks too soon”. No sooner had they finished the work than the sky puckered and darkened its face.

From a distance, torrential rains driven by gusty and fierce winds were hitting hard, battering the city and triggering flash floods. We had no weatherman to warn us beforehand. Even if we did, rains in our tropics sometimes come so suddenly and unexpectedly that forecasts couldn’t help much. Such rains often cause extensive disaster by literally washing away to the sea, farms, homes, schools, roads, animals and school children caught in the storm.

As the rains approached, we were downcast because not only the wet paint but also the love and labor of impoverished saints were about to be wasted. As the district priesthood leader, I was lost in thought and self-recrimination for not anticipating the situation. While I felt momentarily deflated like a bird with broken wings, Francis Nmeribe, my second counselor, (now a stake president) saw things differently and suggested we gathered up the saints to pray.

Since the inspiration was his, I asked if he would say the prayer. Calling on Heavenly Father to accept the humble sacrifice of the saints, he asked that He should hold off the threatening elements until the saints were done with their work and the paint dried on the walls of the massive concrete gate. Remarkably, the saints went home that day feeling encircled in the arms of a God who is a respecter of faith.

It was instances like this that bolstered my belief that my daughter “would be delivered in a safe environment” and that “both mother and child would be a blessing to the family” as the priesthood leader had pronounced. It was uncanny that the leader who acted as voice in blessing my pregnant wife spoke with such authority and sweet inspiration over the fears gnawing at my heart.

Asking politicians to be accountable in a culture of impunity and speaking out in class and in public against thieves in government made me a marked man. I loved teaching and put two decades into it. I tried to open students’ minds to what Aristotle meant when he said, “Dignity does not consist in possessing honors, but in deserving them”.

The mass corruption that kills our potential for greatness challenged me to transfer to my students a passion for new possibilities and the right attitude to deal with the retrograde mandate foisted on us. But being an intellectual is a dangerous thing in a nation where ignorance is officially encouraged to keep people benighted and thus freely rob them of liberty without a whimper of protest. It means sleeping and waking to the reality that one’s family could be bumped off at any time to persuade one to submit to the culture of silence.

It was painful seeing people being physically beaten and arm twisted to accept whatever the state threw at them. Such outrage made me wonder why we were so wanton, why people including my children, couldn’t be treated with decency. Surely, even dogs had some dignity in societies that were not so wayward to eat them up as we do. There was dereliction all around as peopled reneged on duties. For instance, when the brother who preceded my last daughter by twelve years was born, I had to bribe specialists ahead of time so they would be by my wife’s bedside in the labor-room.

I had to because statistics show that a woman in labor dies every thirty minutes in my country as most cannot access medical care. So taking a wife for child delivery in moribund hospitals that look more like Stone Age morgues was like escorting her to the gallows. Insane as it was, it was reality one had to live with.

So the blessing my wife got resounded in my mind when a sister living in the U.S. invited her to spend time vacation there. She had just defended her doctoral dissertation and the trip was to help her cool off after the grueling research. There was also the unstated possibility she might have her baby there. I very much welcomed the prospects given the redoubtable insecurity to life and property so common in our crisis-ridden nation.

There was a chance that as the baby would indeed be safely delivered as had been prophesized. In addition, if she chose at a later date to return there, she could have an education that would prepare her for life in an economy driven by ideas and innovation rather than stagnation. If she opted to live there she’d be free from the open and cankering worries that haunted us when we turned down the opportunities to migrate as many of our mates had done. The issue now was how to get the American visa, because in Nigeria is easier for the biblical camel to pass through the eye of a needle than to get that document.

But when Livina got her visa, her condition regardless, Nephi’s prophecy that “there shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord” suddenly transcended time for us. When she left I suggested a name for the baby. It was to be my sister’s namesake in the hope that sister’s tireless energy would rub off on the child. The sister had stuck firmly to the family’s vision on education.

After seeing her four daughters through college as various professionals, she had gone on from practicing and teaching nursing to pursue a degree in medicine even though she was advancing to sixty. She had a vigor I respected. Living in hard and harsh circumstances as a child pushed us to want a better life.

Soon after the baby came Livina called and shared an experience with me. After delivering the child, she said she was lying on the bed with her baby beside her. In what seemed like a trance, though she claimed she was very much conscious, my mother who had passed in 1995 appeared in the room. With a happy countenance as any grandmother would have in the circumstance, she picked up the baby, cuddled her and sat down on the couch for a while before returning the baby and leaving the room.

Since Livina is not given to superstition, when she suggested based on her experience to add my mother’s name to the one I had given for the child, I agreed. There was a strong bond between the two women, even though they clawed at each other, they just as well easily made up soon after. Though I rarely saw her in my dreams, Livina often did.

A year following her passing, I and Livina had traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa, for temple ordinances. At the time this was the only temple in Africa. We had a long list of ancestors to work for.

Returning to the hotel room after the endowment and baptismal sessions, we slept soundly. It was chilly but the exhaustion of the eight hour trip the day before and the humming heater in the room made me sleep like a log. When I awoke the next morning, I saw Livina sitting in a contemplative mood.

Having been married to her for ten years by then, I could easily read her like a book. Sitting close with my arms on her shoulders, she told me of a dream where my late mother was extremely happy with her vicarious baptism for her. When I examined her critically for signs of any pranks, she started crying and I stopped the foolishness.

The priesthood leader had it correct when in that prayer he pronounced her and her baby a blessing to the family. It was through her and our children that I got into the church. It was through her I got my early testimony, too.

She had been called as our branch organist. The only musical instrument, if it could be called that, Livina knew how to play was using her hands as clappers! The couple missionary set apart to teach her was just as blissfully ignorant.

The best she did was read the notes and ask Livina to sort it out herself. From the human point of view, it was like asking the blind to lead the blind. But when the spirit of prophecy and revelation through which the call was extended took over neither the teacher nor the student turned out as forsaken as I had feared.

When she told me about strangers teaching her in her dream how to get her notes right, I was amused. However, all that changed when she started playing at sacrament meetings to the amazement of all. This is my testimony and my family members and saints in Calabar who witnessed the events narrated here know it is true.


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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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