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November 24, 2015
Following the Prophet
by Imo Eshiet

“One who possesses much wisdom has it in the heart, not on the lips.” Ugandan Proverb

In my neck of the bush in Africa, delicate issues are handled with proverbs and anecdotes. One remarking on the consequences of extreme permissiveness might say, “If you raise a python it will swallow you up,” or make the point with a story.

For example, a Kenyan fable tells about a kind man who lived in a hut. During a chilly rainstorm he made fire to warm himself. Soon he heard a knock on his door. Standing before him when he answered the door was a shivering elephant sure to die if it remained in the raging storm.

Since the hut was too small, the elephant suggested it be allowed to shove in its trunk only. Later, it asked to squeeze in its forelegs.

Then it said if it doubled over its entire body could fit in. Once more the man said ok. Not long after the elephant said the space was too tight for it and the host. Since the host had been enjoying the warmth of the fire all the while, it argued, could he please step outside so it could have enough room to stretch its limbs?

With that the elephant kicked the man out.

Although this manner of speaking came naturally to me in Africa, I have been unable to put the legacy of indirection and tact to effective use among Americans who think proverbs are outmoded.

At a recent meeting, the action taken by Church authorities declaring same-sex marriage apostasy and policy regarding children from such homes came up for discussion. Someone remarked hearing homophobic comments in her group. Others suggested getting a levelheaded leader to douse the controversy at an expanded meeting.

When I had a chance to speak, I spoke not to my immediate audience but wondered how saints back in Africa would be affected by developments in the developed world. Africans struggling with the testimonies of decades-old membership, I observed, often look for their devotion to covenants, ministry, and service to those who have had the restored gospel for almost two centuries.

I wondered what happened to “Follow the prophet,” which even my three-year-old grandson chants to me at home.

I added that Africans grappling with basics like food, shelter, security, and unending tyrannies would be confused about the scary drama rocking lives here. I recalled the group suicide committed by the Nephites as a result of pride and feared what might happen if blessings got in the way of our progress.

I was bewildered we could raise our hands to the square in October and commit to accept prophetic guidance but turn around in November to receive revelations for the very prophet we had covenanted to follow knowing he would never lead us astray. Disagreeing with the prophet and turning in resignation letters for doing his job seemed like rebellion to me.

I hardly finished when a young man, his eyes glazed and darting daggers screamed at me. “While having unfaltering faith in the Brethren,” he shouted, “what becomes of compassion?”

I felt like sharing Revelation 18:4 with him: “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues,” but calmly replied that the Brethren had in several communications addressed the issue of love and respect for all.

I recalled that early in the history of the Church Prophet Joseph Smith taught how to reprove sharply when necessary, but to show an increase of love soon after lest the one corrected should take the one disapproving his failings for an enemy.

After making his remarks, the bishop deftly changed the topic. But the issue stayed on in my mind. Before 1978, some in Africa sat outside chapels, the howling elements notwithstanding, listening by the windows, to gospel teachings.

Sophocles once noted that, “What people believe prevails over the truth.” The early African saints knew this too. They stoutly defended the Church and waited on the Lord’s timetable for misguided folk beliefs that had crept into the Church to peter out.

As a new convert I found the book Mormon Doctrine disturbing and said so to my district president, Christopher Odock. He said ours was to have faith in the priesthood, for though men make mistakes the priesthood was unerring.

Reflecting on his teaching, it hit me that the author of that book stood a good chance of becoming the president of the Church. I had no way of knowing if he could have reversed the historic 1978 policy if he did not pass on, but knowing the Lord is at the head of the Church was enough comfort.

Rodney Smith, a past president of the University of Southern Virginia, writes, “Prophets do see around corners, anticipating the unanticipated, and in doing so bless lives with God-given justice, love and mercy.” Brother Smith is a learned man and ought to know.

But one needn’t be distinguished to have a testimony. Ordinary folks like my nine-year-old Tina, I, and more than 15 million others, know what truth is. Testimony anchors us amidst swirling and resonating storms and fashionable doctrines of the day.

Though well documented, it is not knowledge that comes from the pages of books but from the very fountain of intelligence itself. It is wisdom that predates writing, for Adam knew and taught it to all his children. He left them in no doubt there was safety sustaining the prophet and aligning with the Lord.

Cain, the son who didn’t quite get it, chose ignominy and damnation for time and eternity. The generation of Noah in turn chose to turn from the gospel. The disastrous consequence made instant history.

Despite the tumult, uncertainty and doubt running through history, anytime the gospel existed on earth, the imperative has been, “Follow the prophet, for he knows the way.” Those who ignore it do so at great peril.

To be sure, the way is not only narrow but thorny and prickly too. Many who have walked it say it is watered by sweat, tears, and blood. Christ, the Chief Prophet, who personally experienced the scourge and agony of the way, remarked it is not simple. Paul and other early apostles all warned it is rugged and those who of their own free will elect to walk it must not be fainthearted.

That knowledge helped many at the Council in Heaven to avoid being misled into perdition. With it, Nephi saw his father for who he was, though within the family and society many maligned old Lehi.

The same knowledge lit the way for those who succeeded Joseph Smith. Against the gloating of those who murdered him and their near certainty the Church would fall into disarray following that atrocity, followers of Joseph Smith went ahead to turn hardscrabble deserts into bountiful farms and flourishing cities.

The narrative put forward by modern evil makes it so deceptively persuasive that it is difficult to reject its appeal even when it clearly stands in direct opposition to the great plan of salvation. It never ceases to amaze me how folks who would frustrate the plan of happiness, hope for peace, and joy, which can only come from unfaltering obedience.

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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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