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July 10, 2012
African Voice
Why I Believe in the Lord's Law of Health
by Imo Eshiet

There are two photographs hanging in my bedroom. These pictures are not of temples, deity, church authorities or the environment. They are not even wedding pictures or photographs of Tina, my charming six-year-old daughter.

The pictures are of me and were placed on the wall by my adorable wife at an angle so strategic I can't miss them even if I wake up gum-eyed.

If I had any power to remove them without hurting her feelings I would have long ago done so. I have awakened to those pictures for the past eighteen years, and I probably will continue to do so forever unless she repents of confronting me with them. The pictures are so important to her that I guess they would be the first treasures she would have to remove if we had to evacuate our house in an emergency!

The pictures capture two contrasting periods in my life. In one I look seedy, tacky, sullen and unloving, sorely worn out and breaking up. All these features are indications of wrong choices I was making at the time the picture was taken. These wrong choices involved the company I kept, where and how I spent my time, and what I put into my body.

From the picture I learn that the body is a mirror of what we think, eat and drink, and how we act. Every time I look at it, I feel repulsed by recklessness that allows wine and tobacco to make a ruinous mockery of the lives of those who are seduced by their appeal. The picture reminds me of the distress and hurt I caused family members as I pursued a selfish, dissolute lifestyle. The image the picture throws at me is so grotesque I feel instant shame whenever I see it.

In the other photograph, I look exactly the opposite -- clean, invigorated, appreciated and appreciating. I am radiating wellbeing and faith in living. The renewal and rejuvenation speak of temporal salvation and the power of the atonement. My reinvigorated life was an answer to years of dogged prayers by my immediate family and my parents that the Lord would help me give up the self-destructive habits I had cultivated and honed over time.

The gift of a new life was delivered to me by missionaries. In the course of receiving instructions regarding the Word of Wisdom, it became obvious that I had issues to resolve. Of course, I violently rejected it at first and swiftly cited scriptures to bear me out. Then I smelled a conspiracy between my wife and the missionaries and threatened to call off further discussions.

I was concerned about what my friends would say if I failed to show up at the clubhouse or if I turned down their offer of a drink. Denying the hospitality of friends was worse than betrayal, and I told the priesthood brethren so. But with love and persuasion, the missionaries and the local church leaders gradually led me to appreciate the life-altering blessings I could receive in obeying the Word of Wisdom. They challenged me to take care of myself first and see if my friends would not respect my ability to control myself.

Though I took their counsel to heart, I had no intention of dropping the habit because the natural man in me wouldn't be easily persuaded after being so used to gratifying every craving.

I also felt conflicted about some traditions I found difficult to abandon. I grew up in a country where there are no laws regulating the age where a person is qualified to drink alcohol. If there were any such laws at all, they were not enforced.

In fact, even young children in my culture are exposed to the habit of drinking. Alcoholic beverages are pretty much part of life from infancy. I remember that babies who lost their mothers at birth - and there were many because women often died in labor due to non-existent health care - were usually sedated with alcohol so that their grandmothers or others who cared for them could eke out a living without having to care for a fussy infant.

As a child I often woke to see my uncles and aunts drinking highly potent spirits as early as 6 a.m. These spirits, referred to by the colonial British authorities as illicit gin, were common. They were locally brewed from palm wine, which in turn was tapped from the palm wine trees. These trees grew in abundance in our surroundings.

In my village, many herbs have traditionally been dissolved in alcohol and then drunk as medicine. Malaria remedies, cures for infections of diverse sorts, and male enhancement concoctions are made from herbs that have been soaked in alcohol to extract the medicinal properties.

It was not until my conversion to the Church that I learned that using alcoholic medicinal solutions to treat such life-threatening diseases as cholera and dysentery were counterproductive. I vividly recall instances where patients died after some extremely toxic herbal alcohol- based medicine had been administered to them by the local medicine man.

Although I did not have to worry about poisoned medicines because education had made me mobile enough to move out of the village and live in cities where I could have access to hospitals, there were other traditions I could not readily do away with. Ancestor worship is part of traditional African religion. The belief that dead relatives are not terminally separated from the living but are very much part of the family is often ritualized through incantations. In the process, libations are poured and through chanting, music, song and dance, the spirits of the departed are invoked.

As the oldest male in my family, I was naturally the custodian of the dead and their graves. It was my responsibility to routinely summon the dead during rites of passage that included weddings, childbirth, peace settlements, burials and other milestones of life. Giving up such sacred duties and converting to a new religion was the equivalent of committing cultural suicide.

On deeper reflection I realized that the traditions of my fathers were actually preparing me to receive the restored gospel. I came to appreciate that the Church was offering me a better way of caring for the welfare of my ancestors. No alcohol, no matter how potent, could liberate them from spirit prison or enable them to receive the gospel, which they did not have the privilege to hear while alive. These considerations redefined my life and enabled me to choose a course of action that was beneficial to me and to my family members on both sides of the veil.

The attempt to chart a new course was anything but easy. Even after I had received the gift of the Holy Ghost, there were still some powerful personal demons to deal with. In addition, there were friends whose scorn for my choice to strip myself of the breath of death, cut me more keenly than serrated knives.

But by asking with "real intent" for freedom from the tenterhooks of alcohol and tobacco, I got help beyond my ken.

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