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April 28, 2015
African Voice
A Sunday at Centerville
by Imo Eshiet

The atmosphere engaged pleasantly as we stepped into the chapel. Members pumped our hands and welcomed us warmly. From the back slapping he got, I could see that Nate Madine, a high priests group teacher at that ward, ties in agreeably with his community.

Nate was Sunday school president at the Greensboro Summit Ward before moving to the Salt Lake Valley, where more transportation opportunities made his trucking business more lucrative. An affable fellow, we missed him when he left. Hearing I was in Salt Lake City for post-general conference translation, he came over to my hotel.

At the Salt Lake Temple grounds. (All photos here are by Nate Madine.)

I introduced him to my follow translators and they got on as old friends. Nate is like that. He disarms, charms, and connects with ease.

Later he took me on a tour of the beautiful grounds of the Bountiful Temple. He returned next evening to pick up me, fellow translator Bassey Obot, and a BYU student visiting with Bassey for an outing. After nine hours of translation and recording, his gesture was most welcome.

On the grounds of the Bountiful Temple.

The following morning he gave us an opportunity of worshipping outside our usual haunt at the Salt Lake Temple Square. That was how Bassey, who had taken a liking to him, and I, found ourselves at his Centerville Ward.

Bassey and me after a day of translation.

When they walked in, his father- and mother-in-law came over to sit beside us, beaming with smiles. The convivial mood signaled we were in a happy ward family. We chatted in muffled tones as a moving prelude music provided by a violinist and a pianist transitioned us into a worshipful mood.

The sacrament meeting was befittingly solemn. After the passing of the bread and water, though, members, as in my Summit Ward, showed that they knew that another name for the Plan of Salvation is The Great Plan of Happiness.

So when a talk engendered it, they laughed. I focused on the two speakers at the stand. One was a lively girl presumably in her early teens and the other a seemingly dour looking young man. I thought the high-spirited young woman was a doting sibling of the stone-faced man.

I became even more curious when she took the lectern and started talking. Apparently I had underestimated her age, for she spoke with perplexing authority. I struggled with disbelief when she mentioned her missionary experiences. Surely she could not be more than thirteen, I thought.

I could deal with her composure for I know Mormons are generally good at public speaking, but I couldn’t reconcile the depth of her knowledge with her seeming age. When she was done, the man beside her took his turn and introduced himself her husband.

I lost it completely at that point, for I couldn’t remotely believe that girl was old enough to be married and even if she was his wife I wondered how such a vivacious personality could be unequally yoke with the hard-faced man.

Instantly a wicked thought crossed my mind when the man said he is a nurse. I suddenly had ill impression that if the grim fellow reached to help me, I would first soften his austere face with a punch before I let him touch me. Apparently reading my mind, the man announced that though he had a stern face, he was not at the stand to upset us.

That eased me up as I joined others to laugh, seeing that he was not as ill-humored as I assumed. He gave an amazing talk on leadership, citing Shackleton the Antarctic explorer as model. At the end I wanted to know more about Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer, a book he had referenced.

After a brief visit afterwards he suddenly asked, “Looking at me and my wife who would you think is older?” If he was a mind reader I was determined let him know what I thought of him. Without any itch of doubt I replied that any fool could tell he was several years older.

Breaking into a rare smile, he said, “Actually my wife is two years older than me.” “No way,” I blurted out. “Well, she has a baby face and that’s why I married her,” he replied.

It was mortifying as it dawned on me I had just called myself a fool. Beguiled by appearance, I had shut off myself from the spirit so that hearing I did not hear and seeing I did not see. That feeling soon fleeted away when a kid dragging a pocketbook, came and clambered up my new friend’s wife. “My son,” the man said.

I was happy at the couple’s wise choice. I recalled that my mother always told me that youth was the best time to get a family going. The theme came up again at the high priest group discussion.

Madine, the teacher, had asked why it is important to have a testimony of the Savior. Interesting responses were proffered. To me the hope his restored gospel offers for me to reunite with ancestors who never had an opportunity to hear his message of redemption was enough incentive.

At the Sunday school class the hour before, the instructor challenged the class to ponder why the Savior said the child is the greatest in his kingdom. We all agreed that to the Lord greatness does not lie in quantifiable imperatives but in forgiving, trusting, joy, humility, innocence, and concern for others.

I pointed to Bishop Gerald Causse’s talk at the general conference that, “To marvel at the wonders of the gospel is a sign of faith.”

I remarked that because of their enthusiasm, children happily lack the jaded sensibility that blunt commitment to sacred covenants. As adults we betray a meanness of spirit children rarely display when we fail to sustain leaders who deserve our respect or when we fail to appreciate the miracle of creation. When I first visited Utah, I was staggered by its spectacular mountains, but with repeated trips, I lost that sense of awe.

Dropping Bassey off at the airport, Nate decided on a visit to Buffalo Island. Breezy and whipped cold by wind gusts descending from encircling, snowcapped, lofty mountains, the island sits on the stately Bonneville Lake. I got the impression of peeping into a world conjured up from a lost antiquity.

The remnant of a lake that in geological time flourished more than two billion years back, the massive lake, its edges frothy with salt, had receded, leaving a shoreline that looked as if it was on a starvation diet.

Even the highway vistas showed the beauty of Utah.

Though my brain could not relate to that intimidating time span, yet I could see rocks dating that far back in time. I was also awe-struck that the water now hardly a few inches deep once swallowed in its bowels, the sublime mountains presently setting off its boundaries. Grazing buffaloes were another witness to the pristine grounds.

At Buffalo Island, it was thrilling to see bison right by the road.

A simulator at the visitors’ center demonstrated that if the waters of the ancient lake were to fill back up, it would submerge the spires of the Salt Lake Temple located several miles away. The humbling scene is a living testimony to the awesome power of the Lord of the seasons.

If the Great Salt Lake were to fill up again, it would flood the Salt Lake Temple.

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