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May 12, 2015
African Voice
Guardians of the Hearth
by Imo Eshiet

Recently a story about a mother who crashed with her baby strapped in a car seat into a river in Utah hit the media. The baby with her head suspended a few inches from the icy water filling the overturned car was found alive by rescuers. That was just one of the miracles.

The other was that those who chanced on the accident scene heard a voice shouting, “Help me!” When two highway troopers arrived, they too heard the cry for help. Braving the raging freezing water, they found the mother long dead.

The mystery of who called for help set off a media frenzy. The troopers who snatched the baby from the maws of a watery death were swarmed by newsmen. Like those who called them in, the officers were just as baffled but unflinching about what they heard.

Initially I was just as stupefied. However, I later felt I could relate to it. I remembered Joseph Banks’ experience recorded in A Distant Prayer: Miracles of the 49th Combat Mission

Banks was a military flight engineer during World War 11. While on a combat mission his plane was knocked out of the skies over Germany. Plummeting four miles down, he heard the voice of Afton, his wife. Incredibly, Afton was thousands of miles away from the war theater.

Banks recalls his futile efforts to get off his badly damaged plane. At the peak of his horror, he audibly prayed for help and below is the response he got. Banks recalls:

Suddenly, as clear and as calm as she if was standing right next to me in the sitting room of our home, I heard the voice of my wife Afton say, "Joe, look down at your legs and you'll see that there's cable holding them. Pull the cable!" That's all she said.

I looked around, but couldn't see anyone. Even though I was stunned, I looked down and sure enough there was a cable lying across my legs. I reached down and pulled it with all my might.

At first nothing happened, but then I was suddenly sucked out of the fuselage and started freefalling. I later learned that the cable was attached to two pins that held an escape hatch door. When I pulled them loose, the door separated from the fuselage.

Banks, who survives the crash, is captured by hostile German guards and after many more bitter experiences, lives on to tell his story.

In another war theater far away in the jungle of eastern Nigeria, I was a ringside witness to another mystery voice. As a three-year civil war ravaged my country, privation forced my family to eke out a meager life by growing vegetables, tubers, and fruits from an unwilling land into which we had been hustled.

Without protein and salt many children and adults died from poor nutrition as from bombs and bullets. Two of my gravely ill siblings were expected to die at any moment.

The specter of untimely and violent deaths drove us to fast and pray that our kid brothers might live. Although wearying starvation was driving us crazy and made us so skinny our rib bones visibly stood out, we had faith the Lord would send help, give us strength enough to tend the overspent land, and patience to endure the poverty and distress.

While Father shielded us from a marauding physical danger, Mother put her unique homemaking skills to work. She insisted on provident living, which to us at the time seemed mean and flawed instead of admirable model quality. Through their force of character, we were saved the irreparable splits so common during the crisis.

In addition to planting, Mother raised goats, which soldiers on both sides of the war, however, commandeered. Mother made us keep our home clean like a sanctuary, for there was no love lost between her and germs. She made us wash often without soap whatever rags hung on us.

In a climate of disorder, this knocked order, unity, cleanliness, work, faith, and courage into us. Each time I recall her stewardship, I feel grateful for President Heber J. Grant’s remark that, “Motherhood is near to divinity. It is the highest, holiest service to be assumed by mankind. It places her who honors its holy calling and service next to angels.”

Mother may have heard voices that saved my brothers’ lives.

Mother inspired us never to give in to the surging tide of evil all about us. She offered encouragement by sharing her family stories to shore up our sagging resolve. She recalled tribal hostilities in her childhood that claimed the lives of many. Consequently, she noted, she was mired in grief seeing her friends and relatives killed.

Seeing her heartbreak, her mother promised that if there was any form of consciousness after death, she would prevent her daughter’s children from dying young. Because Mother so impressed this story our young minds, we later came to know how much she desired to preserve us from the fury of the storm and strife of the war.

These two sisters of mine are now grandmothers.

A work-driven woman, once bent over with her hoe digging, sowing, or weeding, Mother rarely stood up even though the rest of us often stretched up before bending back to the exhausting task. One day at the farm, she acted differently.

That day, Mother dropped her hoe and stood as if listening to a conversation in the rustling wind. After a while she beckoned to our eldest sister to follow her into the surrounding jungle. That was odd, for she hardly ever left us alone at work. Glancing back and seeing that curiosity was getting the better of us, she shouted for us to get on with the work at hand.

Hours later, she returned with a bundle of herbs and tree barks and ordered us home. With these she made a concoction for my edema-bloated brothers. My brothers survived. One of them later joined the U.S. military, serving missions in Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

I assumed we survived because not long after the incident at the farm the military blockade which prevented medication and essential food stuff from reaching us in Biafra was lifted, but my mother thought otherwise. She insisted that on that day at the farm, she had heard the voice of her long-deceased mother directing her to the herbs and barks to use in treating our brothers.

Looking back, I feel like the sons of Helaman, who learned great faith from their mothers.

As a parent now and reflecting over time on her evocative experience, I appreciate there is something divine in the heart of righteous mothers that draws them nearer to God for inspiration to act in the best interest of their children. With age and hindsight, I believe Mother was truly in tune with a presence that endowed her with knowledge to heal her afflicted sons.

If the Lord could make a dumb ass speak with a human voice to restrain an insane prophet, surely he could channel revelations through the heart and soul of every family, through faithful wives eager to save their husbands from intractable problems or through any guardian of the hearth and home, living or dead.

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