Episode #15: Published Mar 4, 2019
Change is an exciting and inevitable part of our lives as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In this episode, Christie shares her story of being sent with her family on a work assignment to Senegal West Africa where they discovered that being part of the growing church means making room for personal spiritual growth and flexibility and trusting in God’s purposes.
View a full transcript of the episode below.
KARYN LAY: Hey friends! KaRyn here. Before we get to the stories in this week's episode, I wanted to ask a quick favor of you. If you're getting something from these stories that we're sharing each week, would you take a quick minute and write a review on iTunes for us? Every written review helps this show to show up on iTunes for more people who could use a little storytelling magic in their week. We really appreciate it.
Welcome to This Is The Gospel. An LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm your host KaRyn Lay. To say that the last six months have been an exciting time to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a bit of an understatement. Our leaders have announced change after change after change. And some people love the changes. While some people struggle with them. I would guess that most of us fall somewhere in between. I personally love the two-hour church schedule. But I totally understand my friends who feel the loss of that extra hour of fellowship, or who feel overwhelmed by the personal responsibility of the home-centered approach to gospel study. To honor that continuum of feelings about transition, we wanted to dedicate an episode to the stories about the role of change in our church lives. Christie's husband David works for the US State Department, which means that their family has relocated so many times that truly their only constant is change. When work took them to Senegal, West Africa, Christie had to figure out pretty quickly what going to church would look like in a country where the church was not even officially established yet. Here's Christie.
CHRISTIE: Part of the lifestyle that we have with moving all over the country, moving all over the world, means that we have to be flexible. And, and we are flexible in what housing we're going to have, in what school the kids are going to go to, with what our neighborhoods are going to look like, what our friends are going to be. I mean, we just we're always flexible. Our curtains might fit in one house, but not in the next house. And so, and so we have learned and we've raised our children to be very flexible, and considerate, and to look at the bare bones of a situation and say, "What really is important about what we're doing now?" And, and that we've had to do that with our church attendance and with our church worship, you know, and how we live the gospel. The church was not established in Senegal. It's a country in West Africa. And we had the most amazing experience to be at the forefront of the church being established there. And before we arrived in Senegal, I had reached out to Elder Curtis, Elder Legrand Curtis, in Ghana, and he was the Area President. And so when we reached out, he said, "We don't know if there are any other members there. We know of a couple, like a family." Well, within our Foreign Service, LDS family, we connect online on a Facebook group. And so we put it out there, you know, "Hey, we're going to Senegal, who knows what?" And when we finally were able to get in contact with the Toses and the Joneses, who were there currently, they were getting ready to leave which we were so sad about. Because we thought, "Oh, they've got kids and there's these other families." And we didn't know if any other LDS families that were going to be moving in with the State Department to Senegal. So we were kind of thinking it's just going to be us. While the Toses and the Joneses told us, "No, no, there are two members, Ben and James." Who were businessmen, expats, that lived in Senegal. One was from Taiwan, and one was from France. And that they were all attending church in their home, which worked out just great, which kind of gave us the idea that we can do this in our homes, and it's fine. Ben had been sharing the gospel with some of his employees. And so they had three investigators- four investigators at the time that we're coming. And, and so we've relayed all of this information back to Ghana to Elder Curtis. And all of a sudden, you know, everything kind of exploded, where these three- three of the four investigators wanted to get baptized. And so then they coordinated with Elder Curtis and worked it all out to be able to do the interviews and to be able to perform the baptisms. They got permission. So just in the weeks before we arrived, there were three baptisms.
So when we came into Senegal, there was this group, and it was Ben and James and three new members. And, and Gusito, who was an investigator. And so when we showed up on that first Sunday, they've been meeting in Ben's home after the Tose's left. And, and it was a nice home. It was just small. And so it was bursting at the seams. When we showed up, you know, there wasn't a lot of space. But at the end of the meeting, we just felt very, we felt prompted to offer up our home. Because it was... it was a... it would fit our numbers a little bit better. And so that was kind of how it started. And we knew when we offered it up that it would be kind of a long term thing. We had amazing brethren and we had amazing investigators and converts. And they loved to share the gospel. They were so happy. And they would talk about the gospel to everyone. And so we had one Sunday, where one of our investigators was so excited. He'd been talking about church on his way to church. And he's on the bus. And he showed up with two people that we had never met, and he had never met and left them at our front door. Knocked on the door, told us, you know, "Here, here are two people that want to want to learn about the gospel today." And so he left to go get a couple of other of our investigators to come to church. So we had two complete strangers sitting in our living room with my teenage daughters getting ready for church, and we were getting ready for church. And the funniest part about that is that we didn't feel unsafe, it was just kind of a- it took us by surprise a little bit. And I thought, "I should be a little more worried about you know, our televisions, our cell phones are all in there. You know, but it didn't even occur to us. Honestly, I was actually very excited about being able to give a service to the church that was needed. And and and and I know that kind of seems silly. But here we were going to a country where we were going to have regular church service opportunities. And I really do feel like that it helps us feel connected. And it helps- It helps us serve each other. And so we knew we weren't gonna have missionaries to have over to her house for dinner. We knew we weren't going to have, you know, callings in that traditional sense. And so there was an excitement there. I was kind of excited about having that ability to really focus on the gospel. And so I was actually really, you know, excited and yet a little hesitant because then guess what? it's all on us. And, what if our kids don't want to learn about the gospel, you know, and they push us back? We don't have anybody to rely on. I don't have a young women's leader that I can reach out and say, "Hey, I'm having a hard time connecting with my daughter on this, can you help me out?" There was no support like that. So so it was a little I was a little intrepid, trepidatious about it. Just making, you know, I just was, you know, there were a lot of things to be concerned about. But overall, we were just really excited to have this opportunity to serve. But James was made the group leader because we were officially known at the church as a group. We referred to our group as a twig because we weren't quite a branch. But we felt so strong. And we felt like we were really growing. And we felt like we were- that something really marvelous was happening. And so twig just fit. Our little twig had some really unique needs. That didn't exist. And we were willing, as James, and Ben and, and, and our family, to not maybe be as deeply, spiritually fed, as we would have been if we were at home with, you know, a dedicated Sunday school and a dedicated all of that. We were willing to kind of go back to the basics. And so our Sunday school was gospel principles because that was what they needed. And the girls and I did Young Women's separately after church on our own, so that it wasn't hard, you know, we weren't trying to fit in a third hour. We did all three meetings, but they were shortened. Sacrament meeting always included a General Conference talk. And we had it in French so that they would learn it in French. And then we had our phones so that we could also be part of that, but we always had it broadcast on the television, in French, so that they could understand it. And we tried to teach the lessons and everything in French, from the manuals, and there was always a translation. So if we were giving talks, or giving our testimony, then someone would translate so that their needs were being met. And so that was where a lot of the flexibility came in. We would try something for a month, and we're like, "You know what? These needs aren't being met. So let's see if we can add this in." James was always very conscious and conscientious of the needs that they had. You know, there were, there were little things like when we passed the sacrament, you know, the investigators and the non-baptized members- people who were there always take the sacrament, and it never felt like something that we needed to make a big deal of, you know, they were there and they were participating. And the people who had been baptized were renewing their covenants. And the others were just not feeling left out, or singled out. And so it didn't matter. We just had so many instances, when someone would say something to us about what we were doing, or how it was going or, you know, that's kind of unsafe for that's, that's really, you know, kind of kind of dangerous, or whatever that they would say.
And there were just so many times when we would be... we wouldn't have felt that. We never felt unsafe. We really felt like Heavenly Father intended very much for us to open our home like we did and to make everyone feel welcome because that was how that fellowship was so vital. And that was what we brought. That was a special skill that we brought was an openness and the flexibility to be able to say, "Yes, we can have strangers in our home every week. In a country, like I said, that we have guards. We had guards on our home. And we were inviting strangers into that walled home because... and we found that the Lord was always there. He was a step ahead of us always. Anytime we had a question there was already a solution, you know, in the works, and we found that with missionary work. We had a young return missionary that was in Senegal- or coming to Senegal for a school exchange. And he just happened to have served a mission in Leon, France. And so he came knowing French, knowing gospel French, which believe me, the vocabulary is not vocabulary that's used regularly. And so he was only there for a semester. And he was able to connect with them almost in a sibling type relationship. He could teach them the gospel in French, and answer their questions more fully than we could because we really did feel limited. You know we just didn't speak the language well enough to be able to teach the gospel. Yet when he left, we knew there was this gaping hole now.And he was so sweet. He got home and he said, I know this is still a need because the brethren were still calling him. And so he reached out and said, "I am willing to invite the missionaries in my home ward in Arizona, to come over to my home." It was like nine o'clock in the morning for him. For them and Skype us, call us and do the missionary discussions. And he would translate for the investigators and they do new member discussions. We timed it so that it was after our meetings.So we would have church and then we would have a small, you know, we'd have a meal or we'd have snacks. And then we would have this missionary discussion. And so it was a long day. It was a wonderful day, and the spirit was so strong. But Sunday's ended up being a very challenging day sometimes. But it was, it was wonderful. And the Lord provided as he does. And there was a French missionary serving in Arizona, they made the arrangements to transport any investigators that we had would be his. Regardless of where he was serving in his district. And he taught the missionary lessons directly to our investigators. And he did that until this mission was done. And by that time, we had knowledge of and access to the missionaries that are in Salt Lake City that can call. And so at that point, they could call the investigators directly and teach them on their own phones. And so we no longer had to provide the internet for the Skype calls and things. But we did that for quite a long time. Before those solutions came out. We had in the two years we were there 13 baptisms, with no missionaries in Senegal. It was all done through the efforts of missionaries in the States, through the new converts reaching out and inviting their friends to come to their baptisms, to them sharing the gospel. The efforts were just so homegrown and it was amazing. It was amazing what could be accomplished. And my favorite parts of this entire thing was that knowledge that Heavenly Father loves us, and he loves His church, and He's in charge. And He knows what our needs are. He knows what the needs of His churches, His you know, and so we might not understand it. We might not understand why things are changing at the rate that they are right now. But I have full faith that Heavenly Father knows. And he's in charge of it, and he's directing it. And that whatever we're being asked to do, we're being asked to do for our own benefit and our own- our own knowledge and in growth, which is why we're here. We're not here to be comfortable. But I feel like if we had been less flexible and more rigid in how the gospel had to be implemented, I just don't know that we would have had the joy in, in sharing the gospel that infected our, our investigators and our converts.So we left after being there for two years. And in May, just before we left, May of 2016, Elder Vinson, and his presidency came to dedicate, to create our branch and, and it was such a special week, and it was such a special meeting.Because it was just a culmination of so much work not just from us, but from everybody. You know, the people that had come before us: the Smileys, the Toses, the Joneses. Then everybody had come together, James was just excited because he felt like that was it was almost like a second mission, you know that he had come to Senegal to work. And he ended up helping establish, you know, being a major part of the establishment of the church, and the creation of this branch. We weren't gone just a few weeks when a missionary couple came. They were a humanitarian missionary couple. They came and they were serving, and they were instrumental in working with the government to get the necessary paperwork to establish the church, officially. And so there was those efforts. Two young men, they both went on missions. So they're serving from Senegal, in Ghana. Both of them are in different missions in Ghana. And then full-time missionaries came in. I believe, but I'm not certain since I wasn't there. But I'm pretty sure that a year after we left is when Elder Bednar came and visited Senegal and directly established the church. Dedicated the land and established the church and the gospel in Senegal. There are two branches in Dakar. One's English speaking and one's French. And then there is a French-speaking branch in Thiez, which is just outside of Dakar. It's so ready. The people there, the growth has been exponential. And so I look at all of the hardships that we've had, and all of the instability, and all of the flexibility that's been required of us to live the life that we have and to go forward and the life that we've had. I'm so grateful for it. Because every single time we have been blessed for it. Every single time, there has been a reason for it. It's prepared us for coming challenges that we didn't even know were coming. But because we developed the testimony, and we grew the testimony that we needed to have at that, in the first challenge. That second challenge? We handled it. And, and so I know that there that it can be hard, it can be hard because you don't always see the end result. And you don't always know where it's heading. But I trust that heavenly father would not give it to us if it wasn't necessary for us eternally, and temporarily.
KARYN LAY: That was Christie. I think what I'm going to take from this week's episode is the realization that when we say we believe in continuing revelation, we also have to acknowledge that continuing revelation might mean continuing change. And sometimes continuing discomfort as we adjust to that. It forces us to recognize the difference between doctrine and culture, and between policy and procedure, and between establish local habits and the ever-changing needs of the real, live people with whom we worship. And while this process can be uncomfortable, sometimes, it's also healthy. Because if we do it right, that process can take us back again and again, to a fresh realization of what our callings, our schedules, our ministering assignments are all really about: the Savior and His beloved children. Everything else is just interesting detail. That's it for this episode of This is the Gospel. If you have a story to share whether it's funny, touching, miraculous. We'd love to hear it. Call our pitch line at 515-519-6179. And leave us a message with a short synopsis of your story. And of course, be sure to check out our past episodes of this podcast and other LDS Living podcasts at ldsliving.com/podcasts. If you love the stories we've shared, leave a story review on the Apple Podcast app, or anywhere you listen to your podcasts and be sure to tell your friends. It will help more people to find us. Have a great week.