6: Lessons from the Desert
When Brittani McLeod’s job led her to a remote village in the deserts of Morocco, she thought she would have to leave behind everything familiar. She didn’t expect the miraculous ways that her Heavenly Father would remind her that He is everywhere.
KARYN LAY: 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.
God speaks to each of us in totally different way and I think part of our spiritual work in this life is to figure out how he talks to you, and how he wants you to talk back. This weeks story comes from Brittany, who learned to recognize and listen to God's guidance as she faced her fears and followed His path for her all the way across the world to Morocco. We spoke to Brittany on her last visit home and our producer Davi Johnson is going to help Brittany tell the story. Here's Brittani.
BRITTANI: One of my friends said, "If God loves you, He will take you to a desert." Like if you look at the Israelites, when they left captivity in Egypt, he took them to the desert. If you look at the Mormon pioneers, he took them to Utah, which is a desert, right? And he took me away from everything I knew and he put me in a desert. And I think that he did that because he knew that he could talk to me there.
DAVI JOHNSON: Brittani originally wanted to be a singer, but her patriarchal blessing helped her realize she might have a calling to serve in cultures that are not around, especially working with people who have been displaced by circumstances beyond their control. After eight years working with migrants and refugees in Salt Lake City, Brittani developed a deep love for this population seeking refuge and a new start. Two years ago, she felt led by God to a job opportunity in Morocco with an international humanitarian organization. She thought she knew how God could use her skills and experience but after completing initial training in-country, she was surprised when her assigned placement took her in a different direction.
BRITTANI: I had three hopes. My hope was to stay near the capital because the church was in the capital and I could go to church. And I had asked the people that would place me, to please keep me nearby for religious purposes. The second goal was that I wanted, I had asked God, "Please help me stay in a region where I can help refugees and migrants," because that is my skill set. And my third request was convenience. I said, "Please keep me in a place that's near, you know, the major cities like Casa Blanca or America," so that I can like, you know, get Doritos or, you know, things like that. And I had told my supervisors, this I had prayed about this, I had fasted about this. I said, "God," like "you sent me here, please show yourself now." So the morning that I got my placement, I opened my folder, and it said, "Congratulations, your placement is 10 hours away and is in a village of 1000 people who are the Amazigh tribe. You will be speaking Moroccan, Arabic, and Amazigh. And I was like, God, you didn't keep your promise. Why are you sending me away from the church? Like you know I need church like you're sending me 10 hours away from church." Like what am I going to do out there? There's no refugees or migrants out there, and I'm not going to get peanut butter.
So I write my supervisor saying, "Hey, I need to be near my church. You know, this village is so small." So I said, "How can I move to a different village?"
He said, "If there's a security issue, or if there's a medical issue," he's like, "have you gotten hurt? did somebody like, harass you?" And I'm like, I wish. I remember praying to God and being like, please just let me get in a car accident, please just let like some guy steal my purse from me so I can have a security incident. And so the supervisor is like, "Sorry, we can't send you to another place." So yeah, God came again and he said, "Just wait." There's this phrase I like, "God teaches you how to dance on disappointment," because we don't see it all you know? I really felt like he kept saying like, "Just wait. Trust me."
So day-to-day life was, it was basically like stepping into a Bible movie. Like it was crazy. I was in the desert, it was in a very conservative culture, I had to change the way that I dressed, I had to change my relationships between men and women. Like, I couldn't talk to men openly or freely, in professional situations I could, but they couldn't come to my house. They, you know, you can't talk to them on the street too long without whispers. I had to change my food. No microwave, no anything just, you know, a Buddha gas which is like an oil pump, and then you turn on the gas. I had to take bucket baths, I had to learn how to make friends without knowing the language well. So my whole life changed. The first year how I dealt with that was I would leave every three months to go to Casa Blanca, which is a major city, all conveniences, you know, Eurocentric, francophones. And every time God would say, "You need to go back to the village." And so I'd go back to the village and I would pout, pout, pout, and after three months, I'd go on vacation again. And the spirit would say, "You need to go back to your village, there's work you have to do there." And I got to the point where one night I was dreaming, and I woke up in the middle of the night. And it was kind of like I felt the presence of God. And the Spirit talking to me, like it was tangible. And it was weird because it was like it I couldn't see him, like obviously, but he was there. And I was like, in my dream when I was waking up, I was having this conversation with God in a dreamlike state and he was basically and like, "I love you so much, Brittani. I love you so much. I know you want to leave, but I have a very important work you have to do here." And he's like, "You have to stay and you have to do this work." He's like, "I love you so much. I'm very proud of you. I'm very proud of who you've become, and I'm very proud that you're here." And he's like, "I need you to help me." He's like, "I need you to do this work." And then he said, "Will you do this work?" And I said, "Yes." I said, "I love you so much, God." I said, "I will stay here."
And I woke up and I kind of changed my whole perspective. I think God gave me that experience for two reasons. I think he wanted me to know how much he loved me, how important I was to him, and him to me. And I think he made me feel that in such a depth because he wanted other people to feel that and to know about them, that he loves them that much as well. And it's not always price proselyting, it's just them knowing that God loves them. And we might not be in a place where we think we need to be, but we're in the correct place and we have work needs to be done. So I think him saying like, I think him leading into that he didn't-- when I was waking up he didn't say, "You have work to do, like get your act together Brittani." Like, "I'm so frustrated that like you keep complaining and that you need to like, I keep having to drag you back here like Jonah," you know, "just like listen to me." No, he led into it. Like, I love you. I am so proud of you. You are so capable. I find pleasure in watching your life and watching you grow.
Now we don't, as humans, we don't say those things to ourselves. That's how you know it was from God. If it was from me, I would have been saying like, oh you failure, oh you this. That's how I knew it was from God because I don't talk to myself like that. And then for him to say like, "I have an important work for you to do here. There are people that I love that I need you to help." So feeling that love from him, then I was able to transfer that love and I was able to also remember that I love God and that I want to be a part of this work and that this work is important. Because I knew who I was and I knew my mission, I woke up every morning after that, and I said, "God, what do you want me to do to bring the kingdom of God on earth? What do you want me to do to let people know that Jesus loves them?"
And he would tell me.
Before that, my life was like, "Okay, I need to figure out how to do this project for myself." And it was so stressful. But when I was able to just ask God, ask Jesus, "What do you want me to do?" It was so simple. Like, it'd be like, just go here, do that, do this. So that's what I would do every day. It wasn't about myself anymore, it was all about God. It was all about His children and the main focus was to let people know that God loves them and cares for them and that everything is going to be okay.
Something that was really fascinating for me, during this whole process was knowing God as my father, and knowing God as like the king. Two different roles. God in the morning like as the King like I knew that I was working under him, that I had a project and he would say, you need to help this person, you need to do this project, you need to do this. And it was a feeling that he was sovereign, that he was in control, that this was a very important work, that he was very invested in everybody. And then I knew God at night, as my father when I would come home stressed and I would say like, I don't think I can do this. And he would switch to being a comforter, to giving me confidence, to saying that he loved me. So it was these two roles that I saw God playing.
So during this time when I was having these revelations, migrants and refugees started getting sent to my village, close to my village. And that was strange because, at that point, migrants and refugees don't go 10 hours from Casa Blanca from Rabat, from the north, where they're trying to go into Europe to seek asylum. And I would think back on that experience, and I remember that prayer I said to God, saying, These are my skill sets. I have this work with refugees and migrants, I want to help them, this is what I want to do. And I remember thinking, when God sent me out to this village, 10 hours from those regions where there were no migrants and refugees, and him saying, "Just wait, I have an important work."
I remember thinking, Oh my gosh, God knew exactly where he sent me and he knew exactly what was going to happen and he knew exactly that like these refugees and migrants were going to be there, and he's placing me there. He wanted me to work with this population. And I was reading the scriptures and it said, it's Matthew 4:16-17, "The people who live in spiritual darkness have seen a great light, the light has shined for those who live in the land that is dark as a grave." When I read that, something that's really interesting to me when I was reading that, was that he didn't just send me to that region, where like, I felt I was suffering. He sent those people to that region because he knew the work that he was going to be doing and that it wasn't about me and it wasn't about like, it was about my experiences, but that he knew where they were going. He knew who he was sending to that region, He knew who was going to be in contact, He knew the work he wanted to do into them and they're probably going from the north, wanting to get to Europe being sent here thinking, "God has forgotten about me." And God didn't forget about them. He was building them up. And he was giving them power. They didn't have anything, nothing, everything was taken from them, but he was giving them a spiritual birth, a renewal a trust in him that is priceless with anything else in this world. So, in essence, they thought that they were losing everything, but I was getting everything-- like the greatest gifts from God, and they were going to be getting the greatest gifts from God, which is that knowing that God loves them and is aware of them.
So I knew I needed to help, but when I would reach out to different nonprofit organizations that help refugees and migrants within the country, there was no assistance. And I had to stop using my mind and how I thought I would solve this problem, and I had to go back in prayer and I would have to ask God, you want me to help this population, what do you want me to do? You need to tell me what to do. Because I don't have money to help them, I don't have anything, so you need to tell me what to do. And he would tell me to do things like, contact this person to help with these clothes. You know, contact the Catholic Church, like to see if they can help, do such and such, like, go here. And when he would say these things, at first, they were totally sporadic. They didn't line up, they didn't make sense, and when I did it--when I would follow it, the things that he said wouldn't come to fruition at the start, and I would say, "God, this doesn't make any sense to me." And when I was on my walk, praying about this, he brought the city of Jericho into my mind. He said, "You know, I had the Israelites walk around the wall of Jericho. Did that make sense to them?" And I said, No. And they kept walking, they kept walking, and then they shouted and the walls came tumbling down. And during that time, he reminded me he said, "This is the wall of Jericho. I want you to know that when the miracle happens, it wasn't because of you, it was from my power and you'll know it's from my power and they'll know it's from my power. And that will be a testimony for them. And I was like, okay. After a few months, when the miracles started happening, I would look back, and it gave me a real understanding of how God's mind works, and that he sees everything, and he knows pathways.
So Mosie, I met him on the side of a sidewalk, he was panhandling for money. They were all homeless, I slept by the bus station, so the only source of income that they would have was panhandling. And I would come in contact with them, I'd bring them donations, like food donations, clothing, donations, different types of donations weekly, to kind of build a relationship with them, to get to know them, to kind of understand what their needs were. And Mosie was there, I was friendly and acquaintances with all the migrants and refugees, building that relationship of trust and giving them the donations, trying to figure out what they need, trying to figure out what God wanted me to do with the population.
So I had known him for about two or three months, not deeply, he wasn't really, you know, a friend. I had gone home and I was resting, I was stressed out because I was doing all this work, not understanding what's going on really, God telling me to go this way, that way, and being like, what in the world? And one of the things that God had asked me to do, that didn't make sense, was go to this little Catholic Church of like four people, and I hadn't been to the catholic church for years, I'm not catholic. So, but he said, "Go to this little Catholic Church," and that didn't make any sense. I said, Okay, so I would go to the Catholic Church, and I'd say, Can you guys help us? And they're like, well, we don't have anything we're a congregation of four people?. Yeah, so eventually, I said, Okay, well, I'll just come every two Sundays. I don't know why God's telling me to come here, I'm just going to come here and just get to know these people, maybe there's something, a way that they can help me in the future with the people. God said to me, there are a few Christians in the group, you need to ask them to come worship for Easter. And my response to God was no, I can't do that. I can't go to a group and just ask them. I have to get permission from the priest. It's a Muslim country, you can't proselyte there, like asking Christians to come to worship with you, if they're Christian, is permitted. But for me to go to a group and say, if any of you are Christian and would want to come to church, might seem like I'm proselyting, even though I'm not proselyting. And that could get me into trouble, even if I was just inviting the Christians, they could see it as if I was proselyting, even though I wasn't. So I had told, initially, I said, "God, no."
And his response was, "Brittani, I need you to invite them to church because the reason for Easter and the reason that I died was for them."
And then I said, shoot, like, I have to do it. So I would go each week and very quietly, I would just say, "If any of you guys are Christian and you want to come to Easter, you can come to the Easter mass."
And I had asked the priest and the priest said, Yeah, no problem. And I did that and I didn't think anybody was going to come. I remember walking to church that day and being like, nobody's going to show up. I opened the door, and there were three migrant Christians sitting there. And I said, Oh, my gosh, they came. And during that mass, they would stand up, knew all the Catholic hymns in French, worshiping. And nobody knew that there was this little church in this region because there's not a lot of churches in those regions. This church had four people two sub-Saharan African students, one Korean volunteer and me, one American volunteer, and now, three migrants and refugees from sub-Saharan Africa.
So they started to come every week. And one of those was Mosie. And Mosie was very serious, he would come, you know, say hello to me, we'd talk a little bit. He would do the hymns, do the prayers. And then he would leave, and he did that for like two or three months. And we started to build a relationship with that. I started to love him so much from those experiences, even though he was quiet, even though he was serious. And we had exchanged you know, like phone numbers, and we would text every once in a while.
One day, he left, and I said, "Where is Mosie?" And one of the other migrant refugees said he had decided to try to cross the sea and try to seek asylum in Europe. He didn't tell me he was leaving, he didn't tell me anything. And I said, how long does it take to get to Europe? Because if you go from the north of Morocco to Europe, and you're allowed to do that it takes an hour. But with the dinghy boats, my friends said that it would take four days on a dinghy boat, like circumventing and trying to go to Europe to seek asylum. And a lot of them don't make it, a lot of them drown, women, children, men, families, sometimes they make it sometimes they drown, sometimes half the boat makes it. I had not prayed as much as I did those four days. And every day, I would say, is he going to make it? And I remember Heavenly Father coming to me during this time, He'd be like, "I'm sovereign, I'm sovereign, even death, like does not finish everything."
On the fifth day, I had gotten like a WhatsApp message from him. And he said, "I just want you to know that I made it to Europe."
And I was like, collapsed on the floor, I'm like, "Oh my Gosh, are you okay?"
And he said, "I'm fine, I'm fine," and he's like, "I just need to tell you something so important."
And I said, "What?"
He said, "I just wanted to tell you, thank you."
And I said, "For what?"
He said, "I thought God had forgotten about me. And when you started bringing all of us donations, and especially when you said that there was a church, I had started going to the church, and I had started praying, and I had reestablished my connection with God. And I realized that God loves me, and I realized that he's with me, and I realized that he was providing for me. And it gave me the courage that when he told me to go, I trusted him and I went, and I was brave." He said, "When I was watching you, do what you were doing and when I was reconnecting with Jesus and God," he said, "I had my own inspiration to like, also follow Jesus and be an example to the people within that community that I was with."
And that was cool because it was kind of like passing the leadership like, you know, in the scriptures that says, when Jesus, in the Scriptures, he said, "God sent me and now I send you," passing that mantle like passing that leadership. So it was cool to watch him reestablish his connection with God, knowing that God loves him that he was going to help him. But then, him being able to take that overflow of love that he felt and with that reestablished connection, and then help people within his own community, right? So during that time, simultaneously, I felt God was concerned about that whole group and was wanting to help that whole group of migrants and refugees. But I also felt that he was very pinpointed on Mosie. If he was the only one that needed help, he would have set up this whole extravagant thing, just to let Mosie know that he loved him and that he wanted to have a relationship with him.
I remember when he was on that boat, I was thinking this was like the worst part of my service. This is the worst part of my time in Morocco, and then when I found out that he made it, and then hearing that story is like the best time of my life in Morocco. He was really poignant in that whole situation and it was really amazing to see how much God loved him. The privilege of being a part of that, I don't take credit for it, this project wasn't about me, this project was me as a vessel, just doing a small work to let somebody know God loves them. God gave me the privilege to experience that so that I could understand God and therefore, like, he blessed me as well.
I trusted him and I went and I was brave. We're able to wake up each day and know that God loves us, and then transfer that love to other people so that they know that's the real work in this life, everything else just sustains our bodies. I came back from Morocco two weeks ago, not wanting to, as a total shock and surprise. For me, I don't know what my future holds. I don't know if I'm staying here, I don't know if I'm going back to Morocco, I don't know if I'm going to another place in this world. I just know that God has a mission for me like he does everybody else, and he gets great joy in making us wait for the surprise. And so I'm scared, He's probably up there, like really happy and excited. You know, putting his hands together saying "No, just wait. Just wait till you see what I'm going to do with your life. You haven't seen anything yet."
KARYN LAY: That was Brittani. I'm inspired by her courage, her faith and her example to speak intimately and frequently with her father in heaven. And although God's guidance can sometimes seemed baffling as it was for Brittani, I've noticed that in my life, that even when those moments come where I don't quite understand what he's trying to do with me, sooner or later, he brings me to a vantage point where I can see out over everything and I can see how he was guiding me in both the big decisions and the small details, all to bring to pass His work.
I hope that in your desert, wherever that may be, you can see his hand and you can feel his love for you and recognize his voice.
That's it for this episode of This is the Gospel. Thank you so much to Brittani for her beautiful story. And thank you to Davi Johnson, our producer, and thank you for listening. To hear more stories from this podcast or our video series, or to pitch your own story, visit us at LDSliving.com/thisisthegospel.