My Testimony of Nigeria

Mary Anne Gross

In 1992, when Hensley stayed in our home for one month, as a delegate to the RLDS World Conference; it was at this time that Hensley began to see the differences between the RLDS and the Restoration, from having been invited to several of the restoration services during this month.  When he arrived home, back in his country of Nigeria and after having received much “meat” while he was here,  he began writing letters back here describing his excitement of the Restoration, as that of a pregnant woman just about ready to deliver a baby.  What a marvelous feeling!  It was then that George Mefferd and Skip Robison felt like they needed to travel to Nigeria at Hensley’s request in 1993, to share with the Saints over there, the Restoration/Story Gospel.  It was also while the African delegates were in my home that my mind took on a new perspective of one of God’s commandments; “To love thy neighbor as thyself,” and that included all those which are separated by that ‘little’ ocean we call the Atlantic.  I was so encouraged by that feeling.  For many years, since 1992, Hensley kept encouraging me to come to Nigeria to visit with his people.  I personally never thought that day would come.  Eventually, the A.R.M. board was formed, because there were others who had an interest in other African nations also. As many meetings as we have had since its’ beginning, I’ve heard the many testimonies/reports given from the returning missionaries and seen the many pictures they have brought back.
       During the summer of 1998, I attended my last Army summer camp in California, and YES, it’s always HOT, like 110’ on the rocks in the field where we would set up and take down a DEP MEDS  (Deployable Medical System)  Hospital.  I believe that my Army experiences have helped to prepare me for what was to come and still to come.  Although I didn’t retire until November, 1999  (25 years and an LTC), it was after the 1998 summer camp that I jokingly but seriously told the Lord, that I would never ‘sweat’ again for the Army, but  that now I would ‘sweat’ for Him.
       All of 1999, I felt the prompting of the Spirit, leading me in the direction of traveling to Nigeria, and that it was now ‘time’ for women to start going over, even though I never shared that feeling with anyone.  When Steve Ferguson shared those same feelings with me, I very much felt that the Holy Spirit was manifesting the truth to me, through a second witness.
       I had one big concern, and that was to rough it and endure in a 3rd world country environment.  I prayed a lot and knew that I totally would have to rely on the Lord to help me to survive.  It also helped a lot with having had 2 daughters (going before me) to live in a 3rd world country for an extended time, Erica having been to Owahocca and Elizabeth to Honduras.  They each chose to leave their comfort zone and endure the conditions as it was pleasing to God. They have led me to venture out and this is why I love the scriptures that say,  “And a little child shall lead them,” and many others regarding the little children.
       The Lord provided an opportunity for me to travel over to Nigeria, to visit God’s children in another part of His vineyard.  It was not only an Awesome privilege but an Awesome responsibility. This missionary trip was originally scheduled during the month 
of July, 2000, but that wasn’t in God’s timing.  We then attempted to make this trip in September, 2000 this time with different individuals going along.  The 6 man team consisted of:  Ron Smith,  Seventy, and Math Professor @ Graceland College;  Norman Nelson,  Elder, and retired Medical Doctor;  Dale Stafford,  Elder, and  Registered Pharmacist;  Bill Barrett,  Elder, and  Mechanical Engineer;  Val Gross,  Deacon, and  Master Plumber;   Mary Anne Gross,  member, and  Registered Nurse.
       I have felt many times convicted by the Holy Spirit that it was these 6 individuals for this time to go,  “For Such A Time As This.”  Probably never again will there be a 6 man team, but this time it was right.  It was also a non-verbal statement to all the people there, that so many from the US cared so much about coming over at the same time, and that one member of the team was a woman.  It truly impressed them because they are used to having 2-3-4, coming over. Our trip was from September 6-28, 2000.  It took a total of 8 airplanes, and 4 days of travel, to visit with our Saints in both Umuahia, and Lagos, and the angels were ever present during our travels.
       We arrived in Nigeria toward the end of their rainy season.  It was extremely high humidity but not as hot as I had been trying to prepare for.  However, many a day, I felt like I had just come out of a swimming pool, and many times each day!  It rained every day at least once if not twice a day.  All 6 of us stayed at Hensley’s small home and you’d think that with 4 adults and 4 children, and then to have 6 of us, it would be very crowded; but it was not.  The Lord was so gracious to all of us.  There was no running water and the electricity would come on and go off without rhyme nor reason.  But when the electricity went off during the evening hours, they would have their lanterns ready, full of  kerosene oil, and had them lit immediately.  This reminded me of the parable of the Ten Virgins, in the Book of Matthew, those wise ones who kept their lanterns trimmed, and were prepared.  Gloria and her nephews washed clothes every day in a baby bath tub.  Much of their water came from the rain which was collected in a huge barrel, positioned under a gutter from the roof.  The boys also took the wheelbarrow with 4-5, 5 gallon plastic containers to a near-by place where they could buy water.  This consisted of 3 pipes coming out of the ground with faucets attached to them.
       During the first full week, while the men were teaching classes, I was to teach the children, that had accumulated from around the neighborhood.  I think most of these children were from non-church member families and came to where we were meeting because of curiosity of the white man.  I would guess that most of them had never seen a white person before.  I must admit though, that I did not travel over there prepared to teach any children, and became anxious on the first day when the children began to sit on these hard benches ready to be taught.  I remember grabbing Val to help me out.  We sat down and he just opened his 3-in-1 to the book of Mormon and started reading.  The children were so eager to listen.  This was a beautiful idea.  I then began to pray and ask the Lord everyday what I should teach the children.  He flooded my mind with subject matter.  On Tuesday,  I remember teaching the children about the 7 days of Creation and also the Spiritual Creation, and later hearing Ron teach this to the adults.  There was no way that he could hear what I was teaching the children.  This same thing also happened the following 2 days where I would teach the children and then hear Ron  teaching the same subject matter to the adults later.  This confirmed to me that I was listening to that still small voice and following His direction.  I was very grateful for this and knew the Lord had blessed me in spite of not being prepared originally.  He wanted me to be dependent on Him.  I might also add that all I had was my 3-in-1!  Shouldn’t that be enough?????  I am so used to getting into my car and driving to one of our bookstores for needed materials to teach with.  We are a spoiled people!!!  As long as the priesthood continued to teach during the day, the adults were willing to stay, no matter how hot it was, and even sitting on those hard benches!  Let me take you back to Thursday.  I started out teaching O.K. but very soon afterwards, the children became very restless and the lady who was interpreting and myself became frustrated, so we told them to take a play break, while we went inside to listen to the men teach.  As you probably have guessed, the children wouldn’t leave and several times we would have to go outside and ask them to play a little quieter as they were making quite a commotion.  Now, after much frustration and sitting on those hard benches inside, all of a sudden I heard the children outside singing quietly, the song of the books of Mormon that I had been trying to teach them all week.  That was so precious.  They had been listening and trying to learn.
       For months before I left, even though I still couldn’t believe I was going, I prayed oft to my Lord as to what would be my purpose for going.  Again and again, I had received the same impressions and was strongly convicted before, during and after our return home, that I was to go to Nigeria, not to represent any women’s department or the women’s council, or any one branch, but to just go over and be a member, on equal status with my sisters over there.  I wasn’t to teach any formal classes but to just share my love of Jesus Christ and this Restored Gospel, and to share my testimony of the Book of Mormon. 
       During the first week, after the men finished up with teaching their classes, (each day would end at a different time) we would visit in the homes until dinner time.  A funny thing happened  on Tuesday of this week.  I had gone home early to help Gloria, (Hensley’s wife) with the evening meal, while the 5 men went to visit 3 homes.  When they arrived home, Val proceeded to tell me that they all just about got thrown out of each home.  As many of you that know my husband and that he kids around alot, I still tend to take him serious at first, and had thought they had done something terribly wrong.  It turns out that the women were upset because I was not along on the visits.  Please keep in mind that it was because they knew there was a white American woman who was a part of the team.  The next day, Val and I went to visit one of the same homes, and Rachel, gave me this beautiful traditional African outfit.  I accepted this gift as an honor and was very humbled.  You see, she and her husband both did not have work and they have 7 children living with them, in approximately a 10x15 foot home.  To me, she represented the scriptures that talk about the widow who had given her last 2 mites.

During the second full week, the men had decided to do more home visiting, sharing more time with the individual families and to perform any ordinances, if needed.  Hensley, all this time was very much involved with the building project of the new church, and Val spent much of this second week at the new construction sight.  When the rest of us would be there and even beg to help with the work in some small way, the workers were much surprised as to our desire and ability to work!
         As the priesthood are used to being busy all the time while on a missionary trip, this week left some ‘down time.’  On several occasions, our Lord provided some specific down time for the 6 of us to come together in prayer.  I am very thankful to Ron for listening to that still small voice, to pull us together.  On this one particular morning after breakfast, we were just sitting around Hensley’s home with nothing definite to do, when Ron suggested we pray.  Even at that moment, I had felt convicted by the Spirit that He had indeed set that time apart for us.  We all felt the presence of the Lord and each was blessed.  As we finished, approximately 2 hours later, there wasn’t 10 minutes that went by until Hensley had arrived home and asked if we were all ready to go on some scheduled visits that we had not known about.  What beautiful timing of our Lord.  It was like He was telling us,  “To be still and know that I am God.”
       While I was across the ocean in a foreign land, I was also convicted moreso, that if  you can’t go, then send, as we hear many people say.  It now has a far greater meaning in my life now.  I realized that it is so important to continue the missionary efforts into all the world.  There are so many souls out there that are hungering and thirsting for righteousness and this restored gospel.  If you can’t do anything more than pray when the different teams are sent forth, YOU are a part of that team!  The prayers are heard and felt, and His sheep will hear His voice, through that of His servants who are His instruments.
       Two scriptures that constantly flooded my mind while in Nigeria were:  1)  The first  shall be last and the last shall be first, and 2)  To whom much is given, much is required.  We need to develop a healthy fear of these scriptures and realize exactly what they mean.  Since this is a 3rd world country and they don’t have much; the only thing they have is GOD.  They need Him.  America, (in general) doesn’t seem to need Him.  We will suffer as  a nation, and not by an oppressive government.
       As many homes as we visited, we ate what was offered to us and even though it was prayed over, my mind always took me to what is said in Luke 10;  to eat what is offered you.  That is with much faith.
       It was so easy to love these people and strengthening to us to see their smiling faces.  It is so easy to tell that they love their Lord.  I know that by being there, we also strengthened them.  The people sing with great magnitude and with much praise to our God.  They didn’t seem to be hurting without the use of an instrument.  You wouldn’t have heard it anyway! The females in that culture, whatever their ages, wear dresses, skirts, or their traditional dress.  Never shorts or slacks, anywhere!  I might have seen a handful of late teens wearing jeans out of the thousands of people we saw in our time there.  Even the little girls had dresses on while they were playing outside.  The hems might have been torn, a sleeve might be ripped out, the zipper might not work, but they still had a dress on, torn and tattered.  Also, the females, whether at church or in the home, whenever prayer is offered, they will have a covering over their head.
Many of these people, who are of the EBU tribe, understand their heritage to be one of the Hebrew tribes, which made them excited about the Book of Mormon.  Between the 6 of us, we brought over with us, and gave away many Inspired versions, and Books of Mormons and a few Doctrine and Covenants.  Also many children’s books.
       On the final Saturday, (Sept.23)  Ron, Norman, and Bill left Umuahia, in Abia State, for Lagos, to help Brother Friday  with the church service there on Sunday and to visit with the saints in Lagos.  Dale, Val, and I stayed in Umuahia to help Hensley with his church service.  Dale and Val had purchased some traditional outfits at the open market and wore them to church the next day, Sept. 24th.  You could tell the people really appreciated this.  After church, since one of the members was a photographer, everyone wanted to have their pictures taken with us, because for them, it was a treasured keepsake.  Not to mention that we also took lots of pictures, and me with over 400 on my digital camera.  I can’t remember what time we actually left the church, because no one really wanted to leave.  For the majority of them, it would mean the final good-bye.  I had a real ‘lump’ in my throat when we arrived home at Hensley’s.
       That evening we shared the Book of Mormon with one of Hensley’s neighbors, after which we began to pack our bags for departure the next morning.  With the 2 hour long drive to the airport and a short flight, Hensley accompanied  us to meet up with the rest  of the team in Lagos.   However, before we left for the airport that morning, a housefull  of people; neighbors, friends and church members had gathered to see us off.  This was  a sad day for all of us.  Even little George,  Hensley’s 4 year old son, hid in the room which Val and I stayed in, with his face against the wall.  It took a little time to coax him to come away from the wall.  I felt that he did this to hide from the reality of all of us leaving.  It had been a very busy 2 and 1/2 weeks.  He had been up in our laps as much as he could be. He and the others were so very precious.  I hope and pray that I’ll have the opportunity of once again being with our saints in Umuahia and Lagos.
     Once in Lagos, Val and I had the opportunity of visiting in 12 of the Saints’ homes, all of which are in the Ghetto/Slum area.  When Ron shared with me the need for me to visit all these homes and as he described this area, this was the first time since we had landed in Nigeria that I felt any fear.  Ron reassured me that “they” the church members, would take care of me.  I knew they would, but wasn’t sure about all the onlookers!  I prayed to my Lord a lot that evening and told Him that if it was His wisdom that I go, for my way to be easy and clear the next day, and it was so.  I felt no fear as we walked to all the homes, accompanied by Elizabeth, (the Pastor’s wife) and 2 other 21 year old girls, named Confidence, and Blessing.  Our transportation to this area was via a wild motorcycle ride which is how most of the people get around.   Before leaving each home, the family desired their home to be prayed over, as they did 2 days prior, when Ron, Norman and Bill, made these same visits.  Val sure did a lot of praying that day.   Our saints in the Lagos area, my friends, do live in the ghetto.  They have so very little.  One of the 21 year old girls’ lives by herself with no family, and my van that I drive is bigger than her home.  We should not take anything for granted.  In spite of their extreme poverty, they still wear a smile and LOVE their Lord.  They really put America to shame, and as I say this, I mean myself, also.  The conditions of the ghetto there is probably much worse than anything we have here in America.
     During the 2 evenings we were in Lagos, we had to stay at a hotel and we had as many of the saints as possible, come over in the evenings, for class and song. We gathered in one of the rooms and even though it was very crowded, it was still bigger than most of the homes.  It was a joyous time for us all.  The saints even came back to the hotel on Wednesday to learn and sing some more and they stayed right with us until we had to load into the vehicles which would take us to the airport.  Hensley and Friday & Elizabeth accompanied us to the airport and remained with us by our side until we had to board the plane.
       We all had brought over many books that were given away and with the poverty that we saw, all of us ended up leaving just about everything else we had in our suitcases, with the people.  Although it wasn’t much to us, there is so much joy in the giving.  I feel like a part of me will always be in Nigeria.  I fell in love with those people.  While I was so consumed in the people and having the opportunity of sharing with them, I completely forgot about ‘color.’  It reminded me of the song once sung by UP WITH PEOPLE;  “What color is God’s skin, I said it’s black, brown, it’s yellow, it is red, it is white, every man’s the same in the good Lord’s sight.
     As our plane took off at 10:30 that night, (Nigeria time) from Lagos to Amsterdam, which was a 7 hour trip, it was about 2a.m. Thursday,  (8p.m. Wed. night Mo. time) that our plane hit the worst turbulence I had ever experienced.  It was very rough and the plane felt like it dropped which made loose objects go flying!  Norman had been walking to the back of the plane at that time and he fell to his knees.  I honestly felt so much fear and thought we were going to go down.  I was very much comforted by my husband, who kept telling me to remember that God was in control, and that we had accomplished a very fruitful mission and that if we died, we died unto the Lord, and that we should be engaged in mighty prayer.  I knew all that and was already doing and thinking all that which he was telling  me but it was so comforting to be reminded of these things.  I quickly reminded myself of the time, and that many of you were in prayer meeting, praying for us during our travels. 
     I also remembered Prince’ prayer of commanding the angels to be around us and the planes which we were to travel in during our return flight home.  At that moment, and it is hard to even describe the feeling, but I felt an awesome, uncomprehendible power surround me.  I know that He allowed me to feel but a fraction of the power that He has and that He was in control, no matter what happened.  When I think of that feeling, it brings tears to my eyes, even still, because I knew I was in the Lord’s presence at that time.
On the 2 long airplane rides home, (3 total) I also got to witness my love for Jesus, and the Book of Mormon, to 2 individuals, whom I could have easily become irritated with due to circumstances even beyond their control, but instead chose to pray for them.  Because of that choice, the Lord could bless me and use me by giving me the opportunity to witness for Him. 
      This is my testimony based on my perspective of the trip.  The other 5 indeed have their own special testimony of this trip to Nigeria.  I am glad to be back home but miss those saints whom I have met.  I thank the Lord for this particular opportunity that He has given me and am also thankful that we live in Joseph’s land, the land shadowing with wings, the Land of Promise, whom God spared from kingdoms and rulers, and FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS.  I pray that I might be worthy enough to be a part of the building up of Zion, along with my brothers and sisters from far away lands.  We, in America, are truly a Blessed  people.  Thank you to each of you who have taken the time to read my testimony.

* last names removed for privacy