This past Saturday morning when I woke up, I scanned the news headlines on my phone and discovered that the ugliness of the world had just gotten closer to my own little world here in Ghana.
Friday night, 400 miles due north of us, a North African variant of Al Qaida terrorists in the capital city of Burkina Faso replicated an attack similar to the one that occurred last November in Mali, a few hundred miles to the west of that country. In both instances, the terrorists targeted an upscale restaurant and hotel in a West African capital city frequented by westerners, killed over twenty innocent bystanders, many of them foreigners, then held large numbers hostage until the security forces arrive and the terrorists all went down in a blaze of gunfire. Meanwhile in Ghana, the next country down, we are living in the capital city in the vicinity of large numbers of westerners. Some key differences are that Mali and Burkina Faso both have Islamic majorities, are former French colonies with strong French ties and these attacks are tied to France’s engagement against ISIS. Ghana, often called “Africa-lite” is a stable, peace-loving country with very little sectarian strife.
Turning to the east of us in Nigeria, Boko Haran continues its sieges, kidnapping schoolgirls and terrorizing the entire northeast sector of Nigeria. Nigeria also happens to be where over half of the congregations and Church members in West Africa live. Because of the risk of violence and kidnapping related to westerners, all our missionaries and mission presidents there are home grown. However, there are a number of challenges related to financial record-keeping across Nigeria and I need to visit there later this year. When we do send in westerners, it is always with a local brother escorting them 24/7.
And over to the west, the stubborn embers of the Ebola crisis stubbornly persist and occasionally flare up in Sierra Leone, despite the World Health Organization declaration that the epidemic has officially ended there. Next month, Michelle and I are traveling there to conduct financial training across the fifty congregations in that country. It will be the first audit training coming in for over two years because of the prior international travel lock-downs related to medical issues.
All this makes for an interesting backdrop to the priesthood lesson today on finding peace. As I sneak a peek ahead at likely future world events, I don’t foresee “peace in our time” as a likely outcome. The Savior promised his followers peace, but he was quick to point out that He was not talking about a dearth of warfare and calamity in the world. His peace comes to those who look to Him in faith, strive to follow His teachings.
I well remember a talk in 2004 by President Boyd K. Packer, who grew up in an era when polio, small pox and other debilitating infectious diseases ravaged the earth and the entire world was plunged into the nightmare of global conflict with World War II. His generation did not roll over and surrender; they faced those challenges with faith. Many people suffered greatly, but as a whole they struggled through and many went on to live full and happy lives. His counsel to our generation was to recognize the challenging times we live in, which extend well beyond natural calamities and armed conflict. But as we recognize the enemy and the challenges we face, he warned us that we each need to put on the whole armor of God, put our houses in order, have faith, stay close to the Church and then “find happiness in ordinary things and keep your sense of humor.”
I find great solace in reading that it was in the midst of the “war chapters” in the Book of Mormon, where the Nephites lived in a state of never-ending attacks by their enemies, that “there never was a happier time among the people of Nephi….” (Alma 50:23). They had learned to find peace as they put their faith in God.
Like the Nephites discovered, happiness and peace are consequences that are dictated by our choices and by our attitudes, not by external factors. And right now, I can honestly say that I feel at peace and I have never been happier.