In LDS fast and testimony meetings, typically held the first Sunday of each month, after partaking the sacrament (communion), members of the congregation take turns sharing their testimonies, or expressions of faith, typically relating a recent experience that has given them the “reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). The bishop of the ward typically begins that portion of the meeting by sharing his own testimony before turning over the podium to any members desiring to do the same.
This past Sunday, in the local ward we attend, the bishop did just that, describing the testimony portion of the meeting, then sharing his own testimony, which consisted of one incredibly brief statement, familiar to all: “I was blind, but now I see.” He spoke those seven words and sat down.
My initial reaction was that the good bishop had just proverbially dropped the ball on one of his primary responsibilities. As the spiritual leader of his flock, I was looking for him to model an appropriate expression of faith to the congregation, such as his own witness of the Savior, the restoration of the Lord’s Church, God’s love or influence in his life, or sharing the blessings that he has recently received or recognized in his life.
Then I started pondering on this well-known phrase from John Newton’s sacred hymn, Amazing Grace. Newton had been a profane British sailor for years, frequently chastised by even his shipmates for his incredibly foul mouth and mannerisms. When a huge storm in the North Atlantic during 1748 nearly capsized the ship, Newton and another mate lashed themselves to the ship’s pump to keep from being washed overboard and worked feverishly for hours to keep the ship from sinking. He finally exclaimed, “If this will not do, the Lord have mercy on us.” That utterance haunted him for the next two weeks until the battered ship and starving crew were rescued off the coast of Ireland.
His ponderings on God’s influence in sparing his life stayed with him for years and Newton eventually came to believe that God had sent him a profound message and had begun to work through him. In time, he immersed himself in religion, seeking out and joining the ministry in 1764. Eight years later, reflecting on the miraculous change in his own life, he penned the lyrics to Amazing Grace to accompany his 1773 New Year’s Day sermon. Newton’s message in that hymn, that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of sins committed and that the soul can be delivered from despair through God’s mercy, immediately caught on and the hymn has become one of the most recognizable songs in the English-speaking world.
As I sat there pondering, the thought crossed my mind – What a wonderful example and touching witness of how God’s mercy can change a life.
My thoughts then turned to the 2007 movie, Amazing Grace, depicting William Wilberforce’s twenty-year wrenching, but ultimately successful battle against tremendous odds to abolish the British slave trade. In 1807, his vision was finally realized with an improbable victory in parliament. Wilberforce was born a privileged aristocrat, but his willingness to sacrifice his social standing, personal relationships, to follow his conscience and religious convictions and fight the massive, vindictive, political clout of the British maritime industry ignited worldwide changes.
One of the anchors of Wilberforce’s convictions and his drive, were the stirring lyrics of John Newton’s hymn, Amazing Grace. Bolstered by that vision, Wilberforce succeeded in opening blinded eyes, triggering the end of the never-ending sieges that had for centuries had terrorized the entire continent where I now live.
Ultimately, as more eyes were opened, the millions of Africa’s native sons and daughters, forcibly enslaved and carried away to the “free” world, to be treated as nothing more than property; traded, bartered, used or abused for generation after generation after generation, were set free. The spirit of the same words that prompted profound changes in the life of their author played a pivotal role in altering the lives and the creating a new destiny for this entire continent.
As I sat in that meeting on Sunday, I suddenly realized that with seven simple words, this good bishop had touched my heart, opened my own eyes and given me a powerful witness of the reason for the hope that is in me.
Living in West Africa, I daily see poverty and squalor, stretched out for mile after numbing mile that I could not begin to fathom before I came here. But I also daily see the light of hope in the eyes of the millions of West Africans who are now generations removed from the nightmare of human bondage. And in the eyes of the tens of thousands who each year accept the invitation to covenant with the Savior, take His yoke upon them, follow Him and strive to lift their fellowman, I see the added light of peace and joy that all the riches of the world cannot buy. I daily thank the Lord, for not only blessing these good people with His spirit and eternal hope through His grace, but for blessing my life through these wonderful people.
Thank you, bishop, for sharing that amazing testimony on the power of God’s grace.