Once in a Lifetime

Once in a Lifetime

“I am so happy!”

“I am very much grateful!”

“I love the temple!”

With such words, Saints from Liberia expressed their feelings following four days of participating in the temple ordinances in the Accra Ghana Temple.  They were especially heartfelt and tender feelings because for many of these Church members, this would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Two civil wars had devastated their country and left them a desperately poor people.  They were not likely to return to the temple in this life.

The journey:  Sixty-eight of them –men, women, youth, and children—had traveled four days on two buses through Eastern Liberia, Ivory Coast, and Western Ghana.  The buses arrived at the temple complex about 9 p.m. on Friday 26, 2012.  Through they were old and loud and rickety, the buses had not broken down.  As they approached and then passed through the gates, the weary travelers could be heard all across the temple grounds, singing hymns.

At the end of each long, tiring day of the journey, the group had stopped for the night.  Since the wars, it had become too dangerous for Liberians to cross Ivory Coast in the dark.  Besides, the roads are too rough for travel at night; the drivers—one per bus—needed to rest, and the Saints prepared their food.  They slept in the buses or on the road, and under the buses when it rained.  Along the way, there were people who offered them a peaceful place to rest.  President Matthew Wantoe of the Sinkor Branch said, “The Lord brought us.”

Men, women, mothers, fathers, widows, youth and children planned and worked and saved—some for as long as eight years—to make their dream of entering the temple come true.  In spite of working very hard and putting aside all they could, they needed to draw upon the Temple Patrons Assistance Fund to complete payment for their passage.  Each had to procure travel documents and temple recommends.  Many had gathered names and records of their deceased relatives in order to receive the saving ordinances on their behalf.  Coming to the Temple had been the focus of their lives.

Forty-one of the Liberian Saints came from the Monrovia District and twenty-seven from the Bushrod Island District.  One brother, Moses Gweh, had been all ready to come, but suddenly, two weeks before the departure date, he fell ill and died.

The Way the People Lived:   The Liberian Saints had arranged to stay in the Temple Ancillary building rooms that are set aside for temple patrons.  When the buses had parked, the men began to unload the bags, cases, and boxes that contained their belongings.  The women and children tried to carry their luggage up stairs, to the first floor cafeteria where they were to wait for their room assignments,  They did not know the silver doors on each floor could open to an elevator that would carry them upward.  One of the missionary couples living in the building helped them.

Among these people with so little in worldly goods, the missionaries reported, “there was no sound of complaint or even impatience.  No child was fussy or crying.  Clearly they had all decided in advance to pay whatever price was needed in order to obtain the blessing that awaited them and they considered it a bargain.” 

The Saints had not only brought their own food and water for the trip; to the extent they could, they also brought enough supplies to prepare some very spare meals each day—although toward the end of the week some began to run out of food.  The women prepared the food in the communal kitchen and the Saints ate together in the large dining room.

The most vivid recollection of the missionaries who observed these Saints is of their happiness.  During the entire week, they saw no discontent or contention, only high spirits and very warm smiles.  “They brought us as much as they took away,” the missionaries said.  “We will never forget them.”

The night before the Saints departed, on Friday evening, some of the temple workers and missionaries provided cakes and ice cream for a celebration held in the communal dining room.

The Temple Work:  Except for one who had already been to the temple, all of the adults received his or endowments during this temple trip.  Many were married for eternity and with their children, sealed as families.  Youth performed baptisms for the dead.

Many attended multiple initiatory or endowment sessions each day.  Margaret B. Mbree, a widow from the Paynesville Branch, was one of these.  Despite her slight stature, delicate features, and humble circumstances, she carried herself with great poise and quiet assurance.  When asked about her temple experience she said that she did four or five temple sessions every day, so she could “obtain the instruction.”

The children and youth were sealed to their parents.  When they were asked about their experience in the temple, they said, “It was beautiful!” “I love it!”  “I am so happy!”

Testimonies:  After returning to Liberia, Gormah N.  Kollie, a 72-year-old widow from the Matadi Branch of Monrovia District, said that the journey, though difficult, was not harder than her life in Liberia.  But the hardship, she said, was not what she remembered; “the only thing I remember now is the order of the Temple ordinances and blessings,”  She had returned to her home with peace and good feelings and now she was thinking of her family reunion in the next world.

When she first learned of the temple trip, Rozinnah Konnah, a 44-year-old single adult from the Matadi Branch, Monrovia District, was struggling financially to sustain herself.  She questioned why her leaders would encourage her to go such a long distance.  How could such a sacrifice be so important?  But she followed her leaders’ counsel.  Reflecting on the experience she said, “From the time I entered Accra Temple, I get to know the difference between salvation and prosperity.  I know if we listen to the teaching and the counsel of our leaders and go to the temple and do all ordinances require of us, we will accumulate eternal blessing.”

President Wantoe, who is 43, served in the military for 14 years during the long civil wars.  Though he suffered terribly because of this, and has almost nothing of this world’s goods, his smile is larger than life and transforms his worn face.  Everything about him speaks peace.  He wrote:

As a boy in my early teens I had a dream. In this dream I quite remember when I was among a group of people to go to heaven to meet Jesus Christ.  In the process I saw myself climb a very high mountain where some people were unable to climb.  Then I heard a voice that welcome me to Heaven.  This is the only dream I can remember from my childhood.  When I received my endowment, I remembered) my dream and the reason why I survived the Liberian crisis.  From this point I was motivated to do other ordinances that are required of me.  I know that the Temple is the most holy place on earth…I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true church.  Missionary never visited (me), the Spirit led me to this Church and my faith in the doctrine is firm.

Emmanuel Tarpeh from Monrovia wrote:  I am grateful to our Heavenly father for His blessings and protection upon our lives through those difficult route of travel and to our brothers and sisters the world over who contribute to the Temple Assistance funds…I testify the Heavenly Father will bless them in abundant.   One year three months three days after I became a member of the Lord’s families, I had the opportunity to travel with my wife and three children to the closest temple, in Accra, about 729 miles from Monrovia.  We journey over bumpy roads, with little children including little Patricia and Xan who have just turn two and twelve months old, and with nowhere comfortable to sleep or take a shower.  We arrive at the temple with much fatigue.  For me, the fatigue was soon watched (washed) away by my present in front of the temple with my wife and children.  My mind reflected to a family home evening where I display the photo of the Accra Temple and explained the little I have read about the Lord’s temples.  We became filled with the spirit of the temple and with gratitude for the blessings we were about to receive. My testimony of the Divinity of the temple ordinances cannot be shaken because I know they are true.  I must remind all of us who were blessed to make this trip that we will obtain the blessings the Lord promised us if we will keep the commandments He gives us during these short but unforgettable days spent at the Temple.

On Saturday, March 3, 2012, the Liberian Saints loaded up and boarded the buses again for the journey home.  This time the trip lasted five days,  As far as they were concerned, their once-in-a-lifetime experience was well worth all the years of sacrifice and saving and the longs days or arduous travel that made it possible.