Our Heritage: The Miracle of Change

Our Heritage: The Miracle of Change

Joy shines radiantly from the face of Florence Chukwurah of Lagos, Nigeria. And so it should. In the things that really matter—her faith, her family, and her education—Sister Chukwurah is a woman supremely blessed. She is the mother of faithful children. She is a competent and experienced nurse. She has worked ably with her husband, Christopher, while he presided over the Ghana Accra Mission. There she helped reduce sickness among the missionaries by teaching them to boil and filter their water, eat well, and keep their surroundings clean. In 2003 Brother and Sister Chukwurah served as ordinance workers in the Salt Lake Temple.  At that time Sister Chukwurah was also called to serve on the General Relief Society Board. But life did not begin so promisingly for Florence Chukwurah, and the story of how she has become an accomplished and successful woman is the story of a miracle.

In the life of Florence Chukwurah, the miracle of change has been gloriously visible. She was born into a life of poverty in Onitsha, Nigeria. Her father, who worked at sea on a ship, was rarely at home. Florence’s mother was not educated and worked hard to feed the family.

As Florence approached young womanhood, she began to realize just how poor her family was. By the time she was about 11 years old, a steadfast resolution had formed in her mind: She would escape from poverty. What made this more than a childish wish was that she also made several powerful commitments. These, she felt, would help her find a better life. First, she recalls, “I determined to break from poverty by seeking God earnestly.” Besides this fundamental decision, she made three practical resolutions. “I decided to be obedient to my parents and to older people. I decided to be serious with my schoolwork. And I made up my mind to work hard with my hands.”

Hard work had long been a constant fact of Florence’s life. She hauled water for the family from the public taps or from a stream. She fetched firewood from the countryside and cut it up for cooking fuel. And she helped her mother with the laborious preparation of the cassava root—the family’s staple food.

After school, there were younger children to tend and feed and schoolwork to do. On Saturdays, there was laundry to wash at the public taps. Even on holidays, Florence bought and sold vegetables to help pay her school fees.

All this Florence could do with a willing heart because of the decisions she had made as an 11-year-old girl. “I was happy doing these things as a way to demonstrate my love for my family and also to honor my father and mother,” she explains.

As a young girl, Florence deepened her commitment to schoolwork when she noticed neighbors who were educated. The parents of several of her girlhood friends were teachers and headmasters.

Florence became interested in nursing partly because she liked the way nurses dressed. Taking care of her brothers and sisters had also developed her natural interest in helping others. Her father had borrowed money from a moneylender to pay for her secondary schooling, a debt which Florence later repaid. But she could not afford to attend a university or teacher’s college. The government would subsidize her in nursing school, however. So at age 16, Florence traveled six hours away from her home to begin her training as a nurse.

The year Florence graduated from her training at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, she was given the Florence Nightingale Award for best nurse of the year. She continued her education, finishing her training as a midwife five years later, in 1970.

Today Sister Chukwurah strongly encourages the young people she meets to break away from illiteracy with the help of the Church’s literacy program. “I tell them that they are the future of Africa,” she says. She encourages young people to appreciate what they have, but also to work hard to improve on it, using creativity and imagination.

Even deeper than her desire for education was young Florence’s yearning to go to church with her family. In fact, she says this was her “greatest longing.” She saw the people in her neighborhood who went to church as a family as especially blessed. And she admired a man called “Holy Nweje,” a retired Anglican minister who went around the neighborhood admonishing children to be of good behavior.

It was Florence’s exemplary behavior that began the series of events that fulfilled her greatest longing. She was back in her hometown of Onitsha, Nigeria, practicing nursing. A woman in the neighborhood noticed that Florence came home after work, rather than going out with men. The woman suggested that her nephew contact Florence.

When Christopher Chukwurah met Florence, he told her immediately that he was looking for a wife. Based on his aunt’s recommendation, he said, he would like to marry Florence. Florence promised to consider his proposal.

“I had been very close to the Lord all my life,” recalls Sister Chukwurah. “Something kept telling me that I had to be close to the Lord.” She had been consistently praying for a good husband—someone who would care for her and who would not drink alcohol. “I wanted a family that would really be anchored on the Savior,” she explains.

When she prayed about Christopher, she had a warm feeling that this was a man who was spiritually inclined. When he returned for her answer, Florence accepted his proposal. They were married on 3 March 1972.

Just as she had felt, Florence found that Christopher Chukwurah shared her hunger for spiritual things. Together they investigated a number of churches, fasting and praying together regularly.

Christopher also shared her desire for education. He had a bachelor’s degree in political science and information sciences, and shortly after he and Florence married, they left Nigeria for the United States. Christopher earned a master’s degree in educational administration from Illinois State University. Florence studied psychology part-time and worked in several hospitals. They returned to Nigeria in 1977, still uncommitted to any one religion. By 1981, they were weary of moving from church to church.

Over the years, the Chukwurahs had developed the tradition of holding a special family fast on the last day of each year. On New Year’s Eve, 31 December 1981, the purpose of their fast was to seek guidance in finding a church they could remain in throughout their lives.

Just nine days later, Florence was preparing a meal in the kitchen and Christopher was preparing a lecture for a college class when both received an impression in answer to their prayers. “I had this persistent feeling that we should visit a family friend of ours. When I told my husband, he said, ‘I have the same feeling. Can we go right now?’”

When they arrived at the home of their friend, they were surprised when he offered them a soft drink instead of the more usual beer. He explained that because he and his wife now belonged to a church called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they no longer drank alcohol or smoked. “My husband and I looked at each other,” recalls Sister Chukwurah. “We love each other so dearly that we can speak with our eyes. After looking into each other’s eyes, we immediately asked, ‘How can we become members of this church?’” After receiving the missionary discussions, the Chukwurahs were baptized in February 1982.

Ten years after joining the Church, Christopher Chukwurah was called to preside over the Ghana Accra Mission. That calling opened the door for a crowning blessing when the Chukwurahs were sealed as a couple in the Salt Lake Temple. Their oldest son, Emeka, was able to be sealed to them also. Later they were sealed to their other two sons. Two sons have served missions and all three have been married in the temple. All three sons reside in the United States. The Chukwurahs also have two foster daughters.

Brother and Sister Chukwurah have learned to follow the promptings of the Spirit, both in regard to Church callings and in caring for their children. There was a time when Uchenna became very sick and Sister Chukwurah stayed home with him while her mission president husband traveled to Sierra Leone. Medication had been prescribed for nine-year-old Uchenna, but he kept getting sicker. He kept vomiting and losing strength until he finally collapsed. Florence checked his pulse and found it very weak. She was convinced he was dying.

Without a priesthood holder available to give her son a blessing, Sister Chukwurah knelt by her son’s bed and held him while she prayed for help. During the prayer she got the distinct impression to stop giving him one of the medications. This was at 5:45 P.M.; she was scheduled to give him the medication at 6:00 P.M. She rose from her knees feeling a great relief. Knowing clearly what needed to be done, she changed his medication. Immediately Uchenna’s pulse became normal, and the nausea lifted.

“I missed my husband, who would have given him a priesthood blessing,” Sister Chukwurah says. “I had no hope anywhere except from the Lord. So I exercised my faith and called upon the Lord. And the Lord saved him.”

Florence Chukwurah names the miracles in her life gratefully. “I have never had to beg for food,” she says. “I have been able to be self-reliant. I have succeeded in teaching my family how to prevent communicable diseases by practicing hygiene at home, and I have educated many others. I have a husband who holds the priesthood and who helps me raise our children in the fear and service of God.”

The life of Florence Chukwurah has been transformed from one of uncertainty and want to one of peace and joy. “The Lord heard my prayers,” she says. “He understood my struggles and my search for a bright and happy future. He crowned my efforts with blessings too many for me to express. Since I have joined the Church, I wake up with peace in my heart. I sing in my heart all the time.”