My intriguing interview for my last article with Melody Barber, a Meridian Reader with an in-depth knowledge of the Word of Wisdom and delightful strategies for incorporating it extensively into family life left me with many lingering thoughts and questions about the Word of Wisdom. (The WOW in the Word of Wisdom, Part I.)The following Sunday my testimony of its magnificent power was enlightened when a new member of our ward, Leslie William Thompson, a BYU graduate and a Major in the U.S. Army shared the following dramatic experience in sacrament meeting. (We live in the Washington, D.C. area where our wards are filled without outstanding men and women who serve in the Armed Forces of the United States).
In his own words, here is his story:
“In 2008, I was assigned to Baghdad, Iraq as an embedded U.S. Army combat advisor to Iraqi security forces in 2008. Our responsibility was to train and mentor senior Iraqi leaders in order to build and enhance their capacity to secure the population and bring peace to their nation. This was a sensitive mission that required building trust with our Iraqi counterparts and mediating disputes between various factions that were extremely divided and sectarian in nature. The small team of advisors that we were replacing had a difficult year that culminated with the death of two their members in an improvised explosive device (IED) attack a few months before we arrived. To make matters worse, they suspected our Iraqi counterparts of complicity in the attack. Needless to say, we wanted to make sure that our first meeting with our Iraqi counterparts went as smoothly as possible so as to step off together on the right foot. We rehearsed every detail prior of the meeting to ensure we did nothing to offend our hosts.
The day of the meeting arrived and anyone of influence in our area of the city for which we had oversight was present. Our host was an Iraqi general who wielded significant influence and was clearly the chief broker of power among them. As is customary in many Arab cultures, he began the meeting with a round of chai (tea) drinking. In fact, he boasted that his chai was the “best in Baghdad” and looked forward to us validating his opinion. As the chai was poured before me, I recognized that my decision to drink or not drink it would have serious ramifications. I knew I had made covenants with my Heavenly Father to obey the Word of Wisdom and would not break it. On the other hand, not drinking the chai could seriously offend our hosts and jeopardize our entire year’s efforts in Iraq – potentially the lives of my team members as well. I paused to say a little prayer to myself asking for inspiration and guidance on what to do.
As luck would have it, the General noticed that I wasn’t drinking my chai and said, “Captain Thompson, why are you not drinking your chai…it is the best in Baghdad and we cannot begin the meeting until you partake.” I hesitated to answer and suddenly the whole room grew quiet and every eye was focused on me with astonishment. The looks on the faces of my team members were that of alarm, as if to say, “I can’t believe you are going to offend our guests over something so trivial! Just drink the chai!” In what was reality just a few seconds, but felt like a few minutes, I was reminded of a world religions class I had at Brigham Young University a decade earlier. I remembered learning that Muslims follow a health code as well, in that they abstain from eating and drinking certain things. I felt immediately prompted to draw a parallel between my faith and his.
I looked back up at the General, who by now had a displeased look on his face, and said, “Sir, my faith forbids me from drinking this chai. I believe drinking alcohol is against your faith, is this true?” He responded, rather proudly, “Yes, as Muslims, we do not drink alcohol because to do so would offend Allah.”
I responded, “Sir, just as your faith is important to you, I believe that I would be offending my God if I drank your chai. I hope you will understand.”
Everybody’s attention now shifted to him. He stared at me for a moment with eyes that could kill, took a puff from his cigarette, and then smiled. He subsequently looked at everyone else and said, “In all my days, I never thought I would be taught to be a better Muslim by an infidel!”
His remarks drew laughter from everyone in the room, which immediately broke the tension. He continued by saying that he appreciated men who would stand for principles and remain true to their faith. I thanked him for the compliment. He then looked at his subordinates and declared, “Anyone who ever serves Captain Thompson chai again will be shot!” This drew slightly more nervous laughter, especially from the young soldier standing next to me who was serving the chai!
From there the meeting went very well and our relationship with our Iraqi counterparts blossomed throughout the rest of our yearlong tour in Iraq. We grew to love each other as brothers, sharing true concern for one another.
Indeed, I have no doubt in my mind that our Iraqi brethren saved our lives on more than one occasion.
Most importantly, I learned the blessings of being faithful to our covenants with our Heavenly Father. I can better understand the meaning behind Doctrine and Covenants Section 84:88 when the Lord says, “And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”
As he concluded, the chapel was filled with a powerful spirit and witness of the “Wow!” in the Word of Wisdom. With emotion, I turned to D&C 89 and read these words that Major Thompson had fully experienced: “And I the Lord give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them.” (D&C 89:18-21)
With my scriptures open, my mind went back to my conversation with Melody and the expanded Word of Wisdom lifestyle she has established for her family. I can’t help but think much easier our health management would be if there were more clear cut expectations and understandings for the rest of the Word of Wisdom and to treat it more as a whole, not just hot drinks, alcohol and tobacco! Would our weight and health be in a different place if more of us adopted more of it, as the Barber family has?
As a point of reference, the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, says:
Called “a Word of Wisdom” in the introduction, the revelation was given to Joseph Smith at Kirtland, Ohio, on February 27, 1833, when the School of the Prophets was meeting at his home in the Whitney Store.